Yet again, Mother Nature is messing with urban Alaskans who love that classic White Christmas punctuated with the roar of engines and the sweet smell of two-cycle engine exhaust.
A lack of the fluffies has the U.S. Forest Service continuing a snowmachine ban on the Kenai Peninsula south of the state’s largest city. Denali State Park far north of the city remains closed as well.
Between the two, diehard snowmachiners will find enough snow to ride in places in the popular Big Lake-Willow area, but it’s not very good riding.
After the snow drought of early winter 2016, early winter 2017 is starting with a snow shortage around the state’s urban core.
The Alyeska Ski Resort east of Anchorage, which traditionally tried to open on for the Thanksgiving holiday, gave up early and moved its starting date back to Dec. 15.
Outside of the Anchorage metropolitan area – the populated gut of the 49th state home to about 55 percent of the state’s population – the situation looks normal enough, or better. The Fairbanks area has about twice the amount of snow as expected by this date, according to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
North of Fairbanks, the agency reports snow depths at 280 percent of normal in the Central Yukon (River) basin. Most of the rest of northern Alaska has snow above normal as well.
Closer to the state’s largest city?
Well, Irene Lindquist, a forest technician for the Chugach National Forest, put it well in a Thursday trail report for the 5-million-acre federal reserve that sprawls across the north end of the Kenai Peninsula and into Prince William Sound.
“Not a sound from snow machine motors shall be heard in the woods across the Seward Ranger District as Dec. 1 will come and go without us being able to open for winter motorized use due to lack of snow cover to prevent resource damage,” she wrote. “We are monitoring ground conditions daily and will open to winter motorized use as soon as we are able.”
Maybe it’s time to invest in a fat bike.
North-south, east and worse
The Chugach is the snowmachine playground south of the state’s largest city. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough is the playground to the north.
Snow on the Kenai is at 46 percent of normal, according the NRSC. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough to the north looks better, but that’s mainly because of more snow than normal around Independence Mine in Hatcher Pass in the Talkeetna Mountains. It’s at 160 percent of normal.
Remove it from the equation, and the Mat-Su is at about 46 percent of normal, just about the same as the Kenai and Anchorage itself.
The National Weather Service’s “Snow Depth” map of the region shows only seven to eight inches of snow in the Valley and all the way up to Rainy Pass in the Alaska Range. There’s enough to run a snowmachine, but with caution. There’s not enough to cover logs, rocks, tussocks and other obstructions off established trails.
The human-powered outdoor crowd has it only slightly better.
“There is enough snow cover on packed trails to pull a sled, and skiing is possible in most areas though there are still large rocks and roots exposed below about 900 feet in elevation in many locations,” Lindquist reported.
Take the rock skis if you intend to ski. Studding the bike tires might not be a bad idea if you plan to ride.
It will get better eventually, certainly. Alaska always has snow at some point in the winter.
But the forecast for the holidays isn’t looking good with only a “chance of snow” at best, or maybe “rain” through next week, according to the National Weather Service. And the monthly outlook from the federal Climate Prediction Center calling for below normal precipitation.
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