When you own your house you get to paint the walls, and fill it with love and experiences that make it a home. So it is when you own a lodge. An Alaskan lodge is an entity comprised of part past, part present, and part … hopefully … future. It is times of serendipitous opportunity that define their purpose and keep them going.
As our economy changes lodges are seeing hard times. Summer business no longer supports us through the winter. Once hangouts for locals, skiers, and snow machine enthusiasts, lodges no longer have enough winter business to pay the light bill. Many are closing for the winter, or closing for good. My husband works another full-time job, so we are able to keep our Mendeltna Creek Lodge open all year.
Two years ago we were offered the great opportunity to become a checkpoint for the Copper Basin 300. A vital checkpoint for the race was not going to open for the winter, so we offered our place. It didn’t take long to reroute the existing race trail.
Preparing for the race means baking a lot of cookies, sweet rolls, bundt cakes, and breakfast cakes to be placed out with coffee and tea to create a warm welcome for all. There are other things to eat too. Plenty of carbs and protein are the rule of winter sports, and having food ready when handlers and racers arrive is key. Russ and I take turns sleeping so there is always someone up to prepare meals.
Our lodge becomes one big slumber party as mushers, handlers, fans and support teams come in. The furniture and floors are strewn with bodies as they grab an extra few hours of sleep. Most of the mushers sleep outside with their dogs in the straw beds that are prepared for them.
As mushers come in their times are recorded, and our checkpoint volunteer, Julie Johnston, checks on the dogs and supplies. She is also helpful to guests and handlers in other ways. She makes sure they have fresh coffee and cookies round the clock. Julie says it is like nothing else … you are up close and personal with, to us, big celebrities.
To me it is like being backstage at a performance. Everyone is in the “zone” of what needs to be done. Handlers are feeding dogs, vets are checking every paw. Numbers are being crunched for times. Strategies are at the forefront because we are the last checkpoint on the race.
One of the mushers, Nicolas Petit, came up to me and said, “I can’t thank you enough for opening up your lodge for this race, and for your hospitality. I would hug you but … I smell of dogs, and…”
Just then I replied, “No, you smell like the cold wind, and crisp air of the trail. You smell of dogs running fast and furious because they listen—you trained them well. You smell of the last frontier, of tradition, of history, and of the hope that Alaska as I have known it will go on into the future. You smell good. You smell of snow, and cold, and heart. You smell of life and exuberance. You smell of here and now. Yes, I will hug you. I am honored, and grateful.”
Who could ask for more. I love this Alaska life.
Mabel and Russ Wimmer have been the owners of the Mendeltna Creek Lodge for 14 years. They are open year round, hosting people from around the world. In the winter guests enjoy 50 miles of ski, dog sled, and snow machine trails that connect as far as Chistochina, Eureka, and Lake Louise. Summer brings fly fishermen, tourists, and cyclists. Fall brings hunters. As you can see, being a lodge owner means being flexible. The Mendeltna Music Festival, a yearly event on Memorial Day Weekend, boasts some of the finest bluegrass artists in the state and beyond. This is a family friendly event, as well as a time for experienced and beginners alike to share and learn. All are welcome to join. The lodge also hosts retreats, dinner theater, and opera events. They apply the Zero Waste philosophy—over 90% is recycled or reused. The food is organic and local when available with free range chickens, and a high tunnel for fresh produce. Check Mendeltna Creek Lodge out on Facebook for updates on events.