Craig Barnard can be seen here on Graduation Peak near Seldovia, Alaska, in this undated photo. (Courtesy Tony Doyle)

Craig Barnard can be seen here on Graduation Peak near Seldovia, Alaska, in this undated photo. (Courtesy Tony Doyle)

‘Like a church to me’

Backcountry skiers to share tales of wilderness treks at KDLL Adventure Talk.

At the latest installment of the KDLL Adventure Talks series, two local skiers will share their stories of backcountry excursions across Kachemak Bay.

The presentation, “Backcountry Backyard,” will highlight the excursions of Tony Doyle and Craig Barnard, two longtime peninsula residents who have been skiing together for almost 20 years.

“We’ll be talking a little bit about how to access some of the terrain out there and sharing some of the high points of our trips,” Doyle said on Tuesday. “And maybe some of the low points too.”

Barnard said that he was doing some summer skiing about 20 years ago in Cooper Landing when he met a friend of Doyle’s along the trail who knew right away that Barnard and Doyle would be a perfect pair.

“This guy was like, ‘You gotta meet my friend Tony,’” Barnard said.

“He came back and told me ‘You gotta meet this guy Craig,’” Doyle said. Doyle said he stopped in one day at the restaurant where Barnard was working as a dishwasher, and the two planned an excursion right then and there.

“The rest is history,” Barnard said.

Both Barnard and Doyle have a long history of backcountry skiing that goes back to even before they met each other in Cooper Landing.

Doyle, 61, attributes his love of skiing and mountainous wilderness to his childhood growing up in Phoenix where his nanny would take him hiking in the mountains when he was as young as 5 years old, and to his time spent exploring in the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area of Washington in his junior and senior year of high school.

Doyle moved to Alaska in 1977 and bought his first pair of skis within his first year of being here. For Thursday’s presentation, Doyle said he will be bringing old skis and equipment — including a “facsimile” of his original pair — to show the audience how his gear has changed over the years.

“Skiing soothes my soul and refreshes my spirit like nothing else,” Doyle said. “Other than kissing my wife.”

Although Doyle is the older of the two, he considers Barnard a mentor when it comes to skiing.

Barnard, 46, grew up in Vermont and said that he was skiing when he was as young as 2 years old and that by 13, he was hooked.

“I grew up with protective parents, so I didn’t go to a lot parties or anything like that,” Barnard said. “But I was allowed to go outside as long as I came home for dinner and had the woodbox filled.”

Barnard said he first visited Alaska when he was 19, and it didn’t take long before he was skiing here regularly.

Beyond backcountry skiing, Barnard has led an adventure-filled life. His latest adventure, mountain climbing in Spain, ended with him breaking a leg, so to deal with the frustration of being bedridden for a few months he has started a book about his life.

Barnard said that he plans to document, among other things, his time hitchhiking to Alaska, living in ice caves, skiing down volcanoes and surviving three avalanches. He plans to share some of those stories at Thursday’s Adventure Talks.

Barnard said what draws him to backcountry skiing is the thrill of the challenge and the sense of accomplishment after reaching a peak or making a perfect turn.

“Skiing feels like going to paint on a blank canvas,” Barnard said. “And when interacting with nature in that way, it becomes something like a church to me.”

Barnard said that he would recommend skiing to anyone, and that getting started can be a lot easier and less expensive than people might think.

“This is a sport that Vikings used to (do), and we’re pretty much doing the same thing they were,” Barnard said. “We’re all looking for just one good turn a day, and you’ll be telling the story of your wipeout whether you’re a first-timer or an expert.”

These days, Barnard spends much of his time instructing kids and their parents in skiing, and he said he could picture himself taking on the role of mentor for years to come.

“I envision myself being 70 or 80 and I’ll be running a little rope tow lift and flipping burgers for the kids,” Barnard said.

Adventure Talks takes place tonight at the Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center. Admission is free for KDLL members and $5 for nonmembers.

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