Cross country skiing in Hillside Park

One of the most popular and potentially challenging cross country ski areas in the city, the trails of Hillside Park loop through the mountain foothills between Service High School and Chugach State Park. These wooded, hilly trails cover more than 25 kilometers of grooming, ranging from the potentially strenuous Spencer Loop with the city’s biggest climb to mild Randy’s Loop close to the stadium by the school. These trails include just about every kind of terrain, with about 8 kilometers of trails lighted for night skiing and a 5.5 kilometer multi-use corridor connected into an extensive cross-city travel route.

All are welcome

Novice skiers can check out the stadium by the high school with immediate links to a gentle lighted loop through the woods. The flat gas line corridor running north from Hilltop parking is a great warm-up zone and a favorite crossroads for bikers, dog walkers, hikers and skiers en route to and from many destinations. (Both trailheads can be jumping off points for touring into Far North Bicentennial Park and Chugach State Park.)

The two main lighted loops—Hillside and Besh—form a rough “figure 8” between the high school and the gas line/Hilltop area. The Besh features easy grades and a long, fun descent. Hillside is also welcoming to beginners, but does traverse two short but stiff hills in an open area that burned a few decades ago.

Adventures in the forest

There are myriad side trails to explore. Check out the giant glacier erratic tucked into the woods north of the Hillside lighted loop about halfway through the descent toward the burn area and Conversation Corner. Or experience a quiet jaunt along the classic-only Ridge and Richter trails as they loop through dense forest on the edge of a vast tract of untouched land.

For steep drops and sharp turns, ski the quick-but-intense Double Bubble near the Hilltop parking and gasline. Like it? Double Bubble is the preamble to what can be the city’s more formidable X-C workout: the Spencer Loop.

One of the toughest courses in the world

Avid skiers love this six-kilometer system above the gasline corridor for its sustained climbs and long, swift descents. When the 50-kilometer national championship race included seven laps over this course in 2014, it was reported as the third toughest ski marathon in the world that season. The most intense segment climbs about 250 feet in less than a kilometer, climaxed by an aptly named ramp nicknamed “Wall Street.”

But don’t be put off. Plenty of new and recreational skiers enjoy Spencer. It is as popular among touring families as it is among competitive racers. Just take your time, with ample rest to enjoy the view of the Anchorage downtown, gleaming like a toy city on dusky winter afternoons.

Another reason to check out Hillside: The snow can be different

Located from about 350 feet to 810 feet in elevation, Hillside often experiences different weather and snow quality than ski areas closer to sea level, especially Kincaid. When lowland skiing gets glazed or too shallow from Anchorage’s fickle weather, for instance, Hillside’s snow often stays colder and more stable, remaining well within winter’s shadow. (It can go the other way too.) In any case, many serious Anchorage skiers compare conditions at Kincaid and Hillside before heading out for their daily ski workout.

Getting There

Coordinates
Latitude: 61.148
Longitude: -149.8012

Hillside Park ski trails are connected to many trailheads via multi-use routes through Far North Bicentennial Park and Chugach State Park. But best access may be from the parking area about one mile east of Service High School at 7011 Abbott Road. This trailhead launches you about halfway through the lower lighted loops. An easy alternative is to go one block further east, turn into the Hilltop (downhill) Ski Area and park at the far north end of the parking lot, where there is portable restroom. This access launches in the middle of the system, with the upper Spencer Loop climbing into the foothills to the east and lighted loops and classic loops reaching to the west. A third popular option: when school is not in session, park beside the Little Gym in the northeast corner of the Service High School complex. Yet another access—especially if you are focusing on Spencer Loop—is located off the South Bivouac Trailhead about 2.3 miles up Campbell Airstrip Road from Tudor Road in east Anchorage.