The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Heidi Zemach
For The LOG 

Sewardites enjoy winter to the fullest


Heidi Zemach | For The LOG

Darin Trobaugh helps find skis for his youngsters Oliver and Philip.

Lots of people welcomed winter's first snowy downfall in Seward, eager to get outside and play. A couple hundred winter enthusiasts filled Seward Elementary School gym for the Seward Nordic Ski Club's annual gear swap on Saturday to rent or buy skis, poles and boots, snowboards, hats, coats and mittens and to make plans for winter activities. They shared company with their friends and neighbors over hot salmon chowder, pumpkin soup, chicken curry, and baked goodies like muffins and brownies.

"The winter's why we live in Alaska," said David Paperman, one of the ski club's many gear swap volunteers. He and his wife Dana try to fully embrace many of the outdoor experience available here with their children Sam and Edna.

"We like to hike and snowshoe and go sledding and cross-country skiing and watching the northern lights and bonfires in the snow, and building snow caves when we get enough snow, and stuff like that," Paperman said.

A good number of skiers included families with young children. Darin Trobaugh was trying to find skis for his sons Oliver and Phillip. Oliver, 6, was framing either side of his face with skis like bunny ears. The family typically recreates at flatter areas like Exit Glacier Road and the Bear Lake Trail, he said.

"As you can tell Oliver is not very experienced on what part of the body the skis go on," Darin joked. "We're just getting to the age where we can do a little bit more," he said.

Seward doesn't have the dependable snow conditions that many other places in Alaska does, so there's less of a ski scene overall compared to other areas in the state, said ski club volunteer MaryLynn Barnwell, as she greeted gear swap arrivals at the door. But skiing here can be very special in its own way: For skiing, it's much more variable here. It's a rainforest, which makes it much more unique. I mean that's the really cool thing about here, that you ski on a rainforest and it's right on an ocean, and that kind of thing. You won't get that anywhere else," she said.

The Nordic ski club has about 120-150 consistent members, and lots of active board members and volunteers who help with the club's two fundraisers, the gear swap and annual social, along with special Nordic ski events throughout the winter. The money raised, and membership dues are used to maintain and run the ski trail grooming equipment, but volunteers expend the hours of labor needed to groom the trails just right for skiing, Barnwell said.

Weather permitting, John Shank and Terry Federer faithfully maintain and groom Exit Glacier road throughout the winter. Tom Gillespie, Dan Walker and Dennis Perry groom the Bear Lake Trail, and sometimes parts of the Iditarod Trail. Duane Chase, Herb Wottlin and Andy Wilder groom the Divide ski trail at Mile 12; Jason Aigledinger grooms the Trail River Campground Trail; Bob Barnwell, Dan Walker, and other volunteers groom the school's cross- country trails. This year, skiing at Mile 12 should be even better than usual, folks said, as Wilder has repaired the club's old Piston Bully groomer which has been broken for some years. If conditions are right, volunteers also will groom a trail on the Old Sterling Highway behind Tern Lake.

"They're all perfectionists and they take a lot of pride in it," Barnwell said.

At its core, the Nordic Ski Club believes that skiing is a healthy wintertime activity that also provides an appreciation, and sense of stewardship for the wilderness environment all around us.

Last year, a new event which some 75-80 people attended was the chocolate tour on Exit Glacier Road, said Jennifer Haugh, the ski club board secretary. Folks skied from one stop to the next sampling a variety of chocolate treats baked by volunteer Amy Mow. Another popular local event is the New Year's Eve Luminary Ski on the ski trail at Mile 12, where people ski or snowshoe along a trail beautifully illuminated by more than 200 ice-candles. They gather afterwards around a campfire that burns deep into the snow, and warm up with cocoa and cider. Ann Gicadus and Mark Luttrell and others contribute the luminaries by freezing water to shape around plastic yogurt containers.

Finally, there's the 1-5-5-5 challenge, on Jan. 5, where people ski at Trail River for five hours, five minutes and five seconds, Haugh said. "You know, it's just a great organization, and we're always looking for more people to join the board and to help out with events throughout the year," she said.

The Seward Nordic Ski Club, for all community members, should not be confused with the Seward Seahawks Ski Club, the high-school cross-country ski team that competes with other high school teams in the region. That team is expecting to have 10 members this year according to coach Marc Swanson, and they have already started conditioning after school. Their members were at the ski shed during the gear swap meet, and the week before, waxing skis as a benefit fundraiser for the ski team.

Seward Elementary School frequently organizes an after-school group which skis on snowy trails near the school when conditions permit. There's also a pee-wee ski group in Seward consisting of about a dozen parents of small children who plan skiing or ice skating trips together.


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