Independence Mine

A pair of skiers descend the trail on early-season snow at Independence Mine Nov. 7.

With plenty of snow already blanketing the ski trails around Independence Mine in Hatcher Pass, the MatSu Ski Club is kicking off a full season of trail grooming, lessons and events for Valley residents, volunteer leaders said.

For the 2021-2022 season the Club will offer a series of adult lessons for beginner and intermediate skate and classic cross-country skiers, said Ailis Vann, who volunteers as Ski Club’s vice president. Those interested should mark their calendars for registration Dec. 1 on the club’s website. Thanks to high demand, the lessons, which are $15 each, sell out fast, she said.

New this year the club also has a limited number of adult skis to loan to those registered, thanks to a grant from the Palmer Community Foundation, she said. Lessons will be held during weekdays and on Saturday mornings, she said.

The non-profit club, which is led by volunteers and one part time staff member, also maintains the miles of groomed ski trails at Government Pass Recreation Area, Independence Mine and Archangel Road in Hatcher Pass and the Moose Range off Fishhook-Willow Road. Regular grooming has already started at the mine and Archangel.

The club also operates the Valley’s Junior Nordic community program for several hundred kids. But because they have limited volunteers to teach individual groups, registration, help in September, sells out lightning-fast. Ultimately the club would like to open the program to more kids, but to do that they’re going to need more coaches, she said.

“That’s part of the reason were trying to work up that adult ski lesson program,” she said “The more people we can have on skis that are comfortable teaching the kids basic ... we could have more kids. It just comes down to capacity.”

Up at Independence Mine Nov. 8, early-season skiers swung by the Ski Club’s information table to chat with longtime volunteer and local ski legend Ed Strabel, snack on a piece of a cake or a cup of hot chocolate and learn about club membership.

The Mine trails are among the many miles of trails maintained by the club throughout the winter, but always the earliest to see groomable snow. That means it’s also the only spot in the Valley at the time of this writing for winter lovers to venture to regularly test out the fresh classic tracks and corduroy.

Getting out to ski is Vann’s favorite way to not just keep moving over the winter but stay sane and happy. she said. Vann, whose full time work is as the executive director of the Palmer Chamber of Commerce, said she hopes the club can make skiing accessible to everyone.

“I think because so many people are not from Alaska they don’t like winter, they don’t enjoy winter, they just want it over with,” she said. “I think skiing is a great way to be healthy and enjoy winter. It’s just such a great way to pass the days, just getting out a little bit every day will help people a whole lot.”

Skiers who don’t want to take lessons can join the club for several community events over the season, including a moonlight ski up Archangel Road planned for Nov. 20 and leaving from the trailhead at 6:30 p.m.

More information about the club’s events and membership, which helps pay for grooming, is available at MatSuSki.org. Regular trail grooming reports for the region are available at snowio.com.

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