• pond surrounded by green brush, reflecting a distant range of snow-covered mountains that are dominated by one massive mountain

    Denali

    National Park & Preserve Alaska

Every Winter Lover's Nightmare

December 07, 2010 Posted by: Michael Raffaeli

By Michael Raffaeli

For every winter lover, the day when the snow flies is a beautiful day. For many a dog musher, this love of winter is only heightened as the snow sticks around and stacks up to cover rocks and tundra tussocks, becoming the perfect surface for adventuring on in these wild lands. Admittedly, this season got off to a slow and measured start so far as snow accumulation was concerned, but patience paid off as soon we had enough snow to take the dogs out on sleds.

That looked like it was all going to change last week for the worse. A warm storm had moved in to most of Alaska, bringing rain, evil snow-melting rain, and temperatures that stayed above freezing for several days. Goodbye snow, so much for counting every tenth of an inch we had received for the past two months. Our conditions at the Kennels began looking dismal, like we might even have to switch back to using the already winterized ATVs for training.

Maybe it was luck, or maybe we were able to pinch ourselves out of this nightmare. We were fortunate enough to miss most of the rain that the rest of the Alaska Interior got hammered with. The roads at the entrance to the park didn't get covered with the inch thick sheet of ice that was reported to the north of us, and we only had a few light days of rain. We still decided to stay off the trails to preserve what little snow we already had and what was consolidating quickly with the warm weather.

When the temperatures dropped below freezing again, full of hope, we tentatively hit the trails with the dogs. We were expecting fast, bare, icy trails, but the light rain that only fell lightly at lower elevations had fallen as real snow only a few miles deeper in the park, pleasantly surprising us with favorable conditions. The dogs seemed happy to encounter the fresh snow, pushing their way through to help maintain the trail we had previously established on the park road, stopping only long enough to bury their noses, dive in and roll around, and snap up a few mouthfuls before they were eager and barking to go again. They seemed as excited as us to see that our trails weathered the warm spell rather well and that we could keep mushing on sleds. That gave us one more thing to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, and allowed us to continue to live this wonderful dream.


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Did You Know?

a moose with small antlers amid brush

Warmer average temperatures over several decades have resulted in expansion of woody vegetation. If this warming trend continues, it will change Alaska's ecosystems and drastically alter the physical appearance of Denali's landscape, as treeline marches higher up the mountains.