Commentary

The new and truly “Iceland”

Raindrops were sprinkling Alaska’s largest city again Thursday, and suddenly the year-old climate-change speculation about Anchorage transforming into “a less sunny version of Seattle” wasn’t so funny.

This was especially true given that in most ways a less sunny version of Seattle would be preferable to what the country’s largest northern city has turned into this winter: a less sunny, ice-coated, slippery version of Seattle.

Since the start of the new year, what little precipitation has fallen has alternated between rain and snow, and snow and rain. The resulting glop turns to ice under the slightest of pressure. Anywhere cars have driven, bicycles have ridden, people have walked or even the moose have waltzed, the ground is covered with a coat of ice.

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which normally stages its ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage on the first Saturday in March, is talking about a how it might need to trim the opening show to a blocks-long event staged on snow hauled in from elsewhere. Mushers don’t want to risk injury to dogs on the ice-covered city bike trails that usually lead the race out of town.

The Iditarod Trail Invitational, a bike, run and ski race along the same historic trail, is worrying that a companion Anchorage event, the city’s first “Big Fat Ride,” could fall short of the goal of setting a record for a gathering of fat-tired bikers. The birthplace of the fat-tired bikes that sparked a national fad, Anchorage is suddenly a place where tires heavily studded for riding on ice are better equipment than four-inch wide tires for riding on snow.

And the skiing? Forget the skiing. The Tour of Anchorage, once one of the country’s biggest cross-country ski races, is praying for snow while working on “Plan B: The Tour of Kincaid SML” — SML as in snow-making loop. Organizers are planning to use five kilometers of manmade snow  and “creative course design with the snowmaking loop” to replace a famed 100-kilometer marathon with “a race, a party, and fun!”

This is what it has come to: Anchorage, once the Nordic ski capital of the United States, having already transitioned from cross-country skis to fat bikes because of bad snow conditions, is looking for new winter recreation options.

How about ice skating in the streets? You laugh? Check out the youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJuWFJqdd18

“As a skier, snow biker, whatever, I think it’s worse than last year,” confessed Jim Jager, a one-time Nordic racer and father to a budding cross-country skiing star. “When my 16 year old goes, ‘Oh, I can remember when I was young,’ something is wrong.'”

Four years ago, Anchorage witnessed a record snowfall. Some people joked about a new Ice Age. That ended with a winter of marginal snow in 2013-14 and then back-to-back disasters in 2014-15 and this year.

Average Anchorage snowfall is 74.5 inches. Anchorage set a record low snow last year with 25.1 inches. There has been 25.8 inches so far this year, but nearly all of it has washed away or turned to ice.

Winter sports enthusiasts are downright depressed.

“It’s the cumulative impact,” Jager said. “Basically we went to one of the all time great winters to a marginal one and then to two awful ones.”

Kathi Merchant, the Fat Bike organizer, said she’s confident the situation will get better, and that even if it doesn’t, fat bikers will stud their tires and turn out for the Big Fat Ride anyway. The Iditarod says it will go on somehow no matter what in Anchorage and points to the fact there is at least snow to the north of the city this year.

The actual start of the Iditarod last year had to be moved hundreds of miles away to Fairbanks in the Interior because the south slope of the Alaska Range mountains was bare. At least there is now snow in the mountains where the  fabled “great White Silence” of revered northern poet Robert W. Service once again reigns.

And Alaskans are famous for their perseverance in the face of adversity. They’ve long endured the short days of the long, cold dark; the earthquakes that rock the coastal regions; and a bit of isolation from the real world of America.

So why would they give in to the great Dark Wet Iceland? So what if they have to lash on crampons just to step out of the house without going down on the ice?

 

 

 

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