Spring Ski Dash

The author photographed himself, along with Ember, at the start of the Spring Ski Dash, at the turnaround point with Mushers Hall visible in the background, and at the finish point back in Creamers Fields. 

What a beautiful Easter Day we just had. While the turmoil of COVID-19 casts a shadow over many things right now, it was a day to leave COVID-19 at home and enjoy Alaska’s Spring.

Big shout-out to everyone who played a part in creating and getting the word out about the Spring Ski Dash. The Dash is a do-it-yourself, find-your-own-way ski “race” from Creamers Field to the Mushers Hall, and back again. There is no definite day or start time and no defined route. You choose your own start time and find your own way. What a fitting Fairbanks styled “race,” all the more so given where we find ourselves today.

On Saturday night, Ember, my four-footed friend, and I decided we would participate on Easter morning. To minimize the chance of seeing anyone at the starting line, we arrived promptly at 7:04 a.m. As I put my boot in my brand new skin ski (classic skis with a skin on the bottom, instead of kick wax) I encountered my first obstacle. Just a week prior, I was thrilled to have successfully navigated buying a new pair of skis without stepping foot in a store or violating any social distancing recommendations. I remember asking about bindings and being elated to hear that I no longer had to worry about such things. Classic skis apparently only use one type of binding now. What I failed to consider was whether the boots I owned matched that chosen binding style now in use. As it turns out …they did not.

A quick drive home and Ember and I were back at the start line at 7:37 a.m. with an older pair of fish scale skis. We were still the only ones there. Phew. With a bit of food, water and an extra jacket, off we went, hoping my three-quarters-charged iPhone and an electronic map of the Alaska Dog Mushers Association trails would see us through.

Not knowing the ADMA trails or where they intersect with the trails at Creamers Field, we spent the first 25 minutes hunting and pecking for a proper mushing trail, frequently checking our “progress” on the electronic map. After several opportunities to experience parts of Creamers Field, once, twice and three times, we made our way to what was clearly a mushing trail. Hallelujah.

Soon thereafter I realized we were no longer going the direction we wanted to go. This necessitated creative route finding, and some great crust skiing. Soon we were back on a new trail and again headed towards the Musher’s Hall. With temps in the mid 20s, the sun singing and hard packed trails, even my fish scale skis had the trees flying by. Before I knew it, we passed a “one mile” sign for the Mushers’ Hall, and then a sign for half a mile.

Truth be told, we never quite made it to touch the Mushers’ Hall. A truck had pulled into the parking lot and it was clear a dog team was getting ready to enjoy this beautiful day too. In order to avoid meeting on the trail, we decided to turn back towards Creamers Field, a little short of our destination.

The trip back was as wonderful as the trip out, with less navigating having just traveled that same route. My time? A solid one hour and 32 minutes. The previous day’s race announcement had reported only one finisher, with a time of 49 minutes, 9.5 seconds. A mere 42-plus minutes off the lead, not bad. And if I had those skin skis … well, actually … given the trail conditions that day, I think those fish scale skis were the perfect tool for the job.

Back at the Creamers Field trailhead, I saw several other people walking — some even wearing masks on a warm spring day. We are living in unprecedented times. Where we are headed and when it will “end” remain unclear. What is clear is that we will get to the other side. While there will be many hardships along the way, our great Alaskan character will see us through. Work ethic. Strength of spirit. Creativity. Ingenuity. I am even more buoyed by words I recently heard about the spirit of the Interior. Grant Grace. I support you. You support me. We support we.

Mark Simon came to Fairbanks for adventure in 2002 as an emergency room physician. He enjoys everything that the Interior provides — a strong community, endless trails, outdoor adventures and berries!