Web posted Wednesday, May 8, 2002

photo: activities

The McNeil Canyon Trail, located about 13 miles east of Homer, is one of the premier cross-country ski race venues in Southcentral Alaska, but ski tourers love it for the view.

Winter Wonderland: Skiing, snowmachining, king salmon fishing

Winter attracts the hardy and adventurous to Homer for a range of outdoor experiences ranging from king salmon fishing to cross-country skiing and snowmachining, and indoor experiences from arts to edible adventures.

In recent years Homer has become one of the top ports in Alaska for winter king salmon fishing. Many charter services now focus on the winter fishery, which targets migrating king salmon from all over the North Pacific. If the thought of a mouth-watering king salmon barbeque in midwinter isn't enough incentive to try your luck, two derbies offer $40,000 in prize money.

The photographic potential of Homer is stupendous all year but winter brings out the majestic beauty and light of Alaska without the bone-chilling cold of the arctic. There is nothing quite so breathtaking as the glaciers and snowfields across Kachemak Bay under rose-and-salmon skies.

Those who want a good workout can take advantage of nearly 50 kilometers of groomed cross-country ski trails, courtesy of Kachemak Nordic Ski Club. Downhill skiing and snowboarding are options at Ohlson Mountain rope tow. And of course, the hills are great for sleds, toboggans and snowshoes.

Snowmachining is a thrill in the backcountry of the lower Kenai Peninsula, and Homer is a popular jump-off point for the Caribou Hills, which offer thousands of acres to explore. The Snomads, a local snowmachine club, puts on activities every winter, including a Fun Run in early March with a $1,500 first prize and Kitty Kat races for kids during Anchor Point's Snow Rondi. For more about Snomad activities, call 235-7782.

Bird watching can be exceptionally fulfilling in winter as Homer has the second largest gathering of bald eagles in the world. The "Eagle Lady" feeds them daily at dawn on the Spit with fish donated from the community.

Ice skating can be an ethereal experience on any of the small lakes around Homer, and you haven't skated until you've been surrounded by the purple hue emanating off the Kenai Mountains on a winter afternoon. Homer also has an outdoor rink behind Homer Middle School and an active youth hockey association.

Homer Winter Carnival is in early February and usually offers a range of activities from a parade to chili cookoff and home brew competition. If the ice on Beluga Lake is thick enough, ice racers come out on Sunday afternoons to roar around an oval track in cars with tires studded with screws.

As winter tourism expands in Homer, more and more accommodations are available. Numerous hotels and B&Bs are open year round. Contact the Homer Chamber of Commerce (907-235-7740) for a complete list.

Where to cross-country ski

Cross-country skiing is a popular activity in Homer, and through the efforts of Kachemak Nordic Ski Club a large network of trails is easily accessible from town. Skis, boots and poles are available for rent locally, and information about special events, such as the Wine and Cheese Tour and the Kachemak Bay Marathon, are posted at www.xyz.net/~watson/knsc.html.

  • Baycrest Trails -- 25 kilometers of groomed trails with terrain for any level of skier. Flat muskegs, thick forests and rolling hills are packed for skaters and usually for diagonal skiers. Wildlife and spectacular views of Kachemak Bay, Mount Augustine and Mount Redoubt provide photo opportunities. Trail access on the Sterling Highway about half a mile north of Roger's Loop Road.

  • Lookout Mountain -- About 5 kilometers of scenic skiing, and is usually the first area to receive snow. A hilly loop offers opportunities for a relaxed tour or a strenuous workout. Off Ohlson Mountain Road.

  • McNeil Canyon -- A 7.5-kilometer loop trail suitable for both skating and diagonal skiing. The gently rolling terrain, open meadows and scenic vista of Kachemak Bay make this a favorite trail for a relaxed tour. Access is at McNeil Canyon Elementary School, about 13 miles east of Homer on East End Road.

  • Alpine skiing -- Ohlson Mountain rope tow is open most weekends and offers a short run for skiers and snowboarders. Daily and season passes are available from Kachemak Ski Club. A warming hut is available. Located on Ohlson Mountain Road.