Cross-Country Skiing in the Shadow of Denali, Alaska

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14435A, Ski, snowshoe, and dogsled

Highlights

  • Cross-country ski in the beauty of late-spring Alaska
  • Explore 30 miles of set Nordic ski trails
  • Enjoy the warmth and comfort of an Austrian-style ski lodge
  • Have a chance to view the Northern Lights

Includes

  • All meals (lunch to lunch)
  • Exclusive lodging at the secluded chalet
  • Transportation from Anchorage to the trailhead and then return to Anchorage

Details

DatesMar 16–21, 2014
Price$1,275
Deposit$200
Capacity12
Min. Age14
StaffRebecca Dameron

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Trip Overview

The Trip

This cross-country ski adventure is based at a secluded ski lodge in the midst of a snowy wonderland south of Mount McKinley (Denali). We’ll travel by van to the trailhead, where we’ll pass on our baggage and make a fairly easy (though long) 9-mile ski journey through spruce and birch forests to our backcountry ski lodge. The first three wooded miles will open up to a view (if we’re lucky) of the peaks of the Southern Alaska Range (McKinley, Foraker, and Hunter). After another several miles of openness, woods, dips and small hills, we’ll arrive at the chalet and be greeted by our host, Eric, who will welcome us with hot spiced wine and Alaskan hospitality.

March is the best skiing month in Alaska. There is a well-packed snow base, often with new snow on top, and we'll also get five minutes more of sun every day as daylight hours increase. Each day will bring a new cross-country ski adventure -- short or long. We will be skiing on set tracks (groomed for Nordic skiing). Additionally, there will be opportunities to take a snowshoe walk, lounge around the wood stove, bask in the bright Alaska sunshine, or relax in the lake-side (frozen) sauna.

There is no TV or Wi-Fi, so come prepared to be disconnected from the world of technology and be connected to the wonderful world of the Alaska wilderness. There is a chance of viewing the Northern Lights, though the moon will be full when we arrive, which will limit our chances for the Aurora but increase our chances of a moonlight ski.

Itinerary

Pre-Trip: Our trip doesn’t officially start until the morning of Sunday, March 16th, though we encourage participants to arrive in Anchorage at least one day early. That way you can rent your skis and practice on the excellent Anchorage Nordic Ski Trails at Kincaid Park or Russian Jack Springs Park before we head out. 

Day 1: We’ll meet at the Bent Prop Inn - Midtown at 7:15 a.m. so that we can be packed and ready to go at 8:00 a.m. After packing our gear, we will have a 135-mile drive to our trailhead, with one stop in Wasilla to take rest break and buy lunch and any last-minute items. At the trailhead, we will pass our personal gear over to the chalet’s snowmobile (one 40-lb max bag limit). The group will then ski in to the chalet (that’s the reason for the practice with the rental skis and boots!) through spruce and birch forests, over open, flat areas and up and down a few small hills. Our first mile will be on a packed road trail, while the last 8 will be over a marked Nordic ski trail. There’s a wonderful spot halfway in for us to stop and have lunch.

We’ll be met at the chalet by our host and a cup of hot spiced wine. After our welcome, we’ll have time to settle in, warm up, explore the chalet’s wonderful secluded setting, and have an afternoon sauna before a hearty dinner and a well-deserved early bedtime if desired.

Day 2: Each day we’ll start with a family-style, hearty breakfast, then take weather conditions and energy levels into account before we make our plans. Some of our options are: a 6-mile scenic ski with wonderful views of Denali, 3-4 mile loops, a 2-mile lake loop, or other trails. We may take it easy the first day, depending on how folks are feeling after our 9-mile ski in. And depending on our day’s plan, we’ll either have lunch at the chalet or out on the trail.

Days 3-5: We’ll ski somewhere in this winter wonderland and return to a warm lodge and a hot sauna. Activities may also include snowshoeing, sunbathing, taking a sauna, reading, or lounging. On one day we may make our way toward the top of the Peters Hill, where views of Mount McKinley will be just 26 miles from the summit. As this is an 18-mile roundtrip activity, we may not go the whole way.

Day 6: Sadly, we’ll be heading out today, but we’ll fit in one last ski as we make our way back to the trailhead, where we'll meet the van for our trip back to Anchorage. Our last official meal together will be a lunch packed at the chalet, which we'll enjoy on the trail. We’ll have time in Anchorage to return rental gear and then meet again for a post-trip dinner (not included in the trip price). Due to unknown weather conditions, it would be best not to plan for travel out of Anchorage before the 22nd.  

Note: The leaders will make every reasonable effort to meet the goals outlined in the itinerary. Please keep in mind that weather or other conditions beyond our control may cause us to modify the itinerary in order to ensure the safety and well being of the group.

Photos

Details

Getting There

Transportation to Anchorage will be on your own. We strongly suggest you arrive at least by March 15th. We will plan to meet at the Bent Prop Inn – Midtown the morning of our departure.

Accommodations and Food

For the pre-trip, the leaders will be staying at the Bent Prop Inn/Hostel – Midtown. You will need to make your own arrangements for pre- and post-trip lodging. We will work to make group reservations at the Inn/Hostel (not included in the trip price). The Inn does have a minimally priced non-advertised shuttle to and from the airport. More information to follow for registered participants.

During our trip, we’ll be staying at a remote and rustic chalet, a wilderness lodge built in the 1970s as an Austrian-style ski chalet. Mount McKinley (Denali), as well as the Foraker and Hunter peaks of the southern Alaska Range, will be visible from the windows. Our host, Eric, will greet us and graciously tend to us all week. 

The warmth and simplicity of the lodge is a treat to experience. The focal point of the sitting area is a woodstove to relax around. We’ll also be able to unwind in the wood-fired sauna (with or without a suit). A hot shower is also available at the sauna. The lodge is eco-friendly and the lights are solar LED and propane lamps. We will be staying in dorm-style rooms and will be sharing outdoor bathrooms (paths are lit).

The lodge also has a communal dining area, where we will have our hearty home-style vegetarian-friendly meals. Those with dietary restrictions should let the leaders know before the trip and should know that not all restrictions will be able to be met. Each day, we will be asked to help with kitchen duty (prepping, cooking, and cleaning).

Trip Difficulty

Almost all of our skiing will be on set Nordic tracks. As we start right away with a nine-mile ski, it is crucial that all participants be physically ready to jump right in. This means good conditioning for winter conditions, comfort with the skiing gear, great blister protection, and sufficient winter clothing. The initial ski in will probably take 3.5 hours.

Well-conditioned beginners would be welcome if they are ready to ski the 9 miles the first day. We plan to ski every day on rolling terrain tracks. One day may be a long ski (18 miles) up to the Peters Hills. Whether a short or long ski, participants must come prepared for the rigors of Alaska Range winters.

Equipment and Clothing

You will need cross-country ski gear -- boots, skis, and poles. The skis need to be “Nordic Norm” or the more narrow skis -- not wide backcountry skis. You can either bring your own or rent in Anchorage. REI and Alaska Mountaineering and Hiking both have these items for rent. Sunglasses and sunscreen are a must as the sun and snow can be bright and wonderful.

Other items that will be needed are warm layers of clothing, including long underwear, a wool hat, gloves, and a hooded, waterproof outer layer to protect you from snow and wind; a day pack large enough to handle at least a liter of water, snacks, dry socks and possibly some of your layers; first-aid supplies (especially blister prevention and protection); flashlight or headlamp for walking around at night; insulated boots for walking outdoors; and house slippers. A more complete gear list will be sent to registered participants before the trip.

References

Sierra Club’s Alaska Action Alerts: http://alaska.sierraclub.org/actions/index.html

Anchorage Tourism Information: http://www.anchorage.net/

Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage showing maps of where to ski in Anchorage: http://www.anchoragenordicski.com/

Denali National Park and Preserve: http://www.nps.gov/dena/index.htm

Denali State Park: http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/denali1.htm

Conservation

As a frontier, Alaska has been known for its beauty and wildlife -- it’s also known for its untapped energy reserves. The Sierra Club has long opposed the prospect of drilling for oil in the National Arctic Wildlife Refuge. This struggle continues as talk increases about drilling in the Arctic Ocean off the northern coast of Alaska in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. There are concerns about coal ash pollution near Fairbanks and about protecting Bristol Bay and salmon from the proposed Pebble Mine (gold and copper mining). So what does this have to do with those of us who are traveling in the south-central area of Alaska? Everything if we use oil, coal, and gold. It is ironic that we will be using oil/fuel in order to join this trip, but it's important that we see what needs to be protected and come up with ideas to lessen our carbon footprint on this earth. Staying at an eco-lodge is a great way to support those in Alaska trying to protect the wilderness.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Staff

Leader:

Rebecca Dameron began her Alaska experience on a Sierra Club sea kayaking service trip to Alaska in 2006 and was hooked. Since then she has led more than 15 service trips in Alaska, North Carolina, and Florida. The beauty and wildness of Alaska has captured her attention and Rebecca hopes to be spending a lot more time exploring more of the state. Rebecca is trained as a Wilderness EMT and hopes not to use her skills!

Assistant Leader:

Kate Froman

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