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Jr. National X-C Ski Trail

1968 to Mid 1970's

Name of Ski Area: 1969 Jr. National X-C Ski Trail, Alyeska Cross Country Racing Trails
Location: Girdwood, in the area of the Winner Creek Trail between Moose Meadows and Winner Creek
Type of Area: Ski Trail
Dates of Operation: 1968 to Mid 1970's  (still researching when usage of this race trail ceased)
Who Built It?:  Jim Burkholder
 Don Conrad
 Nat Goodhue
 Leo Hannon
 Marv Hathhorn
 Gail Bakken Johnson
 Charlie and Kit MacInnes
 Dick and Arlene Mize
 Mike O'Leary
 Tobbin Spurkland
 Lou Strutz
 The Bodnar Family
 The Moerlein Family
 The Richter Family
 The Mucha Family
 The Spivey Family
 The Tikka Family
 High School Ski Coaches and Students
 Sven Johanson and US Army Biathletes
 Jim Mahaffey and AMU (Alaska Methodist University) Skiers
 Army National Guard Engineers
Elevation:

From ~200' to ~600'

Facilities: Alyeska Ski Resort nearby.
Miscellaneous: 5km, 7.5km and 10km loops were built to host the 1969 United States Jr. National Cross Country Skiing Championships.  The 1969 Jr. National individual races were won by 15 year old Shirley Firth, an Inuit Eskimo from Inuvik, NWT, and Fred Kelley, a 17 year old Indian from Ft. Good Hope on the Mackenzie River.  These two young skiers were participants of the famous Canadian TEST (Territorial Experimental Ski Training) program (see article below).

In 2004, Anchorage Daily News Oudoors Editor Craig Medred skied the route of the Girdwood Jr. National X-C Ski Trail with Jim Renkert and wrote an article about this trail entitled "Nordic Trail in Girdwood Mostly A Memory" (see below).

Sources of Information:

Jim Renkert; Bill Spencer; Jim and Sally Burkholder; Tim Kelley; Craig Medred; Scott Banks; George "Joe" Hanson; Karen Garcia; Deb Essex; Chuck Johnson

Photos: Does anyone have pictures of skiing at the Girdwood Jr. National Trails (or current pictures of the vicinity) that they would like to contribute to ALSAP ?

~  PHOTOS  ~
1969 Junior National Championships Photos - Courtesy of Chuck Johnson

Chuck Johnson: "Jim (Whizzy) Whisenhant coach at Lathrop High and I brought the Fairbanks members of the Alaska team to Alyeska [in 1969] and assisted team coach Sven Johansen.  I've attached some pictures from that meet ..."

Barbara Britch tagging Anne Thomas Barbara Britch Chris Haines tagging Bela Bodnar
Louisa Stein (from Anaktuvuk Pass, AK) Marianne Vanenkevort tagging Louisa Stein Barbara Britch
   
  Shirley Firth  

 
WestHigh_GirdwoodJrNatl_1970_racing.jpg (172425 bytes)

The 1970 Anchorage West High School yearbook had some good pictures of skiers racing on the trails at Alyeska in Girdwood.

(click on this image to expand it)

[Photo credit: 1970 Anchorage West High School Yearbook]

Shirley Firth and Fred Kelly after winning 1st places in individual competition at the U.S. Junior National Cross Country Skiing Championships in Girdwood, AK.

[Photo credit: Alaska Sportsman Magazine, June 1969, Page 9]

 

 

"Father Mouchet's Remarkable Inuvik Skiers"
by Ginny Hill Wood, Alaska Sportsman Magazine, June 1969

(Click on images below to expand to readable size)

 

September 2010: Girdwood Nordic Ski Club Construction of Multi-Use Trails in Area Where 1969 Junior Nationals Trails Existed
Photos by Tim Kelley

Deep in the woods a few old trail signs from the 1969 trail can still be found, over 40 years later.  Old stumps from initial trail clearing can be found too.
Pictures of the Girdwood Nordic Ski Club trails being built.
   

~  MAPS  ~

This large scale topo shows where the Jr. National X-C Ski Trail was located relative to Anchorage and Girdwood.

(click on this map to expand it)

topo_girdwoodjrnatl.jpg (145996 bytes)

A zoomed in topo view shows the general area of where the ski trails were located.  The area of the trails was in the vicinity of what is now the Winner Creek Trail.  The race trail extended from Moose Meadows up to Winner Creek and back.

(click on this map to expand it)

topo_zoom_girdwoodjrnatl.jpg (120026 bytes)

The following two images are from the 1969 Jr. Nationals competitors' information packets.  On the left is the course map.  For this web site the course was highlighted in red so it is more easily followed.  On the right is the course profile.

(click on these images to expand them)

HighlightedTrail_1969JrNatlsmap.jpg (200229 bytes) 1969JrNationalsProfile.jpg (60049 bytes)
On this 1996 aerial view of Girdwood the race trail has been estimated by the red line.  Note: this trail marking is a crude freehand "guesstimation" of the location based on the above map.  It is not accurate, but will give one the general idea of the course layout.

(click on this image to expand it)

terra_highlight_girdwoodjrnatl.jpg (82460 bytes)
Research Correspondence 

[Scott Banks - 15 March 2005 email excerpt]

 

Here's a short story about my experience on the trail. I wasn't a skier, but a hockey player and good friends with Dirk Bodnar, Bela's younger brother. We were up at Alyeska working on clearing the trail--Bela's Dad, Andy, Dirk, and I think Lance and the youngest boy. I was wielding a machete and caught Dirk in the arm with my back swing and cut him pretty good. So it was a short clearing session. We all piled back into their station wagon and drove back to Anchorage where (I think) Dr. Mills sewed him up.  Andy wasn't very happy with me!
 

[April 4, 2004 Anchorage Daily News article by Craig Medred entitled "Nordic Trail in Girdwood Mostly a Memory"]

 

History dies young in Alaska.  Skier Jim Renkert knows this all too well after a couple of years hunting for the Girdwood trail on which the 1969 Junior National Cross-Country Ski Championship was contested.


Back then -- only five years after the Good Friday earthquake flattened Anchorage and devastated Southcentral Alaska -- the junior nationals were a big deal. A first for Alaska, the nationals came at a time when the state was looking for a tourism boost.


The skiers, The Anchorage Times would opine after the event, "absorbed in their brief week here at least a flavor of Alaska and an acquaintance with some of its people. They have an idea, at least, what Alaska is all about  ...
"And we hope the word they carry home about Alaska will be a good one. We would like to have them back again -- along with their parents and brothers and sisters and all their friends.''


Were they to return today, they would find amazingly transformed alpine slopes on Mount Alyeska, spectacular accommodations at the Alyeska Prince Hotel and artifacts of the Nordic Trail -- if they found that.


Bela Bodnar, then a junior nordic racer and now an Anchorage high school ski coach, remembers the trail fondly as one of the best in the area. But he can't remember how it passed away.  Sometime when he was off at college, he said, it just seemed to fade back into the forest northeast of where the Alyeska Prince now rises.


As a boy, Renkert strapped on wooden skis and explored the network of trails through these woods. Then he wandered away, as Bodnar did before him and as so many young Alaskans do now, to see America and the world.  Over the course of a couple of decades, Renkert never lost touch with his Alaska roots, but he strayed far from the hills that run up the valley between Glacier Creek and the north face on Mount Alyeska.


It wasn't until about the time he became trail coordinator for the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation that he began to wonder what ever had become of the old Nordic Trail.  Eventually, he found a map of where it ran. But when he returned a few years ago to explore the old trail system, he was surprised to find it nearly gone. The map was of limited use.  So much had changed in 30 years.


The hotel and its parking lots had been built over part of the trail. New downhill ski runs coming off the recently opened north face concealed more. An old avalanche had swept to the bottom of the valley, knocking down spruce trees that once held trail markers and clearing the ground for a thicket of alders near the 1-kilometer mark on the old trail.


Bodnar remembered the avalanche well. He was on the Nordic Trail when the resort shot it down. He was skiing with a young man from Texas. They heard the snow come rumbling down the north face and thought they were going to die.
"We heard these big, old hemlock trees coming down,'' Bodnar said. "The air was so full of snow you could hardly breathe. We could barely see each other. It sounded like it had our number.''  For terrifying seconds, Bodnar was convinced that he would either be crushed by a falling hemlock or smothered in a wall of snow. But he and his friend sought safety in a stand of trees that survived.  "It missed us," Bodnar said. "(But) we were a little hot. They didn't even think of clearing the cross-country trail in those days.''


The alder-scar of the old avalanche is still easy to find today, but Renkert notes Alyeska avalanche control work has become a lot more sophisticated, knocking down potentially dangerous snow much earlier. The lower station of the Alyeska Tram sits several hundred feet from that old avalanche scar.


In summer, when the snow that now covers the alders melts, Renkert said it's hard to determine where the old Nordic Trail went, but it wouldn't be hard to cut a new trail through the alders into where the Nordic Trail joins what is now part of the Winner Creek Trail.  Winner Creek shared part of the old nordic route, and somewhere in time absorbed the collective memory of the community.


When a Girdwood-area trail plan was revised some years ago, Winner Creek was high on the list, and the old junior nationals trail was left out -- a forgotten remnant from the days before fiberglass skis, nylon-plastic boots and skate technique.  Signs depicting nordic skiers nailed to trees in a forest with quickly regenerating underbrush faded.
Bodnar thinks it may be time to think about bringing it back.


"They need more ski trails there (at Alyeska),'' he said. "They need a cross-country ski school there. They need a place to rent skis at the lodge. Cross-country has gotten a heck of a lot more popular worldwide.''


He is right about that. In the West now, cross-country resorts, built in the fashion of downhill resorts, are springing up.
 The Los Angeles Times has cited this as part of a trend, pegging nordic skiing as one of the fastest growing winter sports.  The Cross-Country Ski Areas Association reported visits to member resorts were up 20 percent last year.  Alyeska could have an opportunity to join the trend.


"It was a pretty nice trail,'' said Barbara Britch Craig of Delta, a former Olympian from Alaska and another of those who skied junior nordic races here in 1969. "It wasn't really terribly hard. It was a nice trail.''


It still could be.


Armed with the old map, an ample dose of determination and a historic curiosity, Renkert has -- over the course of the past couple winters and part of a summer -- rediscovered most of the old route.  On a sun-kissed Friday last month, when the heavens simply seemed to be beaming on the snow-covered mountains, we skied much of the trail. Some of the course was obvious from the few marking signs left from the 1960s. Old blazes were left on tree trunks here and there.  Other parts were discernible in the unnatural openings through the forest.  And some of the old route was lost beneath the snow.

Renkert confessed he had been forced to come back in summer to find old tree or brush cuts, connecting some of the twists and turns in the snaking trail. This clearly wasn't a trail constructed to skate-technique standards, as most trails are now.  Some of the uphills and downhills, though short, are steep enough to be challenging on a groomed trail. Some of the corners are sharp, unlike the wide, sweeping turns on the heavily used nordic trails at Kincaid Park.  Trail width is narrow, more like a trail meant to be maintained by snowmobiles than with a Piston Bully.


"They were setting it with Ski-Doo Alpines,'' Bodnar said, "just a single track.''  The Alpine is no longer made, but an Italian firm makes a modernized and much-improved version called an Alpina Sherpa. The $20,000 cost is hefty, but a fraction of what a Piston Bully goes for these days.  With that machine and a drag to smooth the snow behind, it would take almost no additional effort to renovate the old junior nordic trail. A tree might need to be cut here and there and a few limbs trimmed back, but it would be amazingly easy to restore quality nordic loops of 5- and 10-kilometers to the Girdwood Valley.


Maybe it's time to take a step back to the future.

 

[ George "Joe" Hanson - 17 January 2007 email]

 

You may remember me, I submitted some info on the Stuckagain ski area.
I just noticed your Trails section. I was the senior patrolman from the Denali Ski Patrol at the 10KM turn around during the 1969 Jr. National X-C races. I brought my McKinley expedition tent and set it up at the bottom of the 10KM turnaround hill in event that a temporary shelter would be needed and kept a jug of hot chocolate for anyone to use. I skied out daily on my touring skis and remember that it was fairly wet and with the load I was carrying, one of my skis would eventually reverse camber so every evening I would have to bock and dry them to restore the camber.
Some of the old trail followed part of the old upper extension of the old Virgin Creek Trail that connected to the Winner Creek trail and some of the old corded sections can still be found.
Don Conrad used to do a lot of old trail brushing on horseback and I remember helping him on the lower part of the old Virgin Creek Trail. We would use chain saws and axes.
A few of us "old timers" opened up old trails and made some new ones on horse back, snow machines and 4 wheelers for everyone to use but the selfish newer people that started moving in, kicked us off these trails we made to take them for themselves and then wouldn't maintain them so a lot of them grew over. Now these selfish people have started digging into the taxpayers pockets spending tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars of public money to do what we did for free.
I do have some pictures somewhere and if I ever find them, will try to scan and send them to you.
 

[ Turnagain Times, Karen Garcia - 16 September 2010]

Girdwood Nordic Ski Club presses on with trail building project: Two new trails to be constructed

By Karen Garcia
Turnagain Times

Since receiving approval from the Anchorage Assembly in early May, the Girdwood Nordic Ski Club continues to press forward with the developmental planning of a Nordic and multi-use loop trail system in the upper Girdwood Valley.
On a 9-1 vote, the Assembly approved the ordinance authorizing an easement to the club, allowing for the formation of a trail system on Heritage Land Bank land, north of Alyeska Resort. The Girdwood Trails Committee also voted in favor of the construction.
Incorporated on October 13, 2008, the non-profit Girdwood Nordic Ski Club’s mission is to build, maintain, and operate a world-class trail system that will benefit local residents, attract visitors, and potentially host competition in the Glacier-Winner Creek Valley.
Still in its early stages of development, the trail system is currently in the general planning and permit-obtaining phase. This stage of the project relies heavily on the Boutet Company, a design and engineering firm hired by the GNSC to map out a feasible trail construction plan.
“They are doing the planning and permitting work for us, and that is probably about 90 percent complete as far as permitting goes, and the construction plans are pretty much done,” said Brian Burnett, a member of the GNSC.
Jim Galanes, a former World Cup and Olympic cross-country skier, is employed by the Boutet Company and is the head of the Nordic trail planning project.
“We conducted a study and public process to see what was feasible to build and where a preferred location would be,” said Galanes. “So we went through a pretty extensive study.”
According to Galanes, the trail will be multi-use in the summer, and a well-groomed ski trail in the winter. Currently in the final stages of design, the company is flagging the corridors in the field and fine-tuning the details.
“We are deciding on final locations and working on the permitting process,” said Galanes.
Currently planned are two smaller loops within the larger trail system: the Red Trail and the Yellow Trail (see map). According to Burnett, both trails are about six kilometers in length, with the Yellow Loop being the first priority. The Red Loop will be constructed once the Yellow Loop is completely established.
“He [Galanes] has designed and mapped a fantastic trail system within the confines of the valley,” said Deb Essex, president of the GNSC.
As far as actual physical construction and trail-blazing is concerned, the members of the GNSC will help build and maintain the trail, but outside contractors will also be hired.
“The majority of the work will be contracted out to a trail-building professional,” said Burnett.
Galanes said that it is hard to say how long it will take to complete construction, seeing as his firm is not in charge of that aspect of the project, but that the club is probably looking at two construction seasons unless things come together extremely quickly.
According to Essex, the trail system has been designed to highlight the valley’s topographic features, accommodate for mass starts in future competition, and integrate with other multi-use trails. She said the benefits to Girdwood will be both social and economical.
While they all supported the formation of such a trail system, Alyeska Resort, Girdwood Parks and Recreation, and the Girdwood Trails Committee all declined to operate the system if it was to be built. Thus, the GNSC was formed.
The GNSC was created after extensively researching successful models of Nordic clubs throughout Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Its Board of Directors and other members consists of a diverse group of ski instructors, Olympians, and trail builders who hope to encourage responsible trail use through advocacy, education, and stewardship.
Now, the GNSC is looking to the community for both financial and social support to continue the project.
“We’re looking for support within the community; people that are interested in seeing these trails developed,” said Burnett. “What we have to move ahead on now is membership and business plans.”
The club is currently putting the finishing touches on its website (skigirdwood.org) and is conducting a fundraising campaign that is set to begin in early July.
“It’s all kind of coming together,” said Burnett. “There are a lot of hoops for us to still jump through, but the process is still moving forward.”.

pfd of article, click here.

[ Deb Essex - 02 November 2010]

As we continue to build trails in Girdwood, Sally Burkholder provided me with a list of the original crew.  Thought you might want a copy.

Deb

 Jim Burkholder
 Don Conrad
 Nat Goodhue
 Leo Hannon
 Marv Hathhorn
 Gail Bakken Johnson
 Charlie and Kit MacInnes
 Dick and Arlene Mize
 Mike O'Leary
 Tobbin Spurkland
 Lou Strutz
 The Bodnar Family
 The Moerlein Family
 The Richter Family
 The Mucha Family
 The Spivey Family
 The Tikka Family
 High School Ski Coaches and Students
 Sven Johanson and US Army Biathletes
 
Jim Mahaffey and AMU (Alaska Methodist University) Skiers
 Army National Guard Engineers

 

 

Do you have further information, stories or pictures that you would like to contribute about this ski area?