Displaced By Snowmachines… AGAIN

by Cliff Eames

I don’t have a single, dramatic story to tell of displacement by snowmachines. I’ve been displaced from a LOT of places and hardly know where to begin.

I started cross country skiing in Southcentral Alaska in 1977, first out of Anchorage; for the last three years I’ve lived in Kenny Lake (southeast of Glennallen), and now ski mostly in that area. To try to give some coherence to this narrative, I’ll trace some of the areas I’ve effectively lost to winter recreation from south to north and then east.

Lots of people bemoan the extensive snowmachine use in the Lost Lake area which has stopped them from skiing or snowshoeing there. This is an especially spectacular spot, and it provides miles of beautiful wide-open alpine skiing. I’ve only been there a few times, but at this point I certainly don’t intend to try to get there again and compete with the snowmachine traffic. Snowmachiners and the agencies don’t seem willing to refute this and call Lost Lake a traditional snowmachine area. Of course the truly traditional winter recreational activity, long preceding snowmachining, is non-motorized.

I nearly forgot Carter-Crescent, which would have been ironic, since it was the focus of a major recent planning process. The Forest Service had first decided to manage it for non-motorized use, in effect returning it to its traditional use, but then reversed itself. It’s no longer a very pleasant place to ski.

I used to ski the Johnson Pass Trail several times a year, including a late winter ski camping trip, but it too has been claimed by snowmachiners. For a while I could avoid much of the conflict by taking the side route up Center Creek, but eventually snowmachines went up there as well.

For several years I organized a late December trip into the Trout Lake cabin on the Resurrection Pass Trail with my fellow employees at the Alaska Center for the Environment (I was aware it was open to snowmachines at that time of year), but as the snowmachine traffic increased that tradition died.

It was a while before I discovered the possibilities in the Twenty Mile, but it too was soon motorized.

I used to ski up Eagle River from the visitor center now and then, but that too became a lot less pleasant as snowmachine use increased.

Peters Creek valley in Chugach State Park is incredibly beautiful, and I used to love skiing it. But it’s open to snowmachines and it’s now been many years since I’ve been there in the winter (I continued to hike the non-motorized summer trail when I lived in Anchorage). (It has always puzzled me that snowmachiners say they have nowhere to ride near Anchorage when approximately the same number of useable valleys in Chugach State Park are open to snowmachining as are closed to it.)

For several years running I did a two night late winter ski camping trip up Purinton Creek in the Talkeetnas, but that area also became too heavily snowmachined.

Some of the most fantastic open ski terrain in the region is along the Glenn Highway near Eureka. I guess I should consider myself lucky that I skied there a few times before machines took over. Now of course snowmachine tracks blanket the landscape as far as the eye can see. This area now competes with Petersville, Thompson Pass and Broad Pass for the title of Snowmachine Heaven, and I wouldn’t consider going there.

A number of years ago a colleague who had recently moved to Alaska invited me to join him and his wife at a rented cabin at Nancy Lake. I knew what I was likely to be getting into, but accepted to get to know them better and to show that I appreciated their invitation. None of us enjoyed the signs and sounds of extensive snowmachine use that weekend.

Finally, I think there are at least two kinds of displacement. One is the kind described above; being, as a practical matter, driven away from places one formerly used and enjoyed (often passionately). The other, though, is not going to places you’ve never been but would love to get to and don’t visit because you know from their reputation that skiing there would be a depressing experience. I’ve never skied in Broad Pass, or in many places along the Parks Highway north of Talkeetna, and I presume I never will until land managers decide to create some opportunities, through either space or time zoning, for high quality non-motorized recreation.

And now that I live in Kenny Lake and have driven to Valdez several times, I’d love to ski in Thompson Pass, one of the most spectacular road accessible spots in Southcentral Alaska. I haven’t yet, and I don’t know if I will (unless maybe I can get there in the beginning of the season before there’s enough snow for it to be attractive for snowmachining).

This is a lengthy narrative (overly so, I know), but I suspect that the great majority of non-motorized recreationists also have many such stories to tell.

Cliff Eames
Kenny Lake, Alaska
April 26, 2007