It’s never easy to move from one place to another, AK Fam knows. Pulling up roots, however temporary, is painful, and for kids it can be doubly so. Just ask AK Dad. The product of a Navy and Red Cross Field Manager father, he was transported from one state or foreign country so often during his younger years that today he must stop and think about the answer to “Where are you from?”
But for all the difficulty the transient lifestyle of today’s military family faces, one thing remains constant; the ability to see, taste, listen, and touch the essence of whatever community said family resides within. Even though deployments and temporary assignments often take away moms and dads and spouses, families of our military, Department of Defense, and others are offered the chance to recreate together within Mother Nature’s gentle embrace. Memories of tough days and even tougher nights tend to melt away, at least for the moment, to the gentle lap of waves against a canoe’s gunwale, to the sound of children tearing down a ski slope, or at the taste of a self-caught fish grilled over an open campfire. Military families, especially, know how to cherish moments to be captured for a lifetime, and right here in Anchorage our Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER) is assisting with those buckets of memories by filling them up, right to the top.
It’s a topic close to AK Fam’s heart, how best to support our military men and women and their children; after all, AK Dad is a civilian Federal Employee and we have done our share of moving around. Most of our friends are either active duty or reservists, and we’ve watched all of them struggle with keeping a semblance of family balance and harmony alive when one parent is missing from the overall collage of daily activity.
Last Friday, AK Kid and I paid a visit to Hillberg ski area on the fringe of JBER for a little day-off fun at this tiny but action-packed ski and tubing park. Open every weekend and on most holidays, Hillberg boasts (and rightly so) to be the “Little Hill with big Fun” for families. We soon found out why as the list of outdoor wintertime activities seemed to go on and on and on; alpine skiing, Nordic trails, tubing and terrain parks, sledding, ice skating, a ski team, ice fishing, even dog sled rides.
Mountain Manager Trevor Bird, in his first season at Hillberg, says that from an alpine skiing perspective, the facility offers families a great sense of exposure to simple skiing without the angst many first-timers (especially if adults) feel at larger resorts. “We have access and low-key skiing,” Bird said. “It’s perfect for anyone wanting a more relaxed atmosphere and a great learning environment.”
Rentals complete the picture with sizes running the gamut from small kiddos to adults, and lessons for the same are a super way to familiarize oneself with skiing, the mountain, and confidence. Plus, Bird adds, they’re a bargain. A one-hour lesson for a child age 4-7 costs $45 with rentals, lift, and lesson all included. Whoa. Adults are $50 for the same package, and for anyone thinking this mountain will bore you after an hour going up and down the same hill, think again. Bird’s background as a ski instructor insures interesting, engaging, and dedicated instructors.
Another fun aspect of Hillberg is its commitment to youth development. A ski team travels to other Alaskan bases and privately owned resorts, but Hillberg also offers a Junior Ski Patrol program for kids 10-18 who show leadership skills and want to give back to their ski hill. Checking helmets on lesson-takers, reminding of rules, helping control lift lines; these kids know their stuff. Grab an adult Ski Patrol if your ‘tween/teen is interested.
Our Fam, on this day, however, stuck to the tubing hill, a perennial favorite of my AK Kid. Finally deemed tall and “grownup” enough to tube by himself, AK Kid secured his tube from the metal storage containers at the bottom of the tow, hauled it up to the always kind operators (seriously, these guys are always nice), and took off for the top. Finding the perfect groomed lane, he slapped his little body down on the tube and came whooping and hollering down the slope with a beyond-awesome, ear-to-ear grin. $10 gets a kid or adult two hours of tubing, plenty of time to make enough slides before coming in for lunch. Bird says the tubing hill can handle up to 120 participants at one time, so get there early to ensure a spot, or plan to take a snowshoe, hike, or ski while waiting for spots to open up. AND, kids must be 47″ tall to tube.
A small cafeteria is available for family-friendly snacks, but we usually bring our own yummies after we establish a beachhead inside the lodge. Hillberg also has a pro shop for gear, tech help for gear, and access to the dog sledding fun. Hillberg will be hosting a “Spring Meltdown” the last weekend of March to celebrate winter’s (hopeful) end, so look for flyers soon.
The Outdoor Rec office on JBER (off 13th) offers snowshoes, Nordic skis, and ice fishing equipment, too. We’ll be talking with Sarah Mueller, Director, a little later when spring and summer make their first appearances.
But for now, know that Hillberg will provide our military families with bang for their almighty dollar, fun for their bodies, and goodness for their souls. It’s what matters.