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Nationals Notes: Cold Weather Returns to Anchorage

Fresh tracks and recent grooming are visible in the Stadium area at Kincaid Park, Thursday morning, Dec. 21, 2017, in this screenshot capture from the NSAA webcam. (Screenshot: AnchorageNordicSki.com)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — With less than two weeks to go until the first race of the 2018 U.S. Cross Country Championships, race organizers have emphasized their commitment to holding the races in Anchorage while mentioning the possibility of a backup venue, an hour-drive away, if racing at Kincaid Park becomes untenable.

Organizers posted the following update on the U.S. nationals website earlier this week:

All races will be held as scheduled-

• Snow is currently falling in the Anchorage bowl. Snow production is continuing at Kincaid park. There are currently 2.5km of skiable terrain and this terrain is being groomed.

• All competition events will be held. Revisions to the race courses may be considered by the jury.

• If conditions deteriorate and are no longer viable at Kincaid park, Government Peak Recreation Area trail system, 1 hour driving distance of Anchorage, will be the backup site.

It snowed roughly two inches in Anchorage on Tuesday of this week, with no new snow since then. That was the first significant snowfall in Anchorage in the month of December.

The first half of the month wasn’t just snowless, it was also historically warm. As the National Weather Service wrote on Facebook on Dec. 15, “At Anchorage the average temperature is more than 19 degrees above normal and is the first time that the first two weeks of December has averaged above freezing.” Rain was not uncommon in the first half of this month.

The first weekend of Besh Cup races, the race series used to select Team Alaska skiers for Junior Nationals, last week was moved 300 miles north to Fairbanks on four days’ notice. In explaining the reason for the change, Cross Country Alaska discussed the need to preserve Anchorage’s snow for nationals.

After all that, colder temperatures returned to Anchorage at the start of this workweek. Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 18 and 19, saw snowmaking resume at Kincaid. There was also the natural snowfall on Tuesday, which the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage (NSAA) wrote came to “1-1.5 inches” of accumulation at Kincaid. Following warmer temperatures and no snowmaking on Wednesday, the snow guns were running again on Thursday.

In a Thursday morning grooming update, NSAA wrote, “The SML [snowmaking loop] and Play Hill have been groomed this morning. With these colder temperatures, the crew is concentrating on making snow. They are working in the Stadium and heading toward the Chalet.”

As U.S. nationals chief of competition Matt Pauli explained earlier this month, the next planned step in snowmaking would be to expand coverage toward the chalet and generally west of what is currently covered.

Also Thursday, in a separate update, NSAA added, “It seems that the groomers are back in business, at least for a little while.  Some of the Lighted Loops at Kincaid have been resurrected, however with the U.S. National’s quickly approaching and with colder temperatures, the crew is focusing on making more snow.”

As the update on the nationals message board noted, all planned competitions at U.S. nationals will be held, but changed courses may be considered as necessary. The sprint loop is currently 100 percent covered with machine-made snow. While the distance courses (the longer FIS-certified loops of 5 and 7.5 kilometers) are mostly outside the direct reach of the snow guns, Pauli previously discussed ways of bolstering the snowpack, if needed, on the distance courses, such as moving manmade and/or natural snow onto those courses.

As of Thursday, the full distance courses had not been groomed since Tuesday’s snowfall. They currently feature a one-inch skiff of fresh snow on top of an icy base. Regarding plans to potentially use these courses during race week, U.S. nationals Organizing Committee Chair Joey Caterinichio wrote in an email to FasterSkier, “Kincaid snow production continues, temperatures have cooled making this easier and viable. Using our FIS designated race courses is the desired goal and plans continue to prepare the courses. Revisions to race courses may be determined by weather and jury at a later date.”

“Kincaid is a go,” Caterinichio noted. “We have snow and are making more.”

She explained that teams are skiing daily at Kincaid, wax trailers are arriving, and the preparation for the major event is in full force.

“It will be great and will be at Kincaid. Live timing and live steaming are planned,” she wrote.

The backup venue, Government Peak Recreation Area, has a packed base of 6-8 inches, according to recent grooming update, with double classic tracks set in preparation for the upcoming Icicle Double community race series

While the Competition Loop at Government Peak is not International Ski Federation (FIS)-homologated, Ed Strabel of the Mat–Su Ski Club wrote in an email to FasterSkier that it does feature a FIS-worthy total climb of 185 meters over 5.13 k, or 36 meters of climbing per kilometer. This is slightly hillier than the 7.5 k FIS course at Kincaid (35 m/km), and substantially hillier than the shorter snowmaking loop.

The first race of U.S. nationals is the distance skate race on Wednesday, Jan. 3.

— Gavin Kentch

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For more updates, check out:

Grooming and snowmaking: NSAA grooming report | User-submitted trail reports | Kincaid Stadium webcam | NSAA temperature guidelines for operating snowmaking equipment

Weather: Long-range forecast (weather.gov) | Long-range forecast (yr.no)

Main U.S. nationals site for updates: U.S. nationals

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