AK: The unique international agreement behind the Log Cabin Ski Trails

Aric Baldwin and Stephanie Ryan hit the trail at Log Cabin. (Photo by Claire Stremple, KHNS – Haines)

The 33rd annual Buckwheat International Ski Classic is this month. You may know the Log Cabin Ski trails where the event is held, but did you know those trails are maintained as part of an international partnership? Skagway’s Log Cabin Ski Society and the BC Ministry of Forests work together to maintain a ski site that’s remote for Canadians, but local to Alaskans.

Aric Baldwin and his wife Stephanie Ryan are clipping into their cross country skis at the Log Cabin Ski Trails. They’re only a twenty-minute drive from Skagway, but you need a passport to get here.

“We are actually currently in British Columbia, in BC and we are ten minutes over the border,” Ryan laughed. “We’re deep into Canada.”

“I’m starting to get a Canadian accent!” Baldwin joked.

Baldwin and Ryan are part of the crew that maintains the trails. They were just up here working yesterday, so the trails are freshly set. A perfect path winds through the trees in turns and loops for 25 kilometers. That’s about 15 miles. The path looks like someone ran a huge comb through the snow, which is basically what they did, using snow machines.

“We have to go over with snow machines, let it set up a bit, and and come back over with the grooming equipment,” Baldwin explained. “And do a bunch of shoveling and trimming of trees. So, over the course of the winter the trail will get put in and get better and better.”

The trails may be on Canadian soil, but they’re much closer to Skagway than any Canadian city. The Log Cabin Ski Society has been maintaining the trails officially and unofficially for decades.

Tim Bourcey is the president of the Log Cabin Ski Society. He’s been with the Log Cabin Ski Society since the beginning, and was part of the group that blazed the trails originally. In 2011, Bourcey got a call from the District Recreation Officer for the Ministry of Forests in British Columbia.

“He calls me on the phone and he goes, ‘I’m looking at this map of ski trails. Do these actually exist?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah!’ And he goes, ‘Oh, okay. Well, we need to formalize some kind of agreement here,’” Bourcey said.

Carl Johansen was that district recreation officer. “I was sort of a late arrival on the scene,” he said.

The land in his purview included everything in northwestern BC to the Yukon boundary. Johansen retired a few years ago.

“A file ended up on my desk for the log cabin ski trails,” he said. “And it was quite an old one and it didn’t have much paperwork in it, so I decided to investigate a bit.”

Johansen says he’s glad he did. It was a case of the government catching up with paperwork. The Log Cabin Ski Society had to become a legal non-profit before the Ministry of Forests could help them out. It took about a year to legally establish the trails.

“It’s pretty much a unique partnership agreement,” Johansen said. “We know there are no other groups in Alaska doing something like this.”

Johansen says as far as he knows, it’s the only case of a group from the United States managing a Canadian recreation area.

The BC Ministry of Forests funds some parts of the Log Cabin project, like trail markers, brochures, and pit toilets. And because of the formal agreement, the trails are legally protected. If someone wants to develop that land, say for logging, they can’t touch the trails because they’re officially part of the BC trail system.

Johansen says it works out well for everyone — his management office in Terrace is a long way from the trails.

“The dynamic of it it’s 1,400 km from Terrace, so it’s not a place you’re going to be able to manage on a day to day basis,” Johansen said. “A lot is left for the club to shoulder, so my hat’s off to ’em. They do 99 percent of the work. We do the one percent.”

It may be a heavy lift, but it’s a recreation area that anyone with cross country skis can enjoy. But if you’re coming from Alaska, don’t forget your passport.

The log Cabin Ski Society’s 33rd annual Buckwheat Ski Classic is on March 23rd. Registration is open now. There will be a Ski Club Lesson at Log Cabin on March 3rd from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

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