Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage
9170 JEWEL LAKE RD
ANCHORAGE, AK 99502
© Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage
Kincaid: That’s it for grooming! There is still some man-made snow on the Green Loop and Gong Hill. Hope everyone enjoyed the trails and extended season. Have a great summer and we’ll see you next winter!
Updated 5.5.23 Questions? Contact:
Although the average first day of grooming in Anchorage is November 11th, base development starts in July. As with everything NSAA does, we aim for long-term success and maximum return on our investments.
Once the trails are thawed and dry from last season’s snow pack, NSAA crews and volunteers begin preparing the trails for next ski season. Dead and downed trees are cut, limbs are chipped, stumps are removed. Trails that receive our volume of year-round use need an overhaul every 15-20 years. This past summer NSAA worked on several trails in the Beach Lake trail system in Chugiak and the Lekisch 2.9K trail at Kincaid.
We usually mow twice during summer, once for summer users and one pass after the leaves have fallen. Mulching the leaves with grass will keep the leaf layer from creating an insulating layer or creating a slippery wet layer that will keep the first snow from bonding to the frozen ground.
NSAA’s primary goal is to get the first snowfall to adhere strongly to the frozen ground in a thick base. Last year, the first snowfall was delicate and cold, meaning the flakes themselves contained many thin dendrites. There was not a lot of humidity within the base at first, so immediately packing it down might have broken the dendrites and created ball bearings out of the crystals, or sugar snow. However, through natural occurrence, humidity will eventually seep through the snowpack, bonding the snow crystals and increasing the yield.
If there is too much moisture in the snowpack, early grooming can create glacier-like ice. Although we’re all eager to get out there, sometimes patience can lead to the best base. And then the weather throws you a curveball: high winds. Although the snowpack would have been best preserved by patiently waiting, the predicted winds demanded a new approach: groom it down before it all blows away. Thus, our groomers got out there and by hook or by crook tried to save our base.
Roll it? Squish it? Blade it? The goal is to create a layer of snow with a uniform consistency and depth on top of that well-bonded first section of snow. Again, how much moisture is in the snow pack will dictate the best course of action. The groomers’ goal is to create a bonded, high yield snowpack. This can be done through various techniques, equipment and numerous tools, depending on air temperature, ground temperature, humidity, and weather.
On average, our Pisten Bullys can groom 50%-80% more kilometers per hour than a snow machine can. Therefore, as soon as the snow pack is consistent enough, deep enough, and completely frozen, we want to put our big cats to work. The critical issue with early snow cat grooming is making sure that the snow does not “flip.” If the base pack is not ideal, the treads of the snow cats will cut through the base and flip the layer of snow as they drive over it. The result is grass, rocks, and dirt on top of the snow. Groomers start testing the cats by driving them in the NSAA operations yard at Kincaid first, and then on flat trails. Often times grooming on flat ground will be fine, but when they attempt a hill, the bond won’t hold and the result is a streak of dirt up the center. This is not the result of “grooming too deep” as we often hear from skiers, but the base layer bond breaking and “flipping over.”
When is it okay to put the big cats to work? This is where 20+ years of grooming experience comes into play, though every season is a learning experience. Often times what works in one area of town (or even one portion of the same trail) will not work in another. More than once our groomers have encountered changed conditions and wish they had a helicopter to haul them out. Instead they must look for the quickest path back to the yard that will minimize the damage they know they are causing.
Groomers want tracks as soon as they are able to get them in. They need 2-3” of consolidated base (not just snow, but base). Without that there will be a dirt strip on the side of the trail. Groomers try to allow for the maximum amount of time between setting track and skier traffic. But at times with changing weather, the most economical time to groom is early morning. Many times the effects of a night groom completed at 3am are completely nullified by an early morning weather event. Resources are finite and we must ration the labor we have and try to guess and schedule the best time of day to groom.
NSAA grooming staff consists of some folks who have 20-30 years of experience and some that are new to the business. Each one of them will admit they are still learning and that their training ground is our trails. Some snow conditions only come around every few years and even our crew that have been working for several years may have never encountered a particular condition before. Just like doctors, our groomers strive to “do no harm,” and they are content to work with what’s given in all circumstances. Decisions are made with less than ideal conditions to work with, less than perfect weather forecasts, and a finite number of groomers (both human and metal). If every skier in Anchorage were to purchase a pin, we could probably groom as each hour dictated. Instead, we strive to maximize our resources and our effectiveness by grooming at the most economical times.
Thirty years ago we had one groomer who would often drag a chain link fence behind a snow machine. It would take about a week to get to all the major areas after a snowfall. Sometimes the snow would blow away before the groomer could get to it. Now we have one groomer for each major ski area working 8-10 hours a day.
The Kincaid snowmaking system has been operated by the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage (NSAA) since the winter of 2014-15. The snowmaking system is used to place snow on approximately 6 kilometers of trail in the park. Snowmaking usually begins in mid-November and if weather conditions are favorable it will take 20-25 days to cover the trails. One may see many lances and fan guns operating when they visit the park. To provide an overview/guide to the snowmaking loops the following explains the approach the NSAA operations staff (OPS) uses in creating the trails. One should also check the NSAA website to get daily updates.
When snowmaking begins, the groomers work on 2 specific goals. First, complete the green loop (approximately 0.9 km) as quick as possible and second, get snow into the Lower and Lekisch tunnels. If weather conditions are favorable, the green loop can be completed in 3-4 days and be ready for skiing.
When the green loop is completed the groomers focus on completing the yellow loop and connecting it to the green loop. This loop consists of a single trail or ‘ribbon’ through the stadium and the Lekisch tunnel to connect with the trails in the biathlon stadium. It will take 3-4 days to complete and when finished, approximately 1.9 km is available for skiing on the combined green and yellow loops.
The stadium and the trails around Gong Hill and behind the biathlon range (turquoise trails) are next. The stadium is a large area (between 2 and 3 acres) and 3-4 fan guns are used simultaneously for approximately 1 week to cover the entire area. While working on the stadium, the groomers are also working on the turquoise trails on Gong Hill and behind the biathlon range. When completed these trails add an additional 0.9 km to the trail system.
After the stadium is complete grooming efforts are focused on the trails north of the chalet. The purple trails are completed first, followed by the blue trails. Snowmaking in this area usually takes a week and when completed, these trails add another 2.2 km to the trail system.
Beginning in the winter of 2019-20, NSAA modified 2 lances to accommodate the use of fan guns so snow could be placed on the black trail (which consists of the Lower Roller Coaster and Dark Alley trails). This trail is covered last and adds an additional 0.8 km to the trail system.
9170 JEWEL LAKE RD
ANCHORAGE, AK 99502
© Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage