The winter’s first big snow dump arrived early last week, followed by Monday’s monsoon that turned the peninsula’s streets and roads into disarray.
The unpredictable weather also turned local ski and biking trails into a mess, at least for one day. The slightly cooler temperatures that followed Monday’s spike have helped keep nordic ski trails functional for skiers. Cycling, running and walking paths have also been spared the destruction.
The network of outdoor recreation trails around the central peninsula are returning to usable shape, according to those who maintain them. At the Tsalteshi ski trails, most of the 20-plus kilometers of groomed trails have been worked back into skiable shape, thanks to the hard work and experience of those who have prepared for such a wild winter scenario.
Tsalteshi Trails Association board member Jenny Neyman said the efforts of TTA groomers Bill Holt, Tom Seggerman and Dan Skipwith have all played a significant role in keeping the trails alive, even after the 45-degree temperatures and rain hit the course hard.
“The main thing to know is we survived the monsoon, even though it looked terrible,” Neyman said. “Even though the conditions around town looked bad, that (snow) base held up more than we thought. We were pleasantly surprised.”
The trails are still under winter rules, meaning the main groomed areas are restricted only to cross-country skiing. That means no runners, walkers, bikers or snowshoers allowed. Those activities, however, are allowed on the Tsalteshi single track trails and the Slikok trail system, located just south of Tsalteshi across Isaak Road.
Neyman cautioned that those wishing to get out and enjoy the ski trails must be aware of the soccer fields adjacent to Skyview Middle School, which by all standards are unfit for skiing.
“If you’re parking at Skyview, be prepared to walk to the trails, because the field is done,” she said. “The trails themselves, we didn’t have a ton of snow down, and there are spots that are definitely still thin, so we can’t tolerate another monsoon.”
Neyman said the ability for the TTA to get back out and groom the trails was owed to the summer work done that improved water drainage on the trails.
Neyman said with that preparation, all loops have been groomed this week with the exception of Lynx and Porcupine. Neyman added that the Porcupine loop will likely be out of use until additional snowfall returns, due to sections of flooding on the trail.
Among other areas to ski around town, the North Peninsula Recreation trails in Nikiski were snowmachine groomed last Friday by groomer Dale Bakk, who said he spent time after the initial snowfall clearing low-hanging branches and other tree debris on the trails.
However, the Monday rain drastically changed the trails, which Bakk said are not friendly to skiing at the moment.
“They’re more like ice skating trails now,” he said. “I haven’t roughed it up yet, but they’re pretty much all ice. So now we’re waiting for the snow to start again to help out, then we’ll grind it up a bit.”
Bakk said the Nikiski rec trails feature about 5K of groomed trails, and the Nikiski High School trails add about another 5K, although he suggested that the school trails will likely be restricted to snowshoeing and hiking this winter since the weather made it tough to get machinery out there with the amount of overhanging branches that were frozen to the trail.
Still, Bakk encouraged the use of the recreation area trails for those that are dipping their toes into the sport.
“The trails at the pool are really flat, there are maybe two hills on the whole course,” he said. “So for the beginning skiers, these are good for them.”
The best spot for skiing in the town of Kenai is the Kenai Golf Course, located on Lawton Road. After the snowfall, Kenai Parks and Rec director Bob Frates said, the course was snowmachine groomed and packed for over 3K of trails, but reports after the warm-up were that the course was hard and icy.
“We’ve since seized up operations,” Frates said Thursday. “I’d venture to guess it’s not skiable. Whatever remnants of snow are there are probably pretty icy.”
Frates said snowshoeing is also allowed on the golf course.
For those who enjoy ice skating, the best options are artificial rinks in town, as area lakes and ponds are still too thin with the recent warm weather, combined with the additional snowpack on top that acts as an insulating layer.
Soldotna Parks and Recreation director Andrew Carmichael said late last week that he was hoping to see the skating path at Soldotna Creek Park open before Christmas, but the warm temps have not allowed it just yet.
“If the weather gets cold enough, we’ll do it,” Carmichael said.
Carmichael said that popular skating lakes like ARC lake are not open yet, as measurements still need to be taken by the city. He said 12 to 14 inches of ice is needed to get the machinery and vehicles out there to clear the lake of snow.
“We normally would have done that stuff this week, but we got the dump and it was all or nothing,” he said.
Carmichael said there is also a groomed loop behind the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, the Centennial Campground loop, which does not feature winter rules. That means, walkers, fat tire bikers, skiers or snowshoers are welcome.
Kenai’s major ice skating attraction is Daubenspeck Park, which features a skating pond that is hot-mopped and smoothed over when the weather is right.
However, Frates said that Daubenspeck, which is located on Marathon Road near WalMart, isn’t open just yet. Frates said no ice measurements have been taken yet, even as the team was prepared to head out early this week. After the warm-up, the lake still isn’t ready to be tackled yet.
“I suspect we’ll give it a little more time,” Frates said. “We’re looking for enough ice to maintain and put equipment on.”
Frates said that ice skating is always welcome at the Kenai Multi-Purpose Facility, located adjacent to the Challenge Learning Center. The facility is an open air rink, and Frates said public skate times are 1 to 2:30 p.m., seven days a week.