Cabin fever reliever: Skiing opportunities abound in Anchorage, JBER

  • Published
  • By David Bedard
Though the winter skiing season got off to a slow start due to some unseasonably warm temperatures and freezing rain, a spate of good, recent snow showers have finally allowed me to break out my nordic cross country skis for some trail action.

On the advice of some office mates, I decided to check out Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson's Eagleglen Golf Course's cross-country trails last week.

I left my back country skis at home and packed my nordic, or traditional cross-country skis, ski poles and ski boots.

Unlike back country skis, traditional nordics do not have edges suited for turning quickly downhill. This is okay, because the hills you will run into on groomed ski trails typically aren't as steep or bumpy as those encountered in the back country.

My boots are more like rigid high tops than boots and use the New Nordic Norm interface to couple with the skis' bindings. Using a simple metal rod mounted near the toe of the boot, I simply steps into the slots of the ski bindings. You will find NNN bindings on most cross-country skis.

My skis use uni-directional scales arrayed in the skis' "wax pocket" for kick. Basically, the scales bite in the direction of kick but glide in the direction of travel.

On more advanced nordic cross-country skis, the pocket is waxed with a sticky kick wax to provide for kick. The skis are designed with camber, so when you take your weight off of the gliding ski, the only part which is in contact are the tip and the tail of the ski, which are waxed with glide wax.

Though the principles are the same for both skis, waxed skis are faster and are intended for serious skiers interested in competition, but they obviously require a lot more maintenance than skis which use scales for kick.

Skis can be purchased at several outdoors stores in town. I bought mine five years ago at a used sporting goods store. Though the boots were new, the skis and poles were slightly used. All told, I left the store with a complete setup for just north of $200. A new setup can be had for less than $400.

I would recommend renting to figure out what kind/brand of skis you like. Once you have that nailed down, consider buying your skis during the summer. Sports equipment is always much cheaper in the off season.

Make certain to dress warm, but not too warm. I know I have selected clothing well if I am slightly uncomfortable (cold) upon getting out of the car because a good ski will always work up a sweat. You don't want to perspire too much, however, because the moisture can quickly freeze when you stop.

Perhaps the most important article of clothing is a good set of mittens or gloves, because the grip a skier has on the poles restricts blood flow and conducts cold from the environment faster.

Mittens are preferred over gloves, and good dexterity isn't required during skiing.

The Eagleglen trails can be considered groomed. Groomed trails are packed and have two grooves sculpted into the snow which provide guidance resembling reverse train tracks.

In the golf course's case, there are actually two sets of grooves on the trail for two skiers to ski side-by-side and to make way for other skiers.

The fairways, frozen ponds, and as-of-yet unfrozen stream running through the course made for some pastoral viewing while huffing and puffing away during my short ski tour.

I have to say, it is the best viewing I have seen on a ski trail since moving back to
Anchorage last year, making for some good photography opportunities.

As a photojournalist, I normally use two digital single lens reflex cameras outfitted with bulky large aperture lenses due to the speed, control and light sensitivity they provide in the field.

However, skiing and D-SLR photography do not necessarily go together.

In good outdoor light, a quality point-and-shoot will do about 90 percent of what an expensive D-SLR can.

Though the small sensors found in point and shoots produce a lot of digital noise (grain) indoors, they provide quality images outside.

Good composition (framing) is the most important consideration in digital photography. Move yourself until what you see in the LCD looks interesting. You may look funny doing it, but it will be worth it.

Exposure (light) is another important consideration. As cameras tend to underexpose (too dark) when presented with a white snowy scene, select a snow setting found on most cameras which will compensate.

Turn off the flash. You don't need it outdoors.

As a first outing, Eagleglen was a good choice.

The parts of the course I toured were not hilly at all, requiring little of my meager downhill skills. Though located on the base, a skier quickly finds himself away from city life, submerged in a good cardiovascular workout.

The JBER/Anchorage area is rife with great cross-country skiing venues from Dyea Ski Center to Kincaid Park For ski rentals and information on JBER-Richardson, call Dyea Ski Center at 384-2960. For JBER-Elmendorf, call 552-2023.

(Editor's note: This story is part of an ongoing series concerning area outdoors activities)