Winter Recreation Guide 2021

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2021-22

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d Skiing d Fat Tire Biking d Hiking d Sledding d Ice Fishing

Winter Recreation Guide


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3 Skiing at Alyeska & Hilltop 6 Cross Country Skiing 8 Eklutna Lake 10 Fat Tire Biking 12 Ice Fishing 14 Hatcher Pass 15 Sledding 16 Nancy Lake 17 Reflections Lake 18 Winter Hiking Gear 20 Skeetawk Q&A 21 Outdoor Options 22 Talkeetna

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page 14 Dennis Anderson

Group Publisher, Wick Communications Alaska dennis.anderson@frontiersman.com

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Tawni Davis

General Manager, Regional Marketing Director Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman tawni.davis@frontiersman.com

Jeremiah Bartz

Managing Editor, Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman editor@frontiersman.com

Petra Albecker

Regional Multimedia Marketing Consultant petra.albecker@frontiersman.com

Ben Borg

Regional Multimedia Marketing Consultant ben.borg@frontiersman.com

December 2021 | A Publication of Wick Communications


Ski season at Alyeska and Hilltop kicks off with plenty of snow By Robin Thompson

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hile most of North America is struggling with enough snow to open their slopes for business, Alyeska Ski Resort and Hilltop Ski Area are busy digging out from recent snowstorms just in time. Anchorage-based Hilltop recently opened to the public December 2 with Alyeska Resort in Girdwood kicking off its season on December 10. Following tradition, both resorts reward their season pass-holders with first dibs on the slopes one day prior. Thirty-one miles south of Anchorage, Alyeska has crews working overtime in preparation for their opening weekend, according to Ben

Napolitano, mountain marketing director of Alyeska Ski Resort and Hotel. “Right now we’re sitting at about 110 inches with 250 inches on the season already — which is significant,” Napolitano said. “We’ve been aggressively making snow for a solid base which will take us deep into the spring.” Meanwhile, Hilltop located conveniently off Abbott Road is now open with ample snow for the first time in years, which allowed them to open with two runs instead of the traditional one. Opening weekend was very well attended according to Trevor Bird, general manager of Hilltop Ski Area.

A Publication of Wick Communications | December 2021

“We’ve been really lucky. The fall was cold and it snowed early,” said Bird. “The natural snow is awesome and it really mixes in well with the man-made snow but the man-made gives us that base that we want.”

lessons, adult freestyle lessons and more women’s programs, which is awesome,” said Bird. “We’re just trying to improve and grow all the services that we offer the community, I think that’s the really important part.”

Hilltop, a non-profit organization owned and operated by Youth Exploring Adventure, Inc. a 501©(3) has several new operational changes that skiers will be sure to notice in 2021-22, including partnering with Shredmaiden, a non-profit clothing and instructional program that empowers women in snow sports.

In addition to the new ski programs, the outdoor seating area has been extended and boasts the addition of a massive fire pit made by members of Hilltop staff. The day lodge will have a new stateof-the-art kitchen that is in the final stages of installation. The kitchen will offer a variety of hot and cold menu options including expanded beverage service which, for the first time, will have beer and wine available.

“We’ve got really cool new programs. We’re offering expanded lessons, more adult

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SKI SEASON AT ALYESKA AND HILLTOP, CONT. Bird had hoped to have the kitchen completed by opening day but due to supply chain issues, equipment delays, and even a few lost pieces in transit, the roll out for their new food and beverage service remains a few weeks away. In the meantime, Bird hopes that local food truck vendors, such as Grizzly Dogs who assisted opening weekend, will want to come out and lend a hand in feeding the skiing community. “We’re trying to have food trucks out here in the next couple weeks. If anyone is interested in coming up, reach out to us — we definitely would like to have you,” said Bird. Operational improvements for Alyeska includes a newly renovated E-Store at alyeskaresort.com that makes

online purchasing and rentals easier to navigate. “We made a pretty big investment in the fall and we’ve had a lot of very positive feedback about it,” said Napolitano. “This winter we’re really committed to providing a very high quality mountain venue product to be outside, recreate, and be active with friends and family in a safe and welcoming environment.” Alyeska also reports that they will be providing full and unrestricted access to food and beverage service for the duration of the season. “We plan on operating all of our restaurants,” said Napolitano. “The big thing with the food and beverage, and the events, is that we’re going to comply 100% with any municipal mandates.” Both resorts offer a variety

of discounts and packages for skiers with Hilltop providing military, student and senior discounts and free lift tickets for kids under 7 with the purchase of an adult ticket. Alyeska offers a “Choice Pass” option that provides a 20% discount off the window rate for skiing for the day and returns with their popular Stay-and-Ski Package that includes an overnight stay and lift tickets for two. “Honestly, in my opinion it’s one of the best deals I’ve ever seen for skiing which is pretty aggressive when you look at the industry as a whole,” said Napolitano. Ski School for youth and adults continue to be popular with Alaskans, as many of the specialty camps and clinics have sold out but group and private lessons are still available to book at both lo-

cations. Hilltop opened ski school bookings on Oct 1 and changes are planned regarding student skill level advancement throughout the season. “We are trying to refine some of the skill levels than what we’ve done in the past so that kids get a more dialed in approach versus just saying that if you’re a beginner at the beginning of the season, you’re a beginner all season,” said Bird. “That’s often not true, so we are excited to make those changes.” Both resorts are also in full swing with preparations for their popular community events this winter. With Alyeska hosting their New Year’s Eve celebration that will include skiing until midnight and a fireworks display. “That was something new we started last year during

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December 2021 | A Publication of Wick Communications


Covid to celebrate being outside and being active,” said Napolitano. “Last year we had a solid mix of families, partiers and teenagers doing back flips and jumps in the park which was really fun.” Hilltop is stoked to host the return of the Shifty Drift competition, a fat bike dual slalom race, and their free community Solstice party, makes its return on December 21 after being canceled last year due to the pandemic. “The goal is just to provide something for the community to have fun around the holidays,” said Bird. “We’ve got a D.J., the Reindeer Farm will be out here with reindeer wandering around. Santa, of course, is going to make an appearance and a fireworks show to wrap it up. Then we place a bunch of road flares down on the run and do a

torch lit ski and give glow sticks to the kids, which is super fun.” Hilltop and Alyeska are both located within the Municipality of Anchorage and are committed to all mandates to protect the health and safety of their guests, staff and communities. “The world is still weird — there are still precautions that need to be taken,” said Napolitano. “During the ski season, some practices will be in place to promote the health and safety of our community. Our plan will also be dynamic in nature and will change with federal and local mandates.” Up at Hilltop Bird says it’s an ever changing landscape but the staff will all be required to mask up for their own protection. “Our goal is to keep our staff

safe because if we start getting sick then we can’t operate and that impacts the community,” said Bird. Bird and Napolitano are both concerned that neither resort has yet to meet hiring goals for the season. Both said their respective operations have ample job opportunities and offer a variety of flexible work options with competitive wages and ski benefits for staff and dependents and other employee perks, such as discounts on food, ski lessons and commuter allowances for Anchorage residents seeking employment with Alyeska.

“We’re still definitely looking for employees,” Bird said. “It’s a great first job for folks for high school or college students and now with the bike park open in the summer it actually has more job security because a lot of these positions can carry through into the summer. Everything is available through our website or folks can apply directly through Indeed.” For more information about rates, ski conditions and more, visit the Alyeska Resort website at www.alyeskaresort.com or Hilltop Ski Area at www.hilltopskiarea.org.

Alyeska has several positions on the mountain and in the hotel and restaurants and interested candidates can apply directly through their job page at alyeskaresorts.com/jobs said Napolitano. Photo by Matt Hage

A Publication of Wick Communications | December 2021

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Cross Country Skiing Offers an Easy Path to Winter Recreation By Amy Bushatz

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hen it comes to winter recreation, it’s easy to shell out countless cash buying equipment, clothing, passes and more. From snowshoes to snowmachines and a parade of ski set-ups, there seems to be a never ending parade of options. So where do you start?

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To Mark Stiger, former head coach for the Matsu Ski Club’s junior nordic program and longtime winter sports enthusiast, there’s no better option than cross country skiing for outdoor users of all ages. “The nice thing about cross country skiing is that you can get into it fairly inexpensively,” he said.

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Stiger shared a series of tips to help those completely new to the sport break in. Here’s what he said. Pick a cross country skiing type. There are two types of cross country skiing, Stiger said -- classic and skate. Classic is performed with skis in a parallel line, often on an ungroomed trail or with skis placed in groomed parallel tracks. Skate, on the other hand, is done with a skating motion and is best on groomed trails or on a thin layer of frost, he said. Classic is slower and more methodical, while skate can feel very fast. Stiger said while skiers may

ultimately want to learn how to do both methods, it’s best for beginners to start with classic and learn how to start, stop, go down hill and navigate. From there, they can move to skate skiing. The different methods also use two different types of skis and require different waxing processes, but classic skis are typically cheaper and easier to take care of, making them perfect for beginners.

“The nice thing about cross country skiing is that you can get into it fairly inexpensively,” “Classic skiing helps you get your first balance,” he said. “You need to know both.” Start with renting. Instead of buying cheap used skis that may not fit you well or provide a good experience, Stiger recommends new skiers start with renting from Backcountry Bike and Ski in Palmer so they can understand what they like and want. From there it will cost about $300 to purchase a good set-up, he said, but users will skip the pain of buying something they don’t like and won’t use. “What they’re to do is they are going to fit you to the right size ski as opposed to going to Bishop’s Attic and

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buying a pair that doesn’t fit,” he said. Dress well. Good layering and skipping cotton clothing are the best way to comfortably hit trails, Stiger said. If you’re skiing quickly or working hard, you’ll get warmer faster. The best thing to do is make sure you have good layering options on hand to drop or add as appropriate. Take some lessons. While beginners can pop on their new skis and give the sport a try on their own, a few lessons go a long way to making things easier and more enjoyable. The MatSu Ski Club offers affordable adults lessons throughout ski season, starting in January, he said. Lessons are also a great way to learn ski trail etiquette, such as how to use the groomed classic tracks and avoiding ending up in a snowbank when you can’t figure out how to stop while headed downhill. “All of us have been here and most all of us start off the beginning of the season back there,” he said. “It just takes time.” Those interested in taking lessons can learn more at MatSuSki.org.

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Travel to Eklutna Lake for Accessible Winter Recreation By Amy Bushatz

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bout 30 miles or 45 minutes from downtown Palmer, Eklutna Lake is just far enough away to feel like a trip out of the Valley -- but close enough for a daylight winter adventure. While plenty of Mat-Su dwellers might think of the lake as a great place to spend a warm summer day or vie for a site in the extremely popular first come, first serve campground, the short drive south has something else for nature-lovers: a quiet winter wonderland.

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For as popular and crowded as the area is in the summer -- even finding a parking space can be a major challenge -- Eklutna tends to be pretty quiet over the winter months. And while the trail network is nowhere near as extensive as what’s available in Willow, it does offer a similar variety of recreation along with a change of scenery. One important note: although the area is regularly patrolled by state park rangers, there is absolutely no cell signal on or next to the lake. Be prepared to be on

your own. What recreation can you find there? Here are some tips:

Public use cabin camping Like many of the state park recreation areas in the state, Eklutna is home to multiple state park-owned public use cabins that offer perfect winter escapes. Unlike many of those, however, two of the cabins at Eklutna are especially friendly to users who can’t or don’t want to haul gear in a long distance. All of the cabins run $100 per night year-round.

For drive-up access, users can book the Dolly Varden cabin, which sleeps a max of 12 users, according to State Park information. While the Dolly Varden cabin was previously heated with a propane stove, which took hours to get the cabin warm, state park officials gave it an upgrade this year to a wood stove. The Rainbow Trout cabin, which sleeps a maximum of eight users, also offers fairly easy access from the parking area with an about .5 mile hike, ski or snowshoe in. Us-

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Frontiersman file photo

ers should plan to bring a sled to pull in their gear, including plenty of wood for heating.

Eklutna is home to multiple state parkowned public use cabins that offer perfect winter escapes. Another pair of cabins offer options for more adventurous users. The Kokanee cabin is located almost four miles south of the parking lot on the lake’s north end. Users should plan to ski or otherwise travel across the lake, and the cabin’s accessibility varies by season, depending on ice conditions. The Yuditna cabin is located three miles up the lakeside

trail, and can be reached by ski, fatbike or snowshoe and, once the area is opened for them, snowmachine. Both cabins sleep a maximum of eight people according to State Park information.

Fat Bike Trails In the summer, a multi-use trail along the lakeside is perfect for hikers, runners and cyclists. In the winter, the trail transforms to ideal for fat biking. The 12mile trail stretches from the parking area and around the side of the lake, offering fantastic views. A second trail heading the opposite direction ends near a spillway and one of the area’s three public-use cabins. After freezeup biking across the lake is also an option.

Nordic ice skating

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After freeze-up and before large amounts of snow comes down, the 3,200 acres lake is a favorite destination for nordic skaters, especially when conditions turn it to smooth, glare ice. Like most things in modern-day Alaska, outdoor enthusiasts track conditions for the lake via social media. For ice skating conditions at Eklutna and elsewhere in the region, join the Facebook group “NordicSkate-SouthCentral Alaska.”

Cross-country skiing Once snow comes in, the 3,200-acre skating rink turns into a 3,200-acre cross-country ski area. Skiers will also enjoy the wide trail that goes south along the lake from the day parking area to the Rainbow Trout cabin or out the 12-mile lake-

side trail.

Snowmachining Last but not least, the Eklutna Lake valley offers pristine snowmachining in designated areas. Snowmachiners can travel from the bottom of lakeside trailhead to the toe of the Eklutna Glacier. Officials do not recommend the trail itself for snowmachine use due to potentially unstable ice, and many of the other trails, including the Twin Peaks trail, the Bold Ridge trail and the East Fork drainage, are not open to snowmachines. State park officials determine when the area opens for use, and you can call the Chugach State Park hotline for the current snowmachine status in the park. That number is: (907) 269-8400.

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Fat Tire Biking proves to be popular wintertime activity in the Valley Courtesy photo by Rene Dervaes

By Jacob Mann Frontiersman.com

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at tire bikes are widely used throughout the winter due to their ability to help people navigate through the snowy elements with greater ease and reliability than regular bicycles. Reese Clayton of the Alaska Bicycle Center said that fat tire biking is a popular pastime in the Mat-Su Valley. He said that some people might have thought that fat tire bikes were just a fad, but the overall interest continues to grow across the globe, and the Valley is no exception. “The biggest thing about fat tire biking is that it’s here to stay,” Clayton said.

Photo by Jacob Mann, Frontiersman

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According to Clayton, fat tire bikes help people access the Valley’s various natural assets throughout the winter. He said the large tires help the bike “float” across the ice and snow.

“If they truly want to ride in the winter, they’re the way to go,” Clayton said. Clayton added that fat tire bikes are also great for the summer, making them as versatile as they are enjoyable. “They kind of became the bike for the person who wants to ride year-round,” Clayton said. Clayton said the average fat tire bike is lighter now thanks to the latest developments in technology. He said this adds to their overall accessibility and popularity amongst the casuals as much as the hardcore cyclists. He said that more people are tying out fat tire biking every day. That’s what the fat tire bikes will do, help them get to the other side of the mountain,” Clayton added that ski bikes are becoming more popular, and electronic fat tire

December 2021 | A Publication of Wick Communications


Courtesy photo by Rene Dervaes

bikes are a great commuter throughout the year. He said that no matter what style of bike people choose, they all share a common love for the outdoors and staying healthy.

ple out and getting some exercise and enjoying the outdoors,” Clayton said. Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@ frontiersman.com

“It’s just about getting peoCourtesy photo by Rene Dervaes

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Ice fishing offers family fun all winter By Jacob Mann Frontiersman.com

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ce fishing is known to many Valley households as a great way to have fun with the whole family. It’s suitable for all ages and abilities, offering a camping-like experience with an icy twist. Family members can shift between fishing in their designated holes in the ice and snacking in their chairs. Kids often take the opportunity to slide around the ice or snowy hills with or with sleds. It’s all about having fun under the winter sun. Those lucky enough to catch a few fish that are available during this time can even bring them home for dinner

or make jarred or canned goods for holiday gifts. The Division of Sport Fish helps provide ice fishing opportunities by stocking selected high-use lakes specifically for ice fishing, according to information from the state website which indicated that a fair number of stocked fish survive the summer fishing season and are ready for an eager ice fisher to come along. Those planning to ice fish are advised to check regulations for the areas that plan to visit and acquire the necessary fishing licenses. All lines must be closely attended.

Each angler is typically allowed to use two lines through the ice, providing only one hook or lure is used on each line. In some areas, up to five lines through the ice are allowed when fishing for northern pike. Sport fishing licenses are issued on a calendar year and expire on December 31, according to the state website. Residents 60 and older, and disabled veterans can apply for a free, permanent license that does not expire at any Alaska Department of Fish and Game office. According to Fish and Game, the best ice fishing is typical-

ly close to the freeze-up period due to high oxygen levels and the fish are still very active.

Ice houses are common practice among ice fishers, offering warm protection from the elements while maintaining the joy of the sport. Another good time is just before breakup, but this is also the most dangerous time to be on the ice so exercise extreme caution. Frontiersman file photo

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Frontiersman file photo

Ice fishers are always accountable for their own actions and advised to check ice conditions before they access the area. Ice houses are common practice among ice fishers, offering warm protection from the elements while maintaining the joy of the sport. Some land managers with ice house regulations include: Municipality of Anchorage -Parks & Recreation 120 South Bragaw Street (907) 343-4474 Matanuska-Susitna Borough 350 East Dahlia Avenue (907)745-4801 State of Alaska, Dept. of Natural Resources Division of State Parks 550 West Seventh Avenue, Suite 1260 (907) 2698400 For more information about local areas to ice fish and which lakes have been stocked, visit adfg.alaska.gov Frontiersman file photo

A Publication of Wick Communications | December 2021

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Hatcher Pass: the Valley’s winter wonderland Photo by Jacob Mann, Frontiersman

By Jacob Mann Frontiersman.com

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he Hatcher Pass Management Area is among the top go-to locations for winter excursions for locals and visitors alike. Hatcher Pass consists most-

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ly of alpine terrain in the Talkeetna Mountain Range, climbing thousands of feet with over 30 prominent summits and associated glaciers. It’s expansive bounds of nature, various trail systems, and adventurous points of in-

terest make for an enjoyable outing year round. Hatcher Pass has a rich history of gold panning and min-

It’s expansive bounds of nature, various trail systems, and adventurous points of interest make for an enjoyable outing year round. ing colonies and features tours of historic buildings and operations at Independence Mine State Historical Park during the summer.

can access a myriad of outdoor activities among the scenic mountainous terrain including skiing, snowboarding, sledding, snowshoeing and snowmachining. It’s central location off Fishhook Road makes for easy access to both Palmer and Wasilla residents, offering an approximate 20 minute drive from either side. For more information, visit dnr.alaska.gov/parks/aspunits/matsu/hatcherpassema. Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@ frontiersman.com.

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Sledding in the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman.com

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cording to the Borough website, the hill offers “extreme fun when padded with heavy snow.”

Below are five go-to sledding locations that are easily accessible for families.

There’s a pavilion area at the base of the hill with large lights stretching up to the top. There are steps built into the side to aid the climb back up, making it easy for parents to choose their level of intensity based on their child’s age.

he Matanuska-Susitna Borough is home to a wide variety of sledding trails for all ages and occasions. Local families can choose locations that are groomed regularly at recreational parks, off the beaten path, or right around the corner.

The Crevasse-Moraine Trailhead This is among the most frequented sledding spots in the core Valley area due to its ease of access, central location, and highly versatile and groomed sledding hill that caters to all age groups. The sledding hill is located near the parking lot. Ac-

Beyond the sledding hill, Crevasse-Moraine contains almost 7 miles of trails built on ridges and depressions left behind by glaciers, giving the area its name. The looping trails with numerous options to choose from offers varying levels of difficulty from novice to expert, depending on the activity. Crevasse-Moraine’s trails

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connect to an extensive trail system called the Matanuska Greenbelt.

Matanuska Greenbelt The Greenbelt connects numerous trails and recreational sites including the Matanuska Lake, UAF Extension Farm, and Mat-Su College Trailhead. Volunteers groom the expansive network of trails and rolling hills for public use, making it a popular destination for cross-country skiing, winter hiking, and sledding. Winter Horseback riding is also permitted. Leashes are required for dogs. This non-motorized trail system is popular among equestrian riders and there are designated trails with frequent signage.

Hatcher Pass Hatcher Pass is one of the most popular sites for outdoor recreation among locals throughout the year. There are numerous groomed trails with expansive nature beckoning for those who want to leave the beaten path beckoning around every corner, giving the area a diverse set of options for just about every outdoor activity. Hatcher Pass is a go-to winter destination for Valley snowboarders and skiers. It also sees its fair share of family sledding trips each season. The central location is ideal for Wasilla and Palmer residents since it sits between the two communities, but the trip is still fairly close to the farther-reaching continued on page 17

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A Winter Cabin Escape at Nancy Lake Recreation Area Photo by Amy Bushatz

By Amy Bushatz

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he signs for the Nancy Lake State Recreation Area on the George Parks Highway are so unassuming, that a casual passerby may not even notice them. But what they signal is a Matanuska-Susitna Borough region playground of huge proportions, sheltering more than 100 lakes, extensive wetlands, about 40-miles of maintained winter trails for motorized and skier use -and 14 state park cabins. In the summer the cabins are lightly used and largely accessible only by a canoe trail or float plane. But they are hugely popular in the winter, said Stuart Leidner, the MatSu Valley state parks superintendent, because they offer the ideal basecamp for a Valley-based snow escape. The dry cabins aren’t fancy, but thanks to wood stoves they can be toasty warm on

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a frosty day. Equipped with sleeping platforms, counter space and table, they are reached by ski, fat bike, dog sled, snowshoe or snow machine as soon as enough snow comes in for trails to be set. Many are also ski plane accessible. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) maintains outhouses near each.

see, people not prepared for the conditions,” he said. “These aren’t drive-up, you’ve got to put some effort in to get out to the cabins.”

For visitors who have never before used a state park cabin, Leidner recommends booking one of the more-accessible locations, such as Nancy Lake Cabin 1, or the Bald Lake or Rhein Lake cabins. Those looking for a longer adventure can head out to the cabins at Red Shirt and Lynx Lakes, he said.

Cabins must be booked in advance, through the Reserve America’s website. Prices per night vary, depending on the cabin, with the cheapest spots at Red Shirt Lake sitting at $60 per night, to the most expensive at Rhein Lake running $100 per night. Reserve America also charges an $8.05 reservation processing fee.

Beyond anything else, users should remember to pack to be prepared for a dry cabin winter experience. Bring plenty of wood, he said, warm winter clothes and food. “That’s the biggest thing we

By downloading or updating the Outerspacial app before leaving home, visitors can access via GPS complete trail information for getting to and from each cabin and recreating around the area.

Those costs are set based on each cabin’s accessibility and popularity. The Red Shirt Lakes cabins, for example, are older and only accessible after the snowmachine

season opens via an about 8-mile winter trail. The Rhein Lake cabin, on the other hand, is the newest cabin in the area system, and only three miles from the road, according to the cabin’s information website. It’s also one of the most popular destinations for skiers, since it’s in a non-motorized section of park. It’s the cabins’ overall winter popularity, Leidner said, that makes the key to using those in the Nancy Lake Recreation Area booking early and staying flexible on dates. “When I start to take a look at our reservations for those cabins coming up, as soon as it freezes up where ice travel and winter travel is safe, you gotta be flexible on the dates that you’re going to want to get out there,” he said. “They’re very busy in the winter.”

December 2021 | A Publication of Wick Communications


Reflections Lake offers ideal family winter hiking opportunities By Jacob Mann Frontiersman.com

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eflections Lake is considered by many to be an ideal location for families with a tame one mile trail that can be accessed throughout the year. The trail wraps around the lake and provides a scenic backdrop and easy access for walking or cross country skiing or snowshoeing. It’s wide and maintained with gravel, making it accessible to visitors of all abilities. The lake is also good for families looking for easy fishing access close to town. The Reflections Lake area is also a popular site for bird watching and wildlife viewing. Visitors can utilize an elevated viewing platform that offers a panoramic view of the Palmer Hay Flats, Pioneer Peak and the Chugach Mountains. Reflections Lake is located off the Knik River Access ramp. just north of Palmer on the Glenn Highway. For more information, visit adfg. alaska.gov.

SLEDDING IN THE MAT-SU VALLEY, CONT. communities like Big Lake and Sutton.

Government Peak Recreation Area The Government Peak Recreation Area is highly utilized by winter hikers, fat-tire bikers, skiers, and snowboarders. The trail system is diverse and expansive enough to accommodate all sorts of winter activities, including sledding. Sledders should exercise caution and stay aware of their surroundings while looking for their ideal hills.

West Butte Trail The West Butte Trail offers an iconic hike that most locals use to show off the area with their visiting relatives. The area has numerous avenues to navigate through, making it easy to find a sledding hill off the beaten path. The Borough called it the “The Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s most popular hiking trail” on their website, making the following statement, “If there’s one hike you want to take visitors, this is it. It’s a short hike but gets your heart in the attic fast. The brief work has lasting

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rewards: an epic view— Knik Glacier, the face of 6,398foot Pioneer Peak, and farms of the Valley floor. Turn to the northwest and take in the Talkeetna Mountains. Turn southwest and see the silhouette of Sleeping Lady or Mount Susitna. When the summer night glows golden and pink, many hikers are standing tall on top of the rock of the Butte grabbing selfies with a sweeping heroic backdrop.” Valley sledders are advised to keep an eye out for cross country skiers, fat tire cyclists, and all others recreat-

ing on the trail when selecting a hill. If a sledding hill is located at a state or Borough recreational site, be sure to pay any required parking fees. Parking fees can be paid instantly without the need for cash at the Borough website. For more information about local parks and trails in the Borough, visit their website at matsugov.us/trails To search for Hatcher Pass and other state-run parks and trails, visit dnr.alaska. gov/par ks/units/hatcherpass/hatcherpass W I N T E R R E C R E AT I O N G U I D E 17


“Probably at the top of the list is just looking at the forecast,” Dervaes said. “Knowing what the weather is going to look like. And of course, knowing the weather can also change and beingprepared for anything that Mother Nature might throw at you.”

Photo by Rene Dervaes

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December 2021 | A Publication of Wick Communications


Winter hiking gear By Kyle Wilkinson

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emperatures have dropped, snow is falling and the darkness is setting in. Before you hangup your gear for the year, know that opportunity is still around for numerous outdoor activities in the winter. Rene Dervaes is an avid mountain biker in the Valley. When wintertime rolls around, snow and cold temperatures don’t slow him down. Dervaes simply switches out his gear to accommodate the next sport he is doing. Right now that is fat biking, or riding a fattired mountain bike in the snow. “Our winters are too long to spend them inside,” Dervaes said, “you got to find something you can do outside or you’ll lose your mind.” Dervaes is the chairman of the board for the Valley Mountain Bikers and Hikers (VMBAH), a local organization that promotes hiking and biking in the Mat-Su Valley. Weather is important to consider during the winter, according to Dervaes. Clothing can be a way to navigate winter weather. Dervaes points out that layering is a great option. When moving around and exerting oneself, that person needs to be able to “dress down,” or take off layers, to avoid sweating. This causes the person to get wet and freeze. When a person isn’t moving, they need extra layers to stay warm and dry. “Probably at the top of the list is just looking at the forecast,” Dervaes said.

“Knowing what the weather is going to look like. And of course, knowing the weather can also change and being prepared for anything that Mother Nature might throw at you.” Summer hiking and running shoes might not be the best footwear this time of year. Dervaes suggests waterproof footwear to prevent feet from getting wet and cold. “Something that’s waterproof, where your feet are gonna stay dry,” Dervaes said. “That’s pretty important.” Dervaes also pointed out that darkness settles in quickly this time of year. Packing a headlamp or another source of light can help find a way around in the dark. “I always have lights with me this time of year. Even if I don’t start out with them, I’ll bring them with me,” Dervaes said. “Sometimes you can be out there for a while and not realize it.” Local businesses like Backcountry Bike and Ski can be resources for winter gear. Backcountry Bike and Ski offers rentals for outdoor gear. Other stores like The Hoarding Marmot in Anchorage can provide used or consignment gear for people looking to get started in winter activities. Dervaes explores many of the Valley’s trail systems. Some, like the Matanuska Greenbelt and Palmer Bike Park, are close to town. Other trail systems like the Government Peak Recreation Area and the Lazy Mountain

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Trailhead are a bit further out.

country and away from popular routes.

Trail maps of these systems and others in the area are available for mobile devices. The apps Trailforks and OuterSpatial feature Mat-Su Valley trails for a variety of users.

“There are folks who trap off some of those trails that are multi-use,” Dervaes said. “So if you’re with dogs, that’s definitely one [thing] you kind of have to be wary of.”

“Trailforks is nice, because it’s pretty much got just about any trail you’d want to find,” Dervaes said. “And you can sort by type of trail so you can look for hiking, or skiing or... mountain biking.” Devaes also uses an app called Strava. Strava allows the user to track their progress and location while recreating outside. A key feature is the app’s ability to send a location to another person’s device. When phone signal is an issue, other sources of satellite communication like a SPOT or inReach might be necessary to stay in touch with others. Dervaes warns when using multi-use trails to stay aware of others. These trails may be used for both motorized and non-motorized travel. “You got to make sure that you’re paying attention,” Dervaes said. “I never ride with… headphones in or anything like that, because I want to be able to hear... an approaching snow machine or four-wheeler or something like that.” People recreating with pets need to be aware of possible animal traps alongside trails. Traps are especially important if traveling back-

Trail users should also be aware when crossing frozen water. Dervaes suggests carrying an extra set of clothes when crossing ice in case someone does fall through. Outdoor recreation should be done with a body during the winter. Phone reception can be spotty and the darkness and cold can set in fast. “And if you twist an ankle out there, and you’re by yourself,” Dervaes said, “you might be sitting for a while… in the cold before you can get a hold of somebody.” Wintertime doesn’t mean you have to stop spending time outside. How you dress, where you go and what you pack might be the only things you change. New winter activities are available for those willing to explore. “If you live in a place like this and you’re not outside, then you probably need to move somewhere else,” Dervaes said. VMBAH, the Mat-Su Ski Club and the Mat-Su Trails and Parks Foundation have information for people looking to learn more on winter recreation. These local groups promote community members to get outside and enjoy what the Valley has to offer.

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Q&A with Skeetawk ski area general manager discussing winter fun atop the mountains Jacob Mann Frontiersman.com

skiing and snowboarding.”

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What are some of your latest projects?

keetawk general manager, Scott Patridge participated in a question and answer interview to discuss their efforts in offering family-friendly winter recreation at the Hatcher Pass ski lift. What are some of your latest efforts? “We’re constantly prepping for the Arctic Winter Games in 2024 and trying to add on more stuff for that. We will be offering ski and snowboarding lessons this winter. Other than that, just having people up and having fun with their families.” When do you typically open? “As soon as we can get 12 to 16 inches of snow. As soon as we can get a good base, then we’ll get the lift running and we’ll be able to get people

“We did some trail clearing and some other things, building a rental ship underneath the yurt. We added some components to eventually get food service going at some point. We’re going to start off with some basic concession/snack type stuff, and then gradually increase our services throughout the year.” How does it feel to be at this point to have this longtime dream come to life? “I think for everyone in the community, they’re just excited about it. I hear from people all the time that they’ve been waiting for this for years and they’re excited to drive 20 minutes down the road and have their own local

ski hill.” What are some of your goals moving forward? “I think one of the big things on our upcoming list will be snowmaking next season. We’re a nonprofit and we’re writing grants and were ask-

ing for donations. It’s going to take quite a bit of resources for that. So, snowmaking, prepping for the arctic winter games, adding more infrastructure to the area... Some will get done in the next year, we’ll start doing some work on some multi trails around the area for summertime use; and some of them are long-term projects like putting in a second lift. Lots of dreams out there. We’re just getting the money together. What do you think about the progress you’ve all made? “I think it’s doing great for a small community and volunteer-driven organization. We’re a nonprofit and we’ve got a small board of directors and a small handful of employees. Everyone’s working hard to make things happen, and we’re definitely thrilled about where it is and where it’s going.” For more information about Skeetawk, visit skeetawk. com. Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@ frontiersman.com

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December 2021 | A Publication of Wick Communications


Stuck Inside? 3 Palmer Leaders Recommend These Outdoor Options By Amy Bushatz

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inter in Alaska can be a mental and emotional challenge — especially if you’re new to the region or have not built a practice of getting outside in cold temperatures or that famous Matanuska Valley wind. But a trio of Palmer business leaders believe that not only can you enjoy the outdoors despite winter weather, it’s especially because of it that you should head outside. Anne Thomas, owner of Aktive Soles, Tony Berberich, who owns Backcountry Bike and Ski and Lucas Parker, who leads the Mat-Su Ski Club, joined the Palmer Chamber of Commerce early this year for a virtual luncheon presentation on winter recreation options, and some tips and tricks for getting out there. “This can be a hard time of year for people, so we took this opportunity to bring some community members to the table that have knowledge on these outdoor recreational opportunities to hopefully help all of you feel more comfortable and hopefully go out and enjoy it,” Ailis Vann, Palmer Chamber president, said at the meeting. Getting out for winter recreation, the experts said, is about three things: knowing where to go, having the right equipment for your chosen activity and knowing what to wear to make yourself comfortable. “The number one thing I’ll stress with everyone is make sure you’re prepared when you go out,” Parker said. “Make sure you’ve got the

right equipment — and the right equipment isn’t just the equipment that’s going to keep you warm, but the equipment that is going to keep you comfortable and happy, so that when you pass other people on the trail you’re smiling and not crying.” Both cross-country skiers and winter cyclists can visit Backcountry Bike and Ski to help them with equipment purchases, gear tuneups and knowledge. Thanks to pandemic-fueled demand and supply chain problems, his shop has a truly limited selection of skis and fat tire bikes in stock, he said. But they can also help make sure gear purchased used is good to go or even take a look at what you’re planning to buy before you buy it. “We’re more than happy to look at [the bike] you’re buying and either let you know if it’s not stolen or I mean, you know, if it’s a good deal, or at least if it’s worth it,” he said. “The same thing with skis. We’re happy to flex test them and make sure that it’s the correct ski for you.” Fat bikes can be very expensive, costing thousands of dollars, but Berberich said even that’s not in your budget there are still ways to make a mountain bike safe for use on winter trails. “Whether you’re writing a fat tire bike for a skinny tire bike, we do highly recommend studded tires, which we do have a few left [in stock], but not many,” he said, “But either way … there are a lot of different opportunities.” For some fun riding, Berberich recommended cy-

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clists check out Rabbit Slough, Matanuska River Park, the groomed mountain bike trails at Government Peak Recreation Area (GPRA) or the multi-use trails at the moose range.

“This can be a hard time of year for people, so we took this opportunity to bring some community members to the table that have knowledge on these outdoor recreational opportunities...” Cross-country skiers can head out on multi use or groomed ski trails maintained by the Mat-Su Ski Club. A quick visit to the ski club’s website at MatSuSki.org will provide some updated grooming information for the miles of trails their volunteers maintain across the Valley. Top spots include GPRA, Archangel and Independence Mine in Hatcher Pass and the moose range, Parker said. The club also offers beginner ski lessons and links to ski trail maps. That information, he said, is available on their website. All three groups of users should keep good trail etiquette top of mind, Parker said. Runners and cyclists should stay off trails marked as ski-only, as it makes use less fun and maintenance much harder for the volunteers doing the work, he said. Users need to also remember to clean-up after their dogs.

“It just it just creates for the best user experience for not only you but the other people that are on the trails as well,” he said. Winter runners can enjoy most trails and roads in the Valley year-round — as long as they have the right gear, Thomas said. That means spikes for shoes and visibility lights to make sure vehicles can see you when you’re running on or near the road during the long Alaska winter nights. In addition to selling in her store the winter gear runners need, her staff also hosts the weekly Monday evening Happy Run, where a group of runners take a designated route through Palmer. Thomas also recommends Reflection Lake and the Matanuska River Park as top designations for packed multi-use trails. Berberich, Parker and Thomas all noted the importance of wearing the right gear for your chosen sport, with a focus on layering non-cotton clothing and using warm socks, hats and gloves or mittens. Both Backcountry Bike and Ski and Aktive Soles stock a variety of options. Carrying a small pack on your run, bike or ski adventure can also let you easily add or remove an extra layer as needed and a spot to stash plenty of water and food. Parker also recommended buying and keeping an In-Reach GPS device in case you have an emergency in a location without a cell phone signal. “There is no excuse to not be out there,” Thomas said.

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Visit Talkeetna for Mid-Winter Fun By Amy Bushatz

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hile plenty of visitors from outside think of Talkeetna as a top summer destination, Alaskans know Talkeetna is a top spot for a winter getaway. With cozy cabins, fabulous ski and snowmachine trails and that cozy downtown Talkeetna feel, the town is still relying on locals to help buoy the economy after the hit caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “As a community we’re just trying to get the word out,” Bill Rodwell, president of the Talkeetna Chamber of Commerce and owner of Talkeetna Cabins said early this year. To give us a view into what

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Talkeetna can give late-winter visitors, the Chamber provided us with a night in a cabin, dinner at the Denali Brewpub and plenty of ideas for ways Valley residents visitors can make the most of Talkeetna’s trails and recreation spots.

Overnight or day trip? Talkeetna’s downtown and trails are a mere 90-minute drive from Palmer and still well within the Mat-Su Borough, but feels like a whole different region thanks to the amount of snow on the ground. The relatively short drive means visitors can easily head up for a day of skiing and dinner, or make an easy

weekend or overnight of it by booking one of the many cozy local cabins. At Rodwell’s Talkeetna Cabins immediately off Main Street, visitors can book one of the cozy three bed, one bath cabins ($175 per-night) or the larger log house cabin ($325 per-night). The cabin rates include two people, while the log house includes four. Additional people are $20 each, with children eight and under staying free. The cabins are comfortable and uber-clean -- we saw not even a speck of dust on the logs -- and equipped with full kitchens, making it easy to pack groceries to eat in. That $175 cabin price

also means that for $75 more than the rate at many of the state’s rustic public use cabins, visitors can have drive-up accommodations with heat electricity, wifi and real beds. If hiking or skiing into a winter escape hauling all of your own fuel, food and bedding isn’t right for your family, a visit to the Talkeetna Cabins could fit the bill instead.

Mid-winter recreation ideas Talkeetna has a parade of winter recreation offerings, including a skating rink near the elementary school, a sledding hill adjacent to Photo by Amy Bushatz

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the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, which will be open for Spring break in early March -- and miles upon miles of groomed ski and multi-use trails. Those trails, said Paul Beberg, typically host about 700 visitors in the spring for the annual Oosik race. Like so many fitness events over COVID, the Oosik went virtual for 2021. While that meant a dramatic reduction in visitors bringing their skis and dollars to Talkeetna for the event, it also meant people can participate over time instead of on a single day and on any course they want. “People want to feel like a part of the community, so that gives them a little bit of a chance to connect and just get out there, have a goal and do it,” Beberg said. The race is currently scheduled to be back live for 2022, and will be held March 22, according to the Denali Nordic Ski Club website. Proceeds from the Oosik support the club and its trail grooming projects over the season. More information is available on DenaliNordicSkiClub.org. Visitors can find plenty of trail information on the ski club’s website. But those unfamiliar with the area’s ski trails, including beginner skiers and those skiing with kids, might want to start their adventure at the Comsat Trailhead off S. Comsat Road. There skiers can find miles of both groomed and multiuse trails. All told, Beberg said, the region has about 50k of trails. For a fun ungroomed ski or fat bike ride, take on the rolling 5.2k X-Lake Trail. The Marten Loop 3.14k ski-only groomed

trail is also an excellent, shorter option. A clear winter day is a great time to catch a spectacular view of the mountain, so make sure to pause at the overlook as you travel into downtown Talkeetna after your ski. Food and drinks for the visit You’ll find Talkeetna’s infamous Flying Squirrel Bakery Cafe on your way into town before you reach the Comsat Trailhead. Baked goods (try a giant cookie with coffee), sandwiches (try the Fancy Grilled Cheese, $8.85) and wood fire pizza ($20 to $27.05, depending on toppings) served Friday and Saturday all hit the spot. Dining is take-out only due to the pandemic. If visiting downtown Talkeetna or staying in the Talkeetna Cabins, walk over to Mountain High Pizza Pie or hit the Denali Brewpub for drinks around the outdoor fire and sit-down service inside. Beyond their inhouse brews, the menu also includes a variety of burgers, sandwiches and plated dinners, plus kid-friendly options and fantastic desserts. For an appetizer, we recommend skipping the Bavarian Pretzel Bites and instead going for the Sweet Potato Wedges ($11). Pair that with the Twister Creek Burger ($16) or, for something unexpected, try the Short Rib Dinner, a surprisingly delicious curry. For dessert, guests of drinking age should try the Drunken Bread Pudding ($12), while the kids or those looking for something less boozy will love the Chuli Stout brownie ($8).

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Photos by Leah Mitchell

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TEENY INCISIONS

NO BIGGER THAN THIS Comprehensive Surgical Care in the Mat-Su Valley Imagine surgical procedures performed with a few small incisions. Mat-Su Regional Medical Center’s robotic-assisted program gives surgeons the ability to perform minimally invasive procedures with smaller incisions, which helps many patients experience less pain and less time away from their family, friends and life.

Learn more about robotic-assisted surgery at MatSuRegional.com.