No matter the weather,
the persistent Alaska adventurer will prevail
The Alaska athlete has a garage full of toys. Bikes, skis, running shoes, boats … all of these items help us to survive the seasons, and the unpredictable weather in between. Nordic ice skates are one of those toys in the quiver. They keep the Alaska athlete exercised when little else will work: in autumn, when it’s cold before the snow falls, or after a midwinter meltdown when the land is coated in ice. The options are endless if you can navigate Alaska’s waterways. And plus, sliding over ice, at high speed is serious fun.
Nordic ice skating combines Nordic skate skiing with hockey skating. You wear skate ski boots. These clip into skate ski bindings, which are bolted onto a long metal skate blade. The beauty of the skate bindings is you simply unclip from the bindings to walk between bodies of ice. The long blade and free heel allow you to fly over the ice. For big distances, Nordic skaters use their long skate-skiing poles for extra pushing. The drawback with Nordic skates is that figure skating and hockey stops often result in a pounding crash onto the ice.
Early one snowless December, Andy Newton noticed Nancy Lakes north of Wasilla was shining like glass. Two days later, four of us ventured north from Anchorage. Our visions of skating endless miles of glass were shattered when we saw two inches of new snow coating the ice. The new snow wasn’t a show stopper, but it would hide thin ice, cracks and dirt – all of those things that will grab your ice skates and send you flying. We started a skating tour in the dawn twilight, aiming to connect as many of the Nancy Lakes as possible, linking lakes and trails, walking, skating, walking, skating. We used a GPS to navigate in the trees and winding lakes. At one place between lakes we came to an open slough of water. Andy and Luc Mehl jumped right in, boots and all.
Jeff Conaway and I stripped to our skivvies and waded in bare feet. Using every bit of daylight, we visited more than 10 of the Nancy Lakes, skating 26 miles.
Last fall was another cold and dry one in Southcentral. Lakes in the Anchorage Bowl froze thick and snow-free. It was our chance to explore the less-visited parts of our city. Andy was again my adventure partner. After work, we’d grab our boots and skates and head out to explore Anchorage’s many lakes. To find the lakes, and our location, we used a Gaia GPS map on our smartphones. Some lakes had busy skating areas for kids and hockey. Other lakes seemed untouched, watched over by dark mansions that had airplanes and helicopters parked in front.
At Sand Lake we pumped high-speed laps in and out of canals. Trees surrounded some canals, while others were packed with airplanes. Andy and I even had a late-night session on a corner of Lake Hood, the busiest float-plane airport in the world.
Nordic ice skating makes you wish for mid-winter meltdowns and freeze-ups. When everyone else is crying about conditions, you’ll be exploring sloughs in the Palmer Hay Flats, the Kenai Canoe Trails, Portage Lake or maybe just laps around Goose Lake in Anchorage – anything to keep the Alaska athlete exercised and having a blast.