It is November. It is a period of transition for skiers everywhere. If you are lucky, the leaves and sticks and moose poop are not frozen into immovable lumps on your local rollerski trail. If you are unlucky, there is too much frost to rollerski but too little snow to ski, and you are reduced to choosing between foot with poles and the SkiErg while constantly pressing “refresh” on your favorite weather website and convincing yourself that it will snow somewhere within driving distance before you go insane.
And if you are very lucky, you live in Fairbanks, Alaska, where they have been grooming roughly 40 kilometers of trail for fully four weeks now.
In that spirit, please enjoy this unscientific, but also likely fairly comprehensive, roundup of October ski conditions across the continent. I’m starting with Fairbanks, because they were first, and going generally south and east from there.
As always, if I’ve missed somewhere that I should know about, please let me know. info (at) nordicinsights.news, or @nordicinsights on Instagram.
The above image is from slightly below the stadium at Fairbanks’s Birch Hill Recreation Area (elevation: ca. 950 feet; longitude: ca. 64° 52′ N) on October 7 of this year. You will note that a few inches of fresh snow had already been dragged. Indeed, formal grooming updates from Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks begin on October 6, and have continued ever since.
I’m not trying to claim too much here; all trails are denominated on the grooming report as “packed and tracked very thin.” But note that I said tracked, and note that I said all trails. Here is a 28-kilometer OD from October 15, with minimal trail duplication, to help illustrate what this looks like.
Put another way, by my math Birch Hill currently has tracks set on roughly 42 kilometers of nordic ski trail. I feel very comfortable concluding that there are currently more kilometers’ worth of set classic tracks at Birch Hill than there are in the rest of the continent combined, by a substantial margin. Heck, the Fairbanks Golf Course probably has more classic track right now than all the rest of North America excepting Birch Hill.
In addition to Birch Hill, where the APU Elite Team has currently decamped for an on-snow training camp, grooming in the greater Fairbanks area is ongoing at the UAF campus, Salcha Ski Trails, Two Rivers, and the Fairbanks Golf Course. The phrase “embarrassment of riches” comes to mind.
Hatcher Pass, above Palmer, Alaska
Current skiing level: sort of. I can embed the above Instagram-worthy photo of my classic tracks at Independence Mine from October 21, and everyone should be duly impressed at what looks like great skiing. But the other half of the Instagram vs. reality dichotomy is that the walk up from the gate looks like this…
… and that the good skiable section around the mine buildings and shuttered parking lots is well under one-half kilometer. Independence Mine is literally skiable, in the sense that I skied there, but I would not be surprised if no one has since. The story of climate change can be told in the margins on either side of freezing; the mine is currently just a few fractions of a degree, or a few hundred feet in elevation, away from having ample skiable snow. Alas.
Current skiing level: lol no. Perhaps you would like to go ice skating in the nearby mountains instead?
Current snowmaking activity: see id.
Sovereign Lake, British Columbia
No formal grooming yet at Sovereign Lake or SilverStar, but there is definitely snowfall in evidence. Plus tracks, from a variety of trail users.
Frozen Thunder, Canmore, Alberta
Canmore Nordic Centre has once more rolled out enough saved snow, complemented by recently spread manmade snow, to create the 2.6-kilometre long Frozen Thunder loop. Much of high-end western Canadian skiing can currently be found there; biathlon trials are happening today through the weekend. The loop is short, but the scenery is lovely.
Washington Pass Overlook Trail, Methow Valley, Washington
Much the same dynamic, though with natural snow, applies to the trails at Washington Pass: one online trail report describes this as a “hamster wheel,” and acknowledges that, as of October 26, the skate platform had not fully set up yet. All that said, this looks gorgeous.
Bozeman and environs
It snowed throughout the Rockies in late October. Team Bridger Ski Foundation is pictured on snow above. The below screenshot, from the trails at Crosscut Mountain, is from October 29.
The mountains near Laramie, Wyoming
Also from the American West, also on October 29. Looks really nice.
Grand Mesa, Colorado
This photo is technically from November 2, but my goodness, would you look at that. I’ve also seen reports from Bruce’s Trail from the Steamboat folks, and Snow Mountain Ranch in Granby is reporting snowfall but no official grooming yet.
The mountains above Lake Tahoe, California
Moving south a bit, here are the good people at Sugar Bowl Ski Team & Academy skiing away on October 26. Looks great!
Moving over to the Midwest:
There was heavy, wet Lake Effect snow on the Birkie Trail on Tuesday morning. Current conditions in Cable are 39° F, so it probably hasn’t stuck around too well… but the good folks at American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation did not miss the chance to jump on a snowmaking window slightly before that. Which is awesome.
First two photos above show the view at the Birkie trailhead as of mid-afternoon Thursday, post-snowmaking. Third photo shows conditions at OO, post–natural snow but sans current snowmaking. All three images are screenshots from the fine Birkie trail webcams page.
Maplelag Resort, Callaway, Minnesota
Owner Jay Richards groomed roughly 3km of trail at the family-owned resort in northwestern Minnesota starting on Tuesday. Things are closed again for now due to the vagaries of Minnesota deer hunting season and private landowner access, but Richards plans to reopen in a few weeks, conditions permitting.
Hyland Hills, Bloomington, Minnesota
They’re making snow at Hyland Hills (yes I know this largely shows the downhill area), and have been for several days now. You love to see it.
CXC Outdoor Center, Middleton, Wisconsin
They are well into snowmaking on the 2km loop at CXC headquarters in the Madison suburbs. You, once more, love to see it; props to the Midwest for jumping on early-season snowmaking at multiple venues throughout the region.
* * *
Formal ski racing in this country traditionally begins with the Mat–Su Ski Club’s Race to the Outhouse #1, though they will need meaningful new snow soon if that race is to successfully occur a week from Saturday. Other races currently scheduled for November include Town Race Series #1 in Fairbanks on November 18 (a mass start skate race this year), biathlon races and a distance skate race in West Yellowstone on November 22 and 24, and the 59th (!) annual Turkey Day Relays in Fairbanks the day after Thanksgiving. For perspective, Alaska has been a state for only 64 years; this would be like a ski race in Vermont founded in 1796.
National-level domestic racing begins with Period 1 of the SuperTour, to be held in Anchorage from December 12–17. World Cup racing begins in Ruka with a classic sprint on November 24.
— Gavin Kentch