Wayne Carnes prepares to begin his volunteer grooming run at Pioneer Road on Jan. 18. Carnes is a volunteer with the Juneau Nordic Ski Club. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

Wayne Carnes prepares to begin his volunteer grooming run at Pioneer Road on Jan. 18. Carnes is a volunteer with the Juneau Nordic Ski Club. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

Volunteers make winter cool for local skiers

Juneau Nordic Ski Club offers fun and learning

A bright morning moon greeted Wayne Carnes Tuesday as he loaded gas cans onto a sled and prepared to groom the Pioneer Road trial on North Douglas.

Carnes is one of about 40 volunteers from the Juneau Nordic Ski Club who groom several local trails from first snow to last, laying down a corduroy pattern on hard-packed snow that opens up mountains of winter recreational opportunities to local enthusiasts.

Carnes pointed to ski tracks and footprints along the trail as signs of heavy use from the day before. He said the trail is popular with local skiers, fat tire bike riders, and dog walkers and often sees a few hundred people over the weekend or on a holiday, like Monday’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

He said that many people don’t realize volunteers are behind many of the groomed trails available throughout Juneau.

Wayne Carnes looks over the wear and tear from the prior day’s skiers and walkers on Pioneer Road on Jan. 18. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

Wayne Carnes looks over the wear and tear from the prior day’s skiers and walkers on Pioneer Road on Jan. 18. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

“We aren’t like a lot of places with Nordic facilities. We move around town and we have different climatic conditions,” said Frankie Pillifant, president of the Juneau Nordic Ski Club, adding that the “snow hole” at Montana Creek is a favorite for members.

Pillifant said that ample winter recreation opportunities and Juneau’s unique climatic conditions are part of the reason skiing is so popular in the area.

“Skiing is another way to get out and enjoy living in Juneau during a time of year that can be hard,” Pillifant said.

Pillifant said that the snow reflects the light, and the atmospheric pressure changes lift spirits.

“We are having a stunning winter this year,” she said in a Wednesday morning call with the Empire, clarifying that Nordic Skiing is a type of cross country skiing but distinguishable by the use of a groomed trail rather than skiing on open snowfields.

Wayne Carnes, a volunteer with the Juneau Nordic Ski Club, pulls gas tanks to the entrance of Pioneer Road on North Douglas on Jan. 18. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

Wayne Carnes, a volunteer with the Juneau Nordic Ski Club, pulls gas tanks to the entrance of Pioneer Road on North Douglas on Jan. 18. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

The distinction is a crucial element for the club, which grooms several local trails an average of over 100 days per season, using two snow machines, two rollers, two ginzu groomers/track setters, and older backup equipment, as needed. Pillifant said volunteers with shovels also pitch in to clear parking lots and trail entryways.

Sometimes grooming includes tree removal. In early fall, the club removed 47 trees from the Montana Creek area to clear paths for the winter.

Pillifant said that the club includes about 1,000 paying members and serves even more people who enjoy the trails.

“We are happy to see the smiles on the trails and we hope that translates into a membership,” she said.

Pillifant said that 80% of the club’s budget goes to grooming efforts — a cost kept down thanks to a stable of volunteers, like Carnes, who invest up to 30 hours a week in grooming activities.

Building the future

In addition to grooming trails for use, the Nordic Ski Club is also focused on creating a new generation of skiers.

According to Tristan Knutson-Lombardo, who is involved with the youth programs, the Nordic Ski Club offers popular options for students from elementary through high school.

“We’ve doubled our program in the last year,” Knutson-Lombardo said. “It’s pretty phenomenal.”

Knutson-Lombardo said that the club now serves 110 youth skiers–the largest cohort to date.

“We have an amazing crew of over 25 coaches, and that’s really what makes our program run,” he said in a Tuesday call with the Empire. “They are there in the dark and when it’s raining with headlamps on and they are bringing the fun and energy.”

[Alaska needs blood donors]

Knutson-Lombardo said that the club serves skiers of all abilities and that the pandemic accelerated growth as families looked for safe ways to get kids active outside.

He said the club’s commitment to helping new youth skiers find high-quality gear through a rental system is one of the keys to the program’s success.

Wayne Carnes prepares the snow machine he will use to groom the Pioneer Road trail on North Douglas around 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 18. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

Wayne Carnes prepares the snow machine he will use to groom the Pioneer Road trail on North Douglas around 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 18. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

“What’s really cool is that we are a little different from other clubs in that we provide gear rental,” Knutson-Lombardo said. “We also are really set that you don’t have to be a skier before to come out and join us.”

He said that skiers in the middle school and high school groups enjoy opportunities to travel to ski events around the state and benefit from experts the club brings to town. This weekend, former Olympic biathlete Maddie Phaneuf will visit Juneau to coach skiers and provide insight, he said.

In addition to programming for kids, Pillifant is organizing three events aimed at women this winter. She said the events offer a chance for women to learn more about the sport and get coaching to help them grow their skill set.

Pillifant pointed out that skiing is a desirable activity for families because they can get outside together and do something in a short window but still have time for other clubs and personal plans.

[When pipes burst, generosity flows]

Pillifant said as the club and popularity of the sport grows, members are focused on identifying new places to ski.

“We see some amazing opportunities that have not yet been addressed,” Pillifant said, adding that the club has created a “bold plan” outlining a future for Nordic Skiing in Juneau.

“We need more kilometers and better planning for the future,” she said. “Climate change means we need to get up higher. Ample winter recreation is one of the many reasons people love living in Juneau.”

Wayne Carnes tinkers with the Juneau Nordic Ski Club’s snow machine before grooming the trail at Pioneer Road on Jan. 18. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

Wayne Carnes tinkers with the Juneau Nordic Ski Club’s snow machine before grooming the trail at Pioneer Road on Jan. 18. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

Know & Go

Visit jnski.org to join the Juneau Nordic Ski Club or learn more about upcoming races and events, including the club’s inaugural Romeo Race to remember the local wolf that often interacted with dogs, hikers and skiers near Mendenhall Glacier.

Also, there’s still time to register for the club’s Ski O’Caching event, a cross between geocaching and orienteering, using cross country skis, to find clues posted near a groomed trail.

Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

More in News

In this Empire file photo, a Princess Cruise Line ship is seen docked in Juneau on Aug. 25, 2021.(Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire file)
Ships in Port for the week of May 15, 2022

This information comes from the Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska’s 2022 schedule.… Continue reading

Teaser
Judge orders board adopt interim redistricting map

The decision comes in a second round of redistricting challenges.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Tuesday, May 17, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

In this October 2019 photo, Zac Watt, beertender for Forbidden Peak Brewery, pours a beer during the grand opening for the Auke Bay business in October 2019. Alcoholic beverage manufacturers and dispensers recently came to an agreement  on a bill that could bring live music and extended hours to breweries. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Of the more than 460 stoOf the more than 460 stocks managed by NOAA, 322 have a known overfishing status (296 not subject to overfishing and 26 subject to overfishing) and 252 have a known overfished status (201 not overfished and 51 overfished). (Courtesy Image / NOAA)
Southeast fisheries hoping for less turbulent waters

Regions and species see wildly variably conditions due to climate and COVID-19, according to two new NOAA reports.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Saturday, May 14, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Oil rigs stand in the Loco Hills field along U.S. Highway 82 in Eddy County, near Artesia, N.M., one of the most active regions of the Permian Basin. Government budgets are booming in New Mexico. The reason behind the spending spree — oil. New Mexico is the No. 2 crude oil producer among U.S. states and the top recipient of U.S. disbursements for fossil fuel production on federal land. But a budget flush with petroleum cash has a side effect: It also puts the spotlight on how difficult it is for New Mexico and other states to turn their rhetoric on tackling climate change into reality. (AP Photo / Jeri Clausing)
States struggle to replace fossil fuel tax revenue

Federal, state and local governments receive about $138B a year from the fossil fuel industry.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Friday, May 13, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

This photo published in AP World Magazine in Fall 1998 shows Dean Fosdick on election night in Anchorage, Alaska. Fosdick, the Associated Press journalist who filed the news alert informing the world of the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, has died. He died April 27, 2022, in Florida at the age of 80. His longtime career with the news service included 15 years as the bureau chief in Alaska. (AP Photo/File)
Longtime AP Alaska bureau chief Dean Fosdick dies at age 80

He filed the news alert informing the world of the Exxon Valdez grounding.

Most Read