Ski Town, USA: Nordic Skiing Association puts Anchorage on the map

by • December 6, 2015 • Feature, HighlightsComments (0)155

BY ERIN BEAM

Photo by Joe Yelverton Grooming the trails at Kincaid Park.

Photo by Joe Yelverton
Grooming the trails at Kincaid Park.

If Anchorage trails and parks provide year-round outdoor fun for you, chances are the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage has touched your life – probably without you even realizing it.

NSAA is a local, 50-year-old nonprofit organization that leads world-class programs and events, and inspires skiers of all ages and abilities. NSAA also works year-round maintaining, grooming and improving trails from Eagle River to Kincaid Park to Hillside Ski Area.

“NSAA is important to Anchorage’s quality of life,” said Jeff Scott, NSAA Board of Directors president. “We develop and maintain premier trails for winter recreation and create opportunities for all to maintain healthy lifestyles.”

Today, NSAA’s work is larger and more critical than ever. Consider these numbers from the 2014-2015 ski season:
• Around 2,000 people supported NSAA through club membership, while NSAA hosted and supported nearly 40 events that drew more than 7,000 participants.
• NSAA groomed and maintained more than 150 kilometers of trails on which users logged more than 42,000 recreational hours.
• NSAA staff and volunteers provided ski lessons for more than 1,000 people while also giving nearly 5,000 Anchorage-area youth access to Nordic skiing equipment, races, coaching and other opportunities that set the foundation for a lifetime of healthy living.

At the heart of these activities are Anchorage’s parks and trail systems, which make the city one of America’s best places to live, work and play. Anchorage’s thousands of trail users are as enthusiastic about outdoor fun as NSAA and its members, but most have no idea who is responsible for the trails they love.

“Up to this point we’ve put most of our effort into the product, but it’s become more clear that we need to get the word out,” said Bill Brion, groomer for NSAA Operations. “Hopefully, through articles like this, more people will become aware of NSAA and join or contribute to the cause.”

NSAA, the Municipality of Anchorage and many other organizations, donors and volunteers cover the cost of grooming and maintenance – it does not come from taxes, NSAA stresses. NSAA manages and maintains a specialized fleet of equipment that grooms the trails in great, and not-so-great, winter conditions, and improves the sustainability of the trails in summer.

Last ski season, for example, was an ongoing battle of maintaining the scant snow the city received, and making snow whenever the conditions cooled down enough to allow it. There also was not a large enough base to run snow cats, so groomers had to get creative.

“The majority of the work had to be done with snowmobiles pulling a cutter bar,” Brion said. “To get any kind of improvement on a thin, hard, icy trail with a snowmobile and cutter bar, I had to make endless passes and could only groom around five kilometers or less per night.  … In contrast, under favorable conditions, I can groom up to eight times that in a shift with a snow cat with much greater durability and longevity.”

Some organizers call NSAA’s operations “trail magic,” but not Brion – “It’s not magic, it’s hard work,” he said.

Despite some of the worst winter weather Anchorage has ever experienced, only a few Nordic skiing events were cancelled and NSAA even made snow that kept Alaskans skiing.

NSAA now operates snowmaking equipment at Kincaid Park, which presents both opportunities and challenges. Anchorage can now confidently host national and international events that have been cancelled or shortened in the past due to lack of snow. After the first season of snowmaking operations, there are still many unknowns. One thing is clear: Snowmaking and its costs will expand significantly this season.

Low snow years are rough on skiers, as well as NSAA’s equipment and events, but the community continues working harder and smarter with the resources available. NSAA constantly seeks partners with the shared priorities of providing high quality, sustainable trails that make Anchorage a healthy community.

“NSAA appreciates the generous community support from our donors and volunteers,” Scott said. “Private donations are an important funding source for meeting our mission.”

For details on supporting NSAA, volunteering or advocating, visit www.anchoragenordicski.com or like NSAA’s Facebook page.

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