Saturday, December 3, 2022

Thankful for What Alaska has to Offer – A Thanksgiving Road Trip

 post by Corrine

As Eric and I started unpacking our skis at  Denali National Park, I panicked. Where were my poles? I know I packed them. They must be here. But they weren’t. How could I forget my ski poles? 

Eric, standing quietly behind me, spoke up. 

“You could use my classic ski poles and I could use my skate poles. They will be a little long for both of us but will probably work. If not, we can always buy poles in Palmer on Friday.”

Ugh, shopping the day after Thanksgiving. No thank you! It was a solution, but luckily one that we didn’t need to use. The slightly longer poles worked for both of us all weekend. I’m so thankful to have a husband who is willing to sacrifice. And even when it was clearly my own dumb fault.

Thanksgiving Trip to the Mat-Su

It’s common for people to give thanks on Thanksgiving and I certainly have a lot to be thankful for. Starting with a four-day weekend! 

With the kids living out of state and no other particular plans, we decided to head down to the Mat-Su Valley. A winter trip to Hatcher Pass had been on our list for a long time. We had done it once many years ago, long before the ski club down there started grooming trails. We wanted to go again and check out the trails. And then there were all the trails to go fatbiking. We thought about checking out the start of the Iditarod Trail Invitational. Or maybe head into Anchorage and ride the many singletrack trails. Lots to be thankful for down there! 

But November can be iffy for travel in Alaska. Anchorage had just had an ice storm. Would the roads be okay? Would conditions be good for biking? Was there enough snow to ski? We had seen on social media that Hatcher Pass had good ski conditions, so I made reservations at Hatcher Pass Cabins just outside of Palmer. We took both fatbikes and ski gear, figuring conditions would dictate what we did. I’m thankful that we could be flexible!

Thanksgiving Day – A Nice Denali Park Ski

We headed out early Thanksgiving morning, stopping at Denali National Park, two hours from home, to check out some new trails that the park service had started grooming. That’s when I realized I had left my ski poles at home. (I wasn’t thankful for that!) 

Eric skates on freshly groomed trails at Denali NP

Although Eric’s poles were a little long for me, they worked fine. I was thankful that Eric wasn’t any taller than he is! The trails were freshly groomed and fun to ski. We love exploring new trails. We didn’t have a map so we just let the trails take us where they would. Some trails were wide enough to skate, which Eric did, while other narrower ones wound through the woods. We skied under the train trestle and through part of the Riley Creek Campground. It was turning into a beautiful day, and we had glimpses of the vistas through the clouds.

Skiing under the train trestle

We skied most of the groomed trails before getting back into the car and driving another four hours to our cabin. Thankfully, the roads were good for driving. And, thankfully,  we made it to our cabin before it started snowing that night. Our cabin was small but cozy. We settled in and had a quick dinner of turkey soup before turning in for the night.

Small but cozy Hatcher Pass Cabin

Thankful for Groomed Ski Trails

We woke up the next morning to 3-4 inches of new snow and warm temps in the 20s. The owner of the cabins, out clearing the walkways and driveways, told us that the Moose Range – a great place for skiing and biking - was easily accessible by bike from our cabin. After breakfast we went to check it out. The biking was a bit tricky on the unplowed roads and there was definitely too much snow to ride on the trails, so we headed back to the cabin and switched out bikes for skis.

Even biking on roads was tricky

Back on the Moose Range trails (and thankful for an AWD car), we tried skiing. It was okay, but those rutted trails needed more snow to smooth them out. We did a short 3-mile ski and discussed what to do next. The day was overcast with low clouds and the forecast called for a good weather the next day. We decided to save Hatcher Pass for the good weather. So, what to do instead?

Ungroomed trails in the Moose Range were slow going

We knew the Government Peak Recreation Area was nearby and that the Mat-Su Ski Club groomed the trails, but would they be out already? Only one way to find out. We had biked some of these trails in the summer but had never been there in winter. We arrived about noon and were very happy to see groomed trails and only a few people. One more thing to be thankful for! 

Aaah!  Groomed trails at Government Peak Recreation Area

We skied all the trails that were groomed – about 15K total. What fun! Lots of ups and downs and swoopy turns. We even did a little loop through a neighborhood at the end of one trail. I was thankful for the sign that warned about an upcoming whoop-di-doo, but I still face planted. Oh well, the new snow made for a soft landing (thankfully), only my pride was injured! We gave thanks (and a small donation) to the Mat-Su Ski Club groomers for getting out there early and grooming the trails. 

At least the landing was soft!

Grateful for Glorious Hatcher Pass

The skies cleared Friday night and the temperature dropped into single digits, but we still got up early to head to Hatcher Pass. We figured it might get busy later and we knew there was limited parking. We were thankful we did that. We arrived at the Archangel Road parking lot at 9 AM and there were already several cars there. Two hours later the parking lot was nearly overflowing. 

Looking back down Archangel Road at the sunrise

Archangel Road is an old mining road that heads up a beautiful valley. A little over 6 kilometers of road had been groomed. The first 3 kilometers were gently uphill while the next 3 kilometers got a little steeper. Nothing difficult but a good work out. It was a spectacular ski. We got to see the sun rise behind us. The morning light on the mountains was amazing. We kept having to stop and take photos. We saw a few moose off in the distance. Several other people were out on the trail but not too many, especially farther back. We were so thankful to be out there skiing. The downhill back to the car was fun and a lot faster although we both got a little cold. 

Next, we headed up to Independence Mine near the end of the plowed road. We skied the little loop up to the mine and around the old buildings. It was a spectacular bluebird sky day. The sun warmed things up nicely and lots of people were out enjoying the views. After our ski, we parked at a lower parking lot, and ate lunch in our car while watching skiers skin up a mountain and carve curves back down. 

I stop to take a photo at Independence Mine

It was only about 1:30 and we weren’t ready to go back to our small cabin. We had seen online that some of the trails in the east part of the Moose Range had been groomed so we headed over there. The Moose Range has over 40 miles of multi-use, motorized trails and the ski club grooms some of them. Eric found the trails on an app, and we explored some that had been groomed and snowmachined. Several people were out on snowmachines or skis enjoying the day. We wanted to make a big loop but were running out of daylight and neither of us had brought a head lamp. 

Beautiful light on the mountains in the Moose Range 

We stopped for dinner in Palmer at a nice Mexican restaurant, then headed back to our cozy cabin. We had done three separate ski outings that day for a total of over 30 kilometers of skiing. The weather was perfect, and views were spectacular. We were tired but happy, and both thankful to have a spouse that loves to explore new trails.

Pink alpine glow on the mountains as we head back to our car

A Talkeetna Pit Stop

The next morning, we headed home, but we wanted to break up the drive, so we stopped in Talkeetna to do some biking. On an earlier fall trip, we had biked a fun singletrack loop around X Lake and we knew from Strava it was in good shape. It was only about 3.5 miles and we wanted to do more, but it was also a long way back home. We packed up the bikes, thankful for the break from the car, and headed north. On the drive back, we had great views of Denali with the sun shining on the surrounding mountains. 

Denali from the Parks Highway

Short on Time, Long on Thanks

There was so much to be thankful for on this quick weekend get-away. We had good road conditions for the drive down and back. We had great weather for getting outside. We had new snow to make skiing even more fun. And we got to ski on some outstanding groomed trails. We live in a great state with amazing trails. 

I’m thankful for all that, and for having an incredible husband who loves to get out and explore and ski and bike as much as I do. 


  1. ... and we are thankful for your blog posts! What a great weekend of skiing and biking and continuing to explore this beautiful state.