Springtime on Skis

Posted By: Jan

March 29, 2013

In many northern hemisphere countries March and April are considered the prime months for skiing.  In Norway, for instance, families often head to the mountains for a week of cross country skiing and staying in huts.  This period is a holiday from school, called a “Påsketur”, or “Easter trip”.  Alaska is no exception in our love for spring skiing.  This is generally due to three factors: warming temperatures, high snow pack, and increasing daylight. On February 1st we have 8 hours of daylight, by March 1st we have eleven hours, and by April 1st a whopping 15 hours!  The fast-returning sunshine goes straight to our heads, and we long to get out into it.  Other biological shifts seem to happen as well.  Simon observes that “January is when you long for cookies and cakes, but by March you begin to crave fresher items, like vegetables!” Simon and Jenna’s children, Danika and Silas, now protest going to bed at 8pm “But it’s still LIGHT outside, momma!” they observe.

Our staff have embarked on many fun and lengthy ski trips in spring the past few years.  Last year our winter office was fortunate enough to fly into Camp Denali and North Face Lodge for a week of shoveling, skiing, and sledding around our summer facilities!  Katherine, our program coordinator and naturalist guide, recently spent a long weekend at local ski-in hot springs with fellow guides Maria, Mateo and friends. Martha, our personnel coordinator and also a naturalist guide, is currently in Colorado learning how to snow kite (imagine wind surfing, but with skis!). This year I embarked on a few ski trips of my own from our backyard here at Denali’s Park Entrance.

On the first trip my bother, dog, and I skied along Denali National Park’s north boundary as far as the Toklat River for a week in early March.  It is practically worth noting that Chulitna the dog was the only member of our party who had done that route before, as she is retired from the Denali National Park Kennels and has done 8,000 miles of sled dog patrols in the park! On our third night of camping we awoke to 70 mile an hour southerly winds, and as temperatures climbed to 40 degrees and we struggled on our skis in the sinking and sticky snow, we had to turn back and ski the long 50 miles back to Stampede Road, where we had begun.  We were fortunate enough to explore a region of Denali we had not seen before, and the only people we ran into were two fur trappers and two biologists from the University of Alaska.

A few days later I met up with former staff member Anne Beaulaurier to attempt a ski from the Denali Highway area into the Yanert Valley.  After several days of trailbreaking and fighting cold headwinds and blowing snow, we spent two nights camped out at the base of the pass.  We watched the spindrift blow off the tops of the mountains and spent one nail biting night thinking our tent might collapse, so ultimately had to abandon our proposed route and head toward the safety of the spruce trees.  Over the course of our seven days out we did see a lot of wildlife (including bands of caribou, moose, a fox, ptarmigan, and both wolf and wolverine tracks) and we sure laughed a lot, even when Anne’s little pocket thermometer bottomed out at -20F!

March can be a fickle month.  The flood of daylight returning as the earth’s tilt moves the northern hemispheres towards the sun is a constant, but nothing else seems to be!  This March we saw temperatures as high as +44F and as low as -32F.  We had weeks of blue skies and sun followed by a weekend of a snow dump that amounted to almost 18 inches.  There is no such thing as “average” here, in summer or in winter!  It’s all part of what makes this country so fascinating; it’s rhythms, cycles, and surprises!       

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Denali Dispatch

It is our pleasure to present Dispatches, a journal of the goings on at Camp Denali & North Face Lodge. Written by members of our staff, Dispatches is an opportunity to peek into the special sightings notebook, brush up on Denali National Park issues, read about our ongoing projects in sustainability, and maybe get a whiff of what’s cooking in the kitchens. Dispatches will carry on through the winter, when we hope to share stories of snowy ski adventures, deep cold, and the events of a small Alaskan community.