During recent winters on the central Kenai Peninsula, ice has become the new snow.
Following the trend of several consecutive abnormal winters that have left winter enthusiasts longing for deeper powder, the 2016-17 season is thus far lacking the good stuff that typically coats the central Peninsula by Thanksgiving weekend, which is fast approaching.
According to the U.S. climate data site, the central Peninsula averages 68 inches of snow each winter, but last year, Kenai barely scratched above 15 inches of powder.
The good news is that there are ways to combat the cabin fever from which skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers and ice skaters are suffering.
“Get out and process oxygen,” advised Kenai Central ski coach Brad Nyquist. “If the snow’s not here, just go hiking.
“And take your (ski) poles with you.”
The most popular place for local skiers and snowshoers, the Tsalteshi Trails, has been sealed with a layer of ice in recent weeks, and several area ski coaches suggested walking aids like poles and spikes for the antsy outdoor adventurers.
Isaac Erhardt, the first-year head coach of the Soldotna High School ski program who has been assisting with the team for several winters, has had to come up with ways to keep his athletes fit and in shape when frosted grass is the norm outside.
His joking advice is to move to somewhere cooler, like Fairbanks.
“It’s killing me knowing the Valley and Anchorage teams have already gotten a decent amount of skiing in,” Erhardt said. “It’s hard to know that’s going on.”
Homer ski coach Alan Parks suggested picking up a pair of sturdy boots and warm clothing.
“Make sure you’re able to walk on ice,” Parks said. “It’s a good experience to start off with.”
Down in Homer, Parks has spent hours on the semifrozen beach with his high school teams and other friends. The sand provides a cushion in the summer and winter, but Parks noted that beachgoers must pay attention to the tides.
“There’s also tennis shoes available with incorporated studs in the soles,” he said.
Fat tire biking is another option, Parks said, and the beach is a fine place to break out the colossal rubber. Tsalteshi’s single track is an option for that as well, although studded tires will be needed to negotiate the ice.
Nyquist, who recently made a trip to Finland with his family, said he noticed a multitude of daily workers getting around with ski poles in hand. He said if a trip to work is within walking distance, there’s no reason a recreational athlete shouldn’t bring poles while they travel.
“Ski walking is probably the best,” Nyquist said. “You’ve just got to get out and breathe, get your legs moving.”
Nyquist said he has already had his prep skiers on boards this winter, even with no measurable snow on which to move. He said he dug up some old skis that range as far back as 40 years, the kind with large metal straps to hold in the “duck-bill” boots, and most of his team was able to glide over the well-frosted grass on the Kenai soccer fields near the school.
Nyquist added that as soon as the local lakes freeze solid, ice skating is a big must, especially at places like Headquarters Lake in Soldotna.
Erhardt added that once a thick enough layer of frost builds up on the lake surface, then folks can break out the skis.
“It works, and it’s kind of fun,” he said.
As far as hiking goes, Erhardt suggested the wildlife refuge trails, which include the Centennial (2.2 miles in length) and Nordic (4.8 miles) loops that surround Headquarters Lake.
Parks provided one last suggestion.
“Of course, if all else fails,” he said, “join a community rec program.”