To survive winter in Alaska you need a quiver of toys: fat boards, skate skis, classic skis, scaled touring skis, studded mountain bike tires, fat tire bike, studded running shoes, gear for ice climbing, gear for the rock gym and growlers for beer on the way home from the rock gym. Recently, our toy of choice has been nordic ice skates. These are like skate ski bindings mounted on mountaineering pickets. Nordic ice skates give adrenalized adventure to locations where I'd normally be struggling to have a John Muir moment while sitting in a canoe swatting skeeters.
Last December was mean-cold. Early January 2011 brought freezing rain. Mid-January went back to cold. These conditions make diehard skiers cry. But if you have nordic skates, the conditions are dreamy. The lack of snow and cold temps froze lakes and rivers into Zambonied sheets of glass.
Andy Newton, a friend of many fun adventures, joined Cathy and I for a weekend of horizontal ice on the Kenai Peninsula.
Nordic ice skating gear: blades with skate bindings, skate boots, skate poles, ice picks in case you take the plunge, 50-foot throw rope, extra clothes in a dry bag and fire starter. One supplier of Nordic ice skating gear is nordicskater.com. Some say "caveat emptor." Try AMH in Anchorage first.
Boot covers and heat packs slow the digit freeze-up. Cathy sandwiched her toes between heat packs and added a third heat pack between her boot and over boot.
Our first skate of the weekend was a ten-mile out and back on the Placer River near the Spencer Glacier. The Portage area has many skating options including Portage Lake, Placer River, Portage Creek, Twenty-Mile and road-side ponds.
Temps were minus ten to twenty Fahrenheit. The January sun looks nice, but doesn't add warmth.
After hitting Kenai Lake, we stayed two nights at the Sunrise Inn in Cooper Landing. Great bar, nice rooms, buffalo burgers and friendly locals.
Andy sharpening his blades. Buy one from Nordicskater.com. Even better, go to Alaska Nordic Monster Tim Kelley's site to Make Your Own Nordic Skate Sharpening Jig.
Shuffleboard ass-kicking was going on at the Sunrise Inn with fellow skaters Tony Perelli, Becky King, JT Lindholm and Matt Rafferty. Tony (in the striped hat), who seemed to be doing most of the ass-kicking at the Sunrise, told me: "...had a huge nostalgic moment of playing shuffleboard as a kid at a place called 'Boobs Bar' in Wisconsin. For real. My Dad (also a Joe) was a big shuffleboarder at 'Boobs' as well. Guess it runs in the blood."
The thick lake ice howled and moaned and popped during our eight-mile loop on Hidden Lake near Skilak Lake.
At 4pm we passed Tony, Becky, JT and Matt at the Upper Skilak Lake boat launch. We followed their directions to the outlet of the Kenai River an hour away. Redoubt Volcano (10,197'), the highest mountain in the Aleutian Range, smouldered seventy-five miles away.
The almighty Neacola Mountains in the Aleutian Range beyond Cathy and Andy.
Skating back across Skilak Lake at 6pm.
A classic Alaska youtube taken by Alaska Corey. Incredible Corey!