Introducing the next Generation to the Outdoors
In all honesty, I have never been to the Manitoba Hut. I moved to Alaska in 2014 to cross-country ski race, and outside of the COVID winter of 2020-21, I rarely spent more than a couple weeks scattered here and there in Alaska during the winter. I’ve heard stories of gorgeous backcountry spring days, beautiful fall colors and cozy nights spent at Manitoba in the heart of midwinter; and a trip to the hut has been on my to-do list for a couple years now. One main reason I haven’t been is that until December of this winter, I had never backcountry skied and that seems to be the main activity folks in my circle head to Manitoba for.
The beauty of the Manitoba Hut is its role as an accessible launching pad for adventures in the wilderness. As I mentioned, I just started backcountry skiing as a 30-year-old, professional ski racer. I’ve been on the outskirts of the backcountry scene for years, absorbing information about what gear you need, common routes, avalanche safety and more. Yet it still took me years to save up to buy equipment (even secondhand, it’s not cheap!) and decide I finally felt comfortable trying the sport out. This is from someone who’s been on Nordic skis since she was 15 years old, runs in the mountains or on the trails alone daily in the summer, and has backpacked and camped all over the state.
Imagine how intimidating it would be for someone who has never done any type of skiing, or doesn’t know the first thing about skis, skins, bindings, and boots, to try to enter the sport. Now broaden that concept to include all the things we Alaskans love about our state: camping, hiking, skiing, fishing, packrafting, the list goes on and on. Many of us never realize how lucky we are that we grew up with families, friends and peers to teach us how you go camping, how you go on a hike, how to read a map. The Manitoba Hut provides an accessible opportunity for people who are learning how to do the outdoor activities many of us take for granted. It’s a lot less intimidating to stay in a cabin, with heat and a kitchen, before you venture into camping on your own. It’s also a lot easier to plan a hike or fishing trip when you know you have a dry cabin to return to.
Several years ago, I co-founded the Run & Ski Club at the Mountain View Boys and Girls Club in Anchorage. For over four years, we have met weekly in the summer and winter months to run, mountain bike and Nordic ski on the roads and trails of Mountain View, one of Anchorage’s most underserved neighborhoods. Grants and donations paid for all of the needed equipment, and all coaching is volunteer based—allowing for no program costs for any participants. After the program took off, we introduced hiking field trips in the summer to Flattop, Little O’Malley and even all the way to Alyeska in Girdwood. 90% of these kids had never been to Glen Alps or Girdwood. They asked why they can’t breathe at the top of Flattop because, according to one of them, “it’s higher than Mount Everest”. They asked about the glaciers you can see on the peaks around Girdwood. They were terrified by the swinging of the tram and looked everywhere for bears on our way down. These same kids live probably less than 5 miles from most of the Manitoba Hut users, yet I bet many of them have never even driven past the Hut on the Seward Highway. When I think of the value of opportunity, I think of these kids and their families. The kids learn so much on a short one-day field trip—think of how much they could learn and experience by traveling to Manitoba. The values of Alaska Huts Association are Community, Stewardship and Opportunity. Opportunity and stewardship are linked: through the opportunity to experience the value of wilderness, you learn the importance of stewardship and the need to care for our natural spaces. Through opportunity and stewardship, you build community. You build a group of people, from wildly unique backgrounds, who care about the same thing. When the Mountain View kids experience the incredibleness of their Alaskan backyard, they become interested in learning more about how to protect and nurture it, and they join the community of Alaskans who care deeply about this special place we have the gift to live in.
I hope to soon join the community of Manitoba hut visitors; I also hope that with continued outreach and focus on inclusivity, the accessibility of the Huts system can continue to be improved upon so that Alaskans of all backgrounds and experience levels have the chance to use Manitoba as an opportunity for their adventure into the wilderness community.
2018 Winter Olympian
Co-Founder of the Run & Ski Club at Mountain View Boys and Girls Club in Anchorage