It’s October. Shoulder season. Darkness and frost season. Colds and flu season. 8.5 hours of daylight and losing nearly an hour a week season (hello, Fairbanks). L4 bounding intervals season. Courting elbow tendonitis from rollerskiing on frozen pavement season.
Put all that together, and this can be a difficult time of year to be a nordic skier. But it can also be a joyous one, depending upon what early-season snow looks like where you live.
Please enjoy this visual tour through a selection of recent North American skiing. Venues are arranged in descending order of latitude and longitude. After looking at a lot of social media posts and trail condition updates over the past few days, Nordic Insights tentatively concludes that Fairbanks currently has the most kilometers open of any ski area on the continent, Hatcher Pass has the best classic tracks, and Canmore has the most skiers.
It hasn’t snowed that much in Fairbanks yet this winter. But it doesn’t have to, given the famously manicured trails at Birch Hill. Groomers have packed trails on each of the last three days, yielding around 30 kilometers currently open. The grooming report describes most trails as “packed, very thin,” but frankly this looks pretty darn good:
The highest temperature in the forecast for Fairbanks this week is 22° F, with more snow on the way, so things should only improve from here.
Independence Mine State Historical Park, in Hatcher Pass, Alaska
If you were drooling over a skier’s Instagram posts this past weekend they were probably from Hatcher Pass, which saw its inaugural grooming for this year on Friday night. The sun was out; the sky was blue; the classic tracks were solid; the stoke was high. Literally Extra Blue conditions, as Ed Strabel, Mark Strabel, and a team of fellow volunteers once more brought race-skis conditions to October at 3,500 feet. “So good. Love to live here. Mat-Su Ski Club deserves the world,” Gus Schumacher wrote on Strava following his Sunday ski.
There are only 4km groomed up at the mine, but literally only a couple hundred meters of that are flat, so it skis like more. Low temps last night were 13° F; winter at Hatcher Pass seems (knock on wood) there to stay.
Plus enjoy some videos of fast skiers skiing fast:
Canmore Nordic Centre rolled out saved snow last week, then opened up this year’s Frozen Thunder loop on Saturday morning. The track is slightly over two kilometres long; it is accessed via a reservation system through noon each day, then is open more broadly after that. Daytime highs this week are forecast to be up to 9 C (48° F), which is why Nordic Insights gives the nod for firmest classic tracks on the continent to Hatcher Pass.
Graeme Williams has done yeoman’s work in documenting the current scene at Canmore:
Honorable mention, Canada division: Sovereign Lake, in British Columbia, is not officially opening until November 4, but current conditions are looking wintry on their webcams. And Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club, in the Yukon, has packed around 10km of trails following early-season snowfall, though they are not recommending skiing yet at this time.
UPDATE: Gerry Furseth checks in with a Tuesday-afternoon post from B.C., revealing what passes for “rock skis” conditions at Sovereign Lake.
Bridger Ski Foundation groomed approximately 3.3km at Sunset Hills on Sunday. This recent photo, from friend of the site Woody West on Monday afternoon, looks great, as does this post from BSF.
That said, groomers today described conditions as only “sort-of skiable” with “a lot of grass and dirt showing,” and no plans for further grooming until additional snowfall. Erika Flowers skied this morning before work, calling it the “best kind of scrappy” in an Instagram story.
Grand Mesa, Colorado
Grand Mesa Nordic Council was out snowmachine packing trails on Monday out of the County Line trailhead. Further details in this post, which mentions around a foot of snow and a focus on base development:
Additional snow and sub-freezing temperatures are forecast for the area, at roughly 10,000 feet elevation.
Upper Peninsula, Michigan
The trail reports section on SkinnySki lit up on October 17, with tales of an early-season dump over most of the UP and reports of early-season skiing in both Ironwood and Ishpeming. Things have been conspicuously silent since then, though, and temps well above freezing for the last several days suggest that the snow has not stuck around.
This is grievously the wrong kind of skiing, but was the best Instagram indicia that could be found of UP skiing last week after a lot of searching. Email (info at nordicinsights.news) or Instagram DM with a better photo, and this post will be updated accordingly to give the UP its due.
— Gavin Kentch