Michael Armstrong, right, skiing with his niece, Heidi Barnwell, in January 2014 when Homer actually had snow. (Photo by Helen Armstrong)

Michael Armstrong, right, skiing with his niece, Heidi Barnwell, in January 2014 when Homer actually had snow. (Photo by Helen Armstrong)

Out of the Office: Don’t wait for snow or ice — just get outside

Now would be the time when an enterprising outdoors columnist writes about all the wonderful winter sports to be experienced. Fresh snow has fallen and trails run for miles waiting to be skied or snowshoed. Or, lakes and ponds have frozen, nice and flat and smooth.

Well, not in this time zone.

Years ago when I lived in Anchorage, my friend Tom said he had thought of moving to Homer, but he worried how he would survive the warm, wet winters down here. After I moved here in 1994, I wondered what the heck he talked about.

My wife, Jenny, and I got some land up on Diamond Ridge right across from the Kachemak Nordic Ski Club Trails — one of the selling points for the property. People we talked to about living on the ridge told us horror stories about the time a state snowplow ate a Subaru.

I think the first winter we lived here we had 6 feet of snow by Christmas. One winter we had 13 feet of snow. A Chinook might blow in and wipe out the trails, but the next dump would fix that. We learned to check the weather reports every night, and if a blizzard was expected, our neighbors and I would park our cars at the end of the driveway we shared, in order of who first had to go to work. The last time we had a winter like that was in 2013, when the snow berms hit 25 at one place the plow piled it up.

Even when snow didn’t come, you could count on deep cold that would freeze Beluga Lake solid enough to skate. In 1999 when Homer had a big fireworks display for New Year’s Eve on the lake, maybe 500 cars drove out onto it. Looking through back issues of the Homer News, we regularly had front page photos of kids playing pond hockey. I think I took one of those two years ago.

Alas, I think my buddy Tom was right.

As I write this, Beluga Lake has open water. Diamond Ridge has maybe 3 inches on the ground, not enough to cover the bluejoint grass. The ski club groomers can do a lot with some snow, and you might get by on your rock skis, but I don’t think anyone has figured out how to wax for pushki.

I’m a Florida boy who saw his first serious snow on a trip north to see my sister at college outside Boston. We had snow just once in Sarasota, where I went to school, in 1976 when Jimmy Carter was president. I didn’t learn to ski until the winter of 1982, when I got a pair of discount track skis and my brother-in-law Charlie would take me out to the Alaska Pacific University ski trails in Anchorage. I fell down a lot, especially on hills, but in a few years I was barreling down Tin Can at Turnagain Pass with Charlie and my sister Helen.

We’d load up the Subaru, drive along the arm, and get to the pass right as the sun rose over the Kenai Mountains. I wore wool pants, a wool sweater and clunky leather boots. By then I’d progressed to metal-edged Bonna 2400s. We’d put cheese, reindeer sausage and a thermos of tea in our packs. It took two hours or so to get to the top. We stopped, cooled down, ate our lunch, and then soared down. I never did quite master a telemark turn, but I did learn how to turn without falling.

Just to undo all that wimpy Florida living, I also learned how to ice skate. Skating came easy, since I’d learned to roller skate at that staple of Sunshine State teen society, the skating rink. I honed my skills at Potter Marsh in Anchorage and down here on Beluga Lake in Homer. When the ice sets up just right, the lake turns into a party, with half the town carving up the ice and gliding off into the rushes at the end of the lake.

So here I sit this eclectic winter. Winter teases us. It gets cold and the lake starts to set up, and you think, OK, skating. Then it snows, maybe just enough to flatten the grass. Could it be? Will there be trails soon? And then it warms up again, the snow turns to crud, and the lake thaws again.

But here’s the thing about Alaska. My sister Helen moved to the north before I did, living in Finland, Michigan and Wisconsin. When I moved to Alaska, she gave me some advice. “Always get out in the midday sun,” Helen said. That advice has helped me stave off midwinter depression for decades.

You can’t wait for snow. You can’t wait for ice. You can’t sit inside and mope. If you’re to survive winter, kids, go outside and play. I can always hit the beaches. And those ski trails on Diamond Ridge? Well, good grief. As you round that hill by the fire station and come out on the south side of the Sunset Loop, you still see that amazing view of the Homer Spit, Kachemak Bay and the Kenai Mountains.

Snow or not, you can always walk.

Michael Armstrong is the editor of the Homer News. Reach him at marmstrong@homernews.com.

More in Sports

Oilers, Twins open seasons this week

The American Legion Twins and Peninsula Oilers open their 2023 seasons this… Continue reading

The Kenai River Brown Bears mob Ryan Finch after he scored the game-winning goal in overtime against the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Browns Bears announce commitments for Holt, Finch

The Kenai River Brown Bears recently announced college commitments for Ryan Finch… Continue reading

Morgan Aldridge leads riders down a hill at the start of Week 3 of the Soldotna Cycle Series on Thursday, July 18, 2019, at Tsalteshi Trails. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Sterling’s Aldridge wins Eagle River Duathlon

Sterling’s Morgan Aldridge won the women’s overall at the Eagle River Duathlon… Continue reading

Soldotna's Trenton Ohnemus delivers to Kenai Central in the Division II state championship game Saturday, June 4, 2023, at Wasilla High School in Wasilla, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
SoHi tops Kenai to repeat as Division II state baseball champs

The Soldotna baseball team retained the Division II state title with a… Continue reading

Kenai, Soldotna baseball to face off for state title

The Kenai Central and Soldotna baseball teams will play for the Division… Continue reading

Kenai Central ends run at state softball tournament

The Kenai Central softball team ended its season with two losses Friday… Continue reading

Jacoby shines on Mare Nostrum Tour

Lydia Jacoby, a 2022 graduate of Seward High School, recently picked up… Continue reading

Soldotna's Trenton Ohnemus fires a pitch against the Palmer Moose during the Division II state quarterfinal game Thursday, June 1, 2023, at Wasilla High School. (Jeremiah Bartz/Frontiersman)
Kenai, SoHi baseball move to state semifinals

The Kenai Central and Soldotna baseball teams won Thursday to advance to… Continue reading

State softball: Kenai goes 0-2 in round robin

The Kenai Central softball team went 0-2 in round-robin play Thursday at… Continue reading

Most Read