Girdwood Nordic Ski Trail Expansion
By Deb Essex
Special to the
Glacier City Gazette
The proposition of building Nordic ski trails in the Girdwood Valley has been tossed around since the 1960s. Girdwood even established a 10K cross-country ski trail in 1968-9. In 1969, Girdwood hosted the Junior Nationals on the Alyeska Racing Trails built by community volunteers, the Anchorage Ski Club, and Army National Guard. These trails existed for approximately a decade before fading back into the forest.
Fast forward twenty years, and the Municipality of Anchorage Heritage Land Bank (HLB) commissioned a study to determine the feasibility of constructing new Nordic ski trails in Girdwood. That study was completed in 2007 by The Boutet Company, and authored by Olympian and trail designer Jim Galanes.
Above is a map (Map 1) of the 2007 Final Study assessment of possible locations for a Nordic ski trail in the Girdwood Valley. HLB’s goal was to develop approximately 17 kilometers of Nordic ski trails within the Glacier Creek/Winner Creek Valleys. The trail would be part of a phased development and be coordinated with other area development initiatives.
With the study’s positive result, the community thought the trails could be constructed in 2008. When the dust settled, neither Alyeska Resort, Anchorage Parks and Recreation-Girdwood, nor the Girdwood Trails Committee had interest in becoming the operator of a new trails system.
After researching successful models of Nordic clubs throughout Alaska and Pacific Northwest, the Girdwood Nordic Ski Club (GNSC) was formed in 2008 to design, construct and operate a Nordic multi-use trail system in the Girdwood Valley. The popularity of Nordic skiing, winter biking, and hiking were (and are) on the increase. More and more alpine resorts in the U.S. offer a four-season trail system. Alyeska Resort had recently increased efforts in developing hiking and biking trails around Mt Alyeska.
After unanimous voting outcomes from Girdwood 2020, Girdwood Land Use Committee (43-0), Girdwood Board of Supervisors, and Girdwood, Inc., the Heritage Land Bank Advisory Commission granted an ordinance authorizing a trails easement May 12th, 2009.
After many meetings and public forums, the following map was the design of the five Kilometer Nordic Loop completed by the Girdwood Nordic Ski Club in 2012 (Map 2).
Since the Trail’s opening in 2012, the Girdwood Nordic Ski Club has operated and maintained the trail system with user-based donations. We have created an increasing annual membership of approximately 400 people and established a solid group of volunteer groomers.
We have hosted both the UAA and APU ski teams for informal races, hosted local ski and snow bikes races, and summer Jr. High cross country running races, as well as fundraising races for Little Bears.
The trail is used year-round and has become a favorite place to pick blueberries in the fall. Best of all, we will be hosting the UAA Invitational on Feb. 8 at 11a.m. to 12 p.m. This is a mixed gender relay race. It’s very fast, very exciting, and a great opportunity to see collegiate skiers racing on Girdwood Nordic trails.
After successfully operating the trail system for four years, the Girdwood Nordic Ski Club is looking at expanding the trail system. We are listening to the community and would like to include all user groups – even dogs. The trail would be approximately 3.5 meters wide (half the width of Nordic Loop), which is similar to the Tour of Anchorage Trail that runs through Anchorage or the Enchanted Forest in Girdwood.
We are focused on rolling terrain to create a fun, less challenging trail than the current Nordic Loop, with two-way traffic so trail-users can choose different routes for different experiences. The proposed trail will have good line-of-sight for biking speed and wildlife avoidance, a trail width that allows for skate skiing and two way passing, but at half the width of the current Nordic Loop.
The trail would improve access for emergency crews towards both the hand tram, and the upper valley trail system. We would like to improve the trail system in Girdwood by creating non-wetlands trails that can be utilized year-round. We have learned from our first capital project, and are proposing a narrower, more user-friendly trail system.
This plan would be 2-phase, with 7.5 kilometers in total. Trail connectivity is our long-term goal, with a river route running up the Glacier Creek Valley and connecting to the CAT track. We are in the initial stages of community surveys, and are working with expert trail designer Bill Spencer with HDR, who has spent time surveying the valley, analyzing wetland constraints and walking possible routes. The enclosed map is the proposed location of the expanded Nordic ski trails (Map 3).
We have a unique perspective of how much work and capital funds it requires to build this type of trail. We are presenting this proposal for feedback from the community, and would like to hear from all of you. Please take five minutes and fill out our survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XB8FBQ6.
If you reading this in print, please go to our website at http://www.skigirdwood.org/ and the survey link is on our homepage. While you’re there, check out our membership page and re-new your membership! You can also go to the Girdwood Nordic Ski Club Facebook page and follow the link https://www.facebook.com/Girdwood-Nordic-Ski-Club-112569688796600/.
If you have further questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will present this proposal to the at the Land Use Committee meeting on February 13th at 7 p.m. in the Girdwood Community Room. We would love to see you there and discuss this project from all perspectives. Until then, we’ll see you on the trails!