When Trail Lake in Moose Pass freezes over, it becomes a community hub.
John Gaule has been plowing the lake for decades. In the ’80s, it was just him and a four-wheeler plow he bought to clear his driveway. In the 90s, he bought a truck with a plow and used it to create big hockey rinks and trails on the ice.
“I grew up playing pond hockey and came to Alaska because there are winters,” Gaule said. “My wife skated, I skated. When we had our kids, they both skated. It’s just been a really great thing for the community.”
Five years ago, it evolved into a larger, grant-funded operation. The Moose Pass Chamber of Commerce got money through the Rural Community Assistance Partnership to buy more advanced plowing tools, a storage shed, and hockey skates and sticks for loaning.
Everything is volunteer-based, and gear is free to borrow. Gaule has a skate sharpener, and charges $5 to sharpen a pair. That money goes back into maintaining the ice.
When the ice on the large lake reaches 6 inches thick, Gaule plows both hockey rinks and skating trails, which he says are different every year. Sometimes, he can create a hockey area the size of a conventional rink, and plow trails a mile long.
This year, he said there’s about half a mile of trails.
“We really enjoy that quietness. There’s nothing prettier than the sun on the mountains and just [being] out skating on a lake, and we get all these new views of our area,” he said.
In the early spring, Gaule will flood the rink, creating a smooth surface on the ice. He said skating is usually possible until the end of March.
Gaule said sometimes, there are as many as 50 people out on the ice. Skaters come into town from Seward, Cooper Landing and even Anchorage. But the most constant presence is local hockey players, including Gaule.
Gaule grew up pond skating in Detroit. He said playing hockey on Trail Lake is a continuation of a childhood passion.
“There’s nothing better than skating out in those mountains and you hear no motors, just laughter,” Gaule said. “The fun of a puck and a stick and a close score. It’s just a really fantastic time.”
For Gaule, plowing the lake truly is a labor of love. One Valentine’s Day, he even plowed the trails in the shape of his wife’s name, Annie, and a big heart.
This weekend, skating and hockey will both be open on Lower Trail Lake, south of Moose Pass. Gaule says Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 3 and 4, are looking good for skating.