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Outdoors/Adventure

Springtime in Alaska isn’t all dust and foul odors. It’s prime time for crust skiing.

  • Author: Holly Brooks
  • Updated: 6 days ago
  • Published 6 days ago

Skate skiers Holly Brooks (left) and Chrissy May take advantage of the crust snow near Glen Alps on Friday. (Photo by Calisa Kastning)

Depending who you ask, spring in Alaska is either the worst or best season of the year.

Regardless of your personal stance, I'm certain everyone can agree the increase in daylight is nothing short of awesome. I feel like a lightning bolt has been shot through my body, and as a result I am more hopeful, optimistic and ambitious. Just like the bears on the Turnagain Arm trail, we are coming out of hibernation.

My guess is that when the majority of Alaskans think of spring, they think of breakup. As the snow melts, a winter's worth of dog poop and garbage are exposed. Our cars are perpetually dirty as they are simultaneously splashed by puddles and covered in dust.

Unlike places like Seattle, spring in Alaska doesn't smell good. It will be another month or more until tulips, daffodils and crocus start to bloom. Walking surfaces vary. Some places are completely melted while others are covered in ice. The problem is you never know what you are going to get and it's easy to be caught off guard. Thus, if you aren't excited to venture into the mountains, spring in Alaska is an ideal time to take a vacation.

That said, March, April and May are absolutely some of my favorite times of year in Alaska. Alaskans willing to head to the mountains are rewarded tenfold.

Holly Brooks joined dozens of fat bikers recently at Spencer Glacier, where the crust made for smooth travel. (Photo by Holly Brooks)

I was reminded of our recreational privilege last week when visiting with a friend from Outside and showing her pictures from my camera roll. Two weekends ago I rode my fat-tire bike to Spencer Glacier. While I thought it was a novel experience, I didn't even bother to post pictures on Facebook because so many of my Alaska friends had already done so. To active, spring-loving Alaskans, it was "been there, done that," but to non-Alaskans, the opportunity to ride to the terminus of a glacier and hang out in blue ice caves might be considered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Beyond snow biking to glaciers, there is a plethora of spring-specific adventures on my yearly to-do list. Right now is an optimal time for crust skiing, and the conditions are absolutely perfect.

If you're not familiar with crust skiing, it essentially allows skiers to glide on top of the snow or the "crust." Crust is created by warm days and cold nights where the soft snow freezes, thereby not requiring grooming or official trails.

Friday morning friends and I tested the crust at Glen Alps and it was prime. We skied all the way back to the powerline, using trees and stones at terrain features. The ptarmigan were out in full force and it was T-shirt weather.

By the time we turned around conditions had started to soften or "corn up," which allowed for some super-fun turns on the way back to the car.

An early start is a requirement for crust skiing, making it possible to get in a good workout and still be at work on time. In addition to Glen Alps, my favorite crust ski destinations include Portage Lake/Portage Pass, South Fork of Eagle River, Eklutna and even the coastal flats from Potter Marsh to Kincaid. Years ago my husband, a friend and I crust-skied the Eklutna Traverse from Girdwood to Eagle River on skinny skate skis. To this day, it is one of my favorite day-long adventures in Alaska — and in the springtime, no less.

Spring also means stabilizing backcountry ski conditions and enough daylight for apres-ski hiking in the front range with the added benefit of long point-to-point ski traverses and glissading (sliding downhill on your rear end, waterslide style). Arctic to Indian (25 miles from Arctic Valley to Turnagain Arm) was in prime shape earlier this spring, and if you've never done it before be sure to add it to your list.

Spencer Glacier’s blue ice provides a good background for a selfie. (Photo by Holly Brooks)

While I'm not immune to the dog poop, garbage and dust, as an active Alaskan I can look beyond it to the beauty I find out our backdoor in the mountains. I love spring for the unique recreational opportunities it presents, and I'm thankful that my increase in energy coincides with an expanded playground.

We've been blessed with many sunny days this spring and I'm hoping they will continue long into our summer months. In the meantime my plan is to continue buying tulips at Fred Meyer and spending time dreaming up my next spring adventure.

Knowing where to go, and when

Many springtime mountain adventures are wholly dependent on conditions and require knowledge on when to go where. If you don't have adventurous friends who can tip you off with their social media feeds, you might be at a disadvantage. If you're looking for tips, here are some recommendations:

Crosscountryalaska.org features posts about ski and trail conditions.

• A network of statewide webcams (easily found via Google) can inform you of snow coverage and lets you know if the sky is blue or gray.

• The National Weather Service website can tell you about current temperatures, which are crucial to determine whether crust skiing or other activities are possible.

Holly Brooks is a two-time Olympic skier and two-time Mount Marathon winner who lives in Anchorage with her husband Rob and their twins. She owns and operates Holly Brooks LLC Counseling, Coaching & Consulting.

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