Nordic ski trails: Only skis, snowshoes during wintertime

It’s been a slow and frustrating start for Homer Nordic skiers this year. We’ve only had a couple of snowfalls, and even though the groomers have been doing their best, there’s only so much you can do before 6 inches of snow is compacted to ice. Add a week of balmy weather and a few sprinkles, and you’re almost back to bare ground.

In the meantime, lots of folks — including me — have been walking (and even biking) the trails. With the bears gone and the ground frozen, we’ve been able to expand our more limited summer routes (the Homestead Trail, for example) to other sections of the Nordic ski trail system that are only viable in the winter. It’s a nice variation, and it’s a way to stay sane and fit until the snow arrives.  

But here’s the deal. Once the snow does arrive and the trails are being regularly groomed and skied  — please —  trade in your walking shoes and bikes for skis or snowshoes.  

Here’s why. During the winter (and even the summer, for that matter), those developed ski trails you enjoy at Baycrest, Lookout Mountain, and McNeil/Eveline are maintained by the Kachemak Nordic Ski Club (KNSC), a volunteer, member-based, non-profit organization. KNSC spends literally hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars maintaining approximately 75 kilometers of trails at the three major areas, including brushing, repairing bridges, structural improvements, and — ultimately — grooming the trails.

None of this comes cheap, even with volunteer labor and donations, and all of it takes time. Lots of time. Last year alone KNSC logged around 8,000 miles grooming trails, which at about 10 miles an hour means a lot of time in the saddle. Yikes!

But that’s OK. It’s what the club is all about. As you might imagine though, it is incredibly frustrating for a groomer to spend hours smoothing out a trail and laying track, only to go back the next day and find that someone has post-holed or plowed a path right down the middle — or worse yet, on the tracks themselves. 

More often than not, that “someone” is a moose. Those pesky moose just ignore the “Please Do Not Walk on Trails” signs, and when you weigh over 1,000 pounds, who’s going to argue?  

But often enough, that someone has only two legs and is wearing Sorrels. Or is riding a bike or snow machine.  All of which damage soft trails for skiing, increase maintenance costs and are just bad manners.

All of us – skiers, walkers, bikers, and snowmachiners — love to get outdoors in the winter. It’s part of why we live here. But there are only so many miles of ski trails and they take a lot of work to maintain. 

So, when you set off for your wintry outdoor adventure, please consider the following guidelines.  

Walkers: If you look behind you and can see your tracks punching holes in the snow, consider walking other areas such as the Homer Spit trail, Bishops Beach, the Diamond Creek trail or the Mud Bay trail. Better yet, go back and strap on your snowshoes, and walk the snowshoe trails instead.

There are several variations on the developed snowshoe system at Baycrest that only occasionally overlap the ski trails, or you can make your own routes through a winter wonderland. Snowshoes also are welcome at McNeil/Eveline, though we ask that you stay on the side of the ski trails and do not walk on set tracks.  

If you don’t have snowshoes, they can be purchased for a very reasonable price at Ulmer’s or Homer Saw & Cycle, or rented for almost nothing at Alaska Coastal Studies.  

Bikers: Fat tire bikes have little effect on hard, icy trails, but on soft, hilly trails (which pretty much describes most of our ski trails during the heart of winter), those fat tires can tear up a trail in no time at all.  

And I’m here to tell you that barreling downhill and catching one of those tire tracks with your ski is a great way to wipe out. Ouch! Please do not bike on the ski trails when they are being regularly groomed and skied.

Snowmachiners: As our ski trails have become more established, we only seldom have snowmachiners plowing up the trails. The Snomads have been very helpful in educating their members, as well as establishing and maintaining a fabulous network of trails that are enjoyed by all sorts of winter sport enthusiasts.  

But when a marauding snowmachiner does go on a rampage, it takes hours to repair the damage. You’ve got thousands of acres out there to play on — please avoid the groomed ski trails.

Sooner or later, winter is going to arrive. And when it does, I hope to see you all on the ski trails — on skis!

Marylou Burton is an avid walker, biker and snowshoer, but her first love during the winter is skiing on beautifully groomed trails.