The main AETR course consists of a roughly 6 mile loop on the trails of the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) West Ridge. This is a world-class Nordic ski area during the winter, so the trails are well-maintained and reasonably smooth, with gravel, grass, and forest duff surfaces. They pass through heavily forested areas and open fields and meadows, so there is plenty of variety to keep your interest during the run. There are no road crossings, other than an occasional gravel maintenance road, and the only concrete is a short section (maybe 300 feet) along a paved bike path on the east side of the course to get around Ballaine Lake. Even there, you can run alongside the bike path on gravel or grass.
Note: The UAF Trails Club does a lot of work to maintain these trails, and we’re very fortunate they do. If you’re willing, please support them any way you can!
The trails are mildly technical in places, mainly with roots but also with the occasional fallen branches and trees. Depending on the spring thaw and the amount of rainfall in the weeks leading up to the race, there can be and often are some soggy areas that you can either pick your way around or plow through.
Not sure if a race like this, going around the same loop repeatedly, is for you? Read In Praise of Loop Courses on iRunFar.com. This post, by well-known ultrarunner Andy Jones-Wilkins, talks about the benefits. As he says, this kind of race isn’t for everyone, but it can be a great way to have a fun time while doing amazing distances.
The start area will be in the vicinity of the Ski Hut on the UAF West Ridge, which is located directly west of the Geophysical Institute on the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, campus. The address is at 903 Koyukuk Drive, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, AK 99775-7320. See the map below, which you can use to get directions from your location.
Parking is free at UAF on weekends (and on weekdays after 5 P.M.). So feel free to park in the lot either in front of or behind the Geophysical Institute, both of which are within sight of the Ski Hut.
Course Maps and Elevation
Here are maps of the main loop (click on a map to see a larger version). It measures with a GPS at just about 6 miles. That’s the distance we’ll use on race day to calculate results.
The elevation is rolling, with a gain and loss of about 440 feet for each loop. The lowest elevation is about 500 feet above sea level. Over the course of the day, this adds up to some respectable elevation, but there are no long, steep hills or killer climbs or descents. We want this to be a fun, approachable running event! You can even walk it, if you wish.
For most of the day, you’ll be running the 6-mile loop. But during the last two hours, you can do as many laps as you can on a shorter, 0.49 mile loop, shown in the maps below (we’ll use 1/2 mile to calculate the results). This way you can maximize your mileage if you don’t have enough time left to do another 6-mile loop. Only full loops count toward your total, so there is a bit of strategy involved!
The small loop is also rolling, with a bit steeper hills than the average of the large loop, with a total gain and loss of about 40 feet.
The UAF West Ridge trails are some of the most fun trails in Interior Alaska to run, and there’s a decent chance you’ll see wildlife along the way. Squirrels certainly, but moose often amble through here as well. Bears are very rare this close in to Fairbanks, but it’s not unheard of to see one. Maybe less than every couple of decades or more.
The race will be just a couple of weeks before the summer solstice. One of the (many) nice things about Interior Alaska is that this time of year there is plenty of light. So leave your headlamps at home! On the other hand, we can get almost any kind of weather, and there is as likely a chance that the day will be sunny as rainy. So come prepared for anything from heat to cold, wet to dry!