If you’re thinking of moving to Alaska from a southern climate, here’s one thing that will make your transition to the Far North easier: Learn to love winter.
I moved to Florida at age 2 and left for Alaska at 23, so as you can imagine, my love affair with winter had some rocky starts. At the tender age of 65, I think the romance has taken. Moving to Homer and Diamond Ridge pretty much sealed the deal.
Years ago when my wife and I plotted our move from Anchorage to Homer, we spent many a weekend driving down to the Southern Kenai Peninsula looking for land. We’d decided to search for property with our friends Sue and Jim, also making the move to Homer.
For almost every weekend in the summer of 1994, Jim and I loaded up my VW Westfalia van with boxes, stashed them at a storage room I rented at Northern Enterprise, and then headed out to look at land. Our patient Realtor, the late and marvelous Nancy Branch, drove us hither and yon. We looked at lots near McNeil Canyon. We considered the former Homer Heights Schoolhouse property by the Bridge Creek Reservoir (cool historic building, great land, no power or utilities). We learned a lot about the southern peninsula’s many interesting communities, and how Homer is not just downtown or the Spit, but scattered neighborhoods with unique personalities surrounding town.
On one of our first forays, we looked at some lots on Diamond Ridge. Nancy casually mentioned the Kachemak Nordic Ski Trails were nearby. And so we fell in love with Diamond Ridge. That’s a good thing. Since we pretty much have winter from October to May here, on Diamond Ridge you had better love winter a lot.
After some negotiation, the landowner selling two of her four lots agreed to sell us all four. By August 1994 we’d started building our small cabin. We got a driveway and power in. Pushing winter, we closed in our home by October. Sleeping in a VW camper van as the temperature drops can be a great motivation for putting up walls and a roof.
As I write this, a strong wind keeps rattling the roof and walls. My wife, Jenny, and I play a game when a fierce gust blows in. Earthquake? Wind? Sometimes it can be hard to tell. During the spruce bark beetle outbreak when all our 200-year-old trees died, after every big storm we could expect a tree to fall on our driveway. Ridge life has its surprises.
The berm this winter from where our plow driver has pushed snow out of our parking space almost comes up to the roof line of our shed. Winter can be like that. When we moved in, the guy who built our driveway, Duane Belnap, gave us some advice.
“If there’s a blizzard in the forecast, park your cars as close to the road as possible so you can get out in the morning,” he said.
More than once, that advice has proved true. If an old Alaska homesteader shares some wisdom with you, listen. Duane forgot to mention that it also will happen your cars will be buried up to the wheel wells and you’ll have to shovel them out. That sure beats waiting for the snowplow person to clear you out.
Winters on Diamond Ridge can be tough, by the way.
All that snow means one thing, though: some of the best skiing in town. Last week a Homer newcomer asked me if we would have more snow after some recent warm weather. I told her that on Diamond Ridge it can snow in May, and that some years on my birthday in mid-May, I’ve skied.
As it happens, not only is the Sunset Loop ski trail a short walk from our house, so is the Kachemak Nordic Ski Marathon trail. If I go south, I can ski all the way downhill to Baycrest, and if I go north, I can ski all the way to Lookout Mountain. These days I take short loops.
We got our land for a lower price because we don’t have a view beyond the spruce forest and meadows that surround us. A five-minute ski in either direction gives us glorious views of Kachemak Bay or Cook Inlet. On the Marathon trail I can see three volcanoes, Augustine, Iliamna and Redoubt. Some years I’ve seen them steaming and sometimes even erupting. I didn’t get that growing up in Florida.
Neighborhoods all over the southern peninsula have good skiing, like McNeil Canyon, Ohlson Mountain and Roger’s Loop and West Hill. We have a dedicated and awesome ski club, the Kachemak Nordic Ski Club. My red ski jacket is festooned with the yearly tags you get for renewing your membership and supporting trails. Over the past 27 years, I’ve watched those trails get brushed, rerouted and groomed, and they only get better and better.
Coming up on March 19 is the Kachemak Nordic Ski Marathon, starting at Lookout and going downhill to Baycrest. The groomers have been out all winter putting in a solid base for the northern stretch. It cheers my heart to hear them put-putting by on snowmachines getting that trail into shape.
Yep, it’s been a long process for this Florida boy to learn to love winter. Born-and-raised Alaskans are like Norwegians: Winter is in their blood. For someone who spent 22 years in Florida before moving to Alaska, I surprised myself to discover I like winter. Maybe that’s my father’s Canadian roots reasserting itself.
We have summer here, too, a magnificent burst of fireweed, songbirds, wildflowers and long lazy walks on those ski trails that turn into paths. But I go faster and farther on skis, and I don’t have to worry as much about bears.
Winter, fall, spring or summer, Diamond Ridge has become my home. Let’s ski!
Reach Michael Armstrong at email@example.com.