Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in the Dec. 7 Peninsula Clarion before the recent snowfall in Homer. But you never know — the weather could turn again.
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 on Dec. 6, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.