Susitna Writer’s Voice–Ski Trails, by Katie Writer


Living year round in Talkeetna, Alaska has provided a lot of days of snow underfoot.
We walk back and forth from the house to the parking area on a snowy trail for a good six months of the year. We pack the snow with a snow machine and groomer. The trails around our yard not only connect us to the shop, sauna and various out buildings and firewood storage, they connect to other trails that lead to the Talkeetna Ridge Trail.  Keeping these trails maintained has been a joy with our kids getting rides, taking naps on our laps when they were young and eventually being towed on skis behind the snow machine with fits of glee.

Nordic ski boots are snow boots for our family. Since they slip on without even having to tie laces, our kids, Wren and Jasper have been able to get dressed, boot up and get out the door
on their own (most days) since age 5. When there is sufficient snow, a ski ramp off the front porch is the starting point to fun skiing around the yard with this mini-trail system that has been the best teacher. With some good pointers, of course, from Tod and myself, they learned how to duckwalk up the small hills, ski down hills, crash, get up and repeat.
When Denali Junior Nordic Ski Program came next, they benefited from already having basic skills, while also getting the social aspect of skiing. Without a doubt, one of skiing’s great joys is sharing scooting on snow with friends. There is a motivational factor of skiing with others who are faster and technically better and this is fun to watch in young skiers’ development.
The coaches over the years have made this program fun with games, props, scavenger hunts, while putting mileage on the young skiers.

One of best parts of getting out in nature and enjoying the privilege of ‘living where there is snow’ is not only exploring trails, but making new trails.
The Oosik Classic Ski Race puts in a unique  25K/50K ski course every year to entertain and challenge racers of all levels. This is no easy feat and requires a lot of helpers to blaze new trails, build bridges over creeks, buff out new trails that link into existing trails.
Our young son, Jasper has had the privilege to work along with these dedicated trail makers and what an education he has attained from those few work sessions. No matter what the season, running a pair of loppers for a couple of hours will give anyone an appreciation for a trail. So will traveling cross country without one in devil’s club country.
The trail systems are a key historical part of this region in the Upper Susitna Valley. Some of the older hand made wooden signs of the Talkeetna Ridge Trail are just so cool looking and they embrace that pre-plastic era.

One can not talk about trails without mentioning the game that often made the path of least resistance first. The hoofed beasts of our woods here, the moose, use the trails often when the snow gets deep. We had a close call with a bull moose that our dogs stirred up on a trail through a gravel pit. There are not too many trees to climb in the bottom of a gravel pit, and while that bull was barreling down the snow packed trail towards us, I maneuvered myself and Wren into the deep snow while it raced after our three sled dogs. At age one and a half, I used her for leverage, like climbing with a snowboard, to get through the deep snow to a gravel pile that hosted a few small birch. In a flash, we were in that tree fork that gave us a false sense of security while watching the power of an angry moose. Wren purred close to me like a kitten, “Mama…” while my heart pounded, “Mama Mia!” It took a season to walk that route without feeling a bit of left over adrenalin from that day! And despite the recent gravel pit extraction, that pile remains with that tree standing like a beacon.

Little tree in gravel pit-IMG_8961

As a former World Extreme Skiing Championships competitor, downhill skiing was something that I debated on whether or not to introduce to my kids. It is really expensive when compared to nordic skiing and like nordic skiing, it can be addictive. With family members living in ski towns, they helped me drop in. With ski swap gear, discount lift tickets, a place to stay, and no ski lessons required made for an fast moving switch from free heels to fixed heels and helmets. My sister escorted us to the slopes and before we had time to think, we were riding that chair to the top of the mountain. Thankfully, there were beginner trails and soft snow conditions. Speed control was easily attained by Wren but not so for Jasper.
After a few runs, crashes and newly acquired speed management skills, we were off to the blue runs while my son could not help but chuckle at the ski school center where a carpet escalates beginners to the top of a bunny hill caged in by a fence. There was also a lot of padding around obstacles in this somewhat sterile looking environment. He looked at that scene really quietly and I could read his mind. “Thank goodness for nordic skiing, you guys get to skip that step!” I said with a bit of relief myself.

Introductions come with consequences and yes, the once or twice a year downhill skiing trips make their way into our wages. Recently, a ski trip to Alyeska offered another round of mountain education. Along the Seward Highway, rockfall hit our car with a few thumps. We managed to get through with only a few dents. The kids also learned about avalanche control as the early morning ski patrols shot off their ‘cannons.’ On the ski hill, they remembered their skills and developed a few more powder skiing tricks in those two days. Upon returning home after four hours of white knuckle driving from freezing rain, a few inches of fresh snow on our trails was a ‘welcome home.’ Time to pull out the nordic skis, kids! Without a doubt, some of the best times on skis are out the back door.

Ski Trails, by Katie Writer





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