[sponsored by Alyeska]
From school boy days, I recall pouring over snow mags or being transfixed by video parts. The remote lands, stunning topography, and unique cultures depicted there would inspire my later ski travels. And, of course, always beckoning from among those featured destinations was the Big X, Alaska; a mainstay upon ‘must hit’ lists.
Today, years (and continents) removed from that School Boy, I have discovered that ‘X’ indeed marks the spot and a hunt for tips to guide such a dream trip begins with the storm chasers themselves.
Last things first:
Right, straightaway it’s best to address the predominant thought on every ski tripper’s mind; weather.
Regardless of discipline, regardless of age; every AK familiar forewarns of fickle weather. Inconsistent conditions, it seems, prove the in-state constant. So, as some ancient skier once said, if you see Pow, rip it…but plan for wind and rain.
Pre-prep; the things we carry…
Run lean, and plan for layered efficiency. Four seasons in one day does not imply four separate wardrobes. And I’ve yet to meet the wandering soul who thrills at dragging seven checked bags and three carry-on’s through a crowded airport. Pack the tech. [see SNOW SAFETY] and quick dry gear, but save a space for formal attire—one never knows when romance might ignite.
Spot your landing; in the know on where to go…
Arriving to Alaska likely means a visit to the state’s most bustling ‘town.’
Anchorage is well situated for striking skylines and proximity to a selection of ski areas.
Most magnetic among these is AK ski icon, Hotel Alyeska and Resort.
Tucked along picturesque Turnagain Arm and mere 40 miles south of Anchorage, Alyeska rests at the head of Girdwood Valley and represents yet another of Girdwood community’s many recreational draws. The hotel itself rises in luxury at the base of Mount Alyeska’s North Face, the longest continuous double black diamond in N. America, and wisely offers a special “Winter 7 &7” accommodation package equalling seven nights stay plus seven nights lift tickets.
To enhance the attraction, an aerial tram as well chairlift operate directly from hotel property. And Chugach Powder Guides keeps an office there through winter. At the mountain’s far face operates a daylodge, ski school, and patrol office, which is connected to the hotel as well as new and old Girdwood townsites via free public transit.
Time in season; selecting the magic month…
Dependent upon ambition (and budget) ski-able snow can be found year ‘round at AK. Traditional winter, however, typically spans late November thru April. This window’s beginning months see fluctuating weather patterns which can plague lower altitudes with early season moisture while higher elevations (often only a short drive from accommodation hubs) boast plump, scale-able faces that only accrue greater snow depth (and increased stability likelihood) as favored travel months, March and April kick in. During the season’s latter months, expect increased skier traffic implying trickier accommodation bookings. The same commonly proves true with guided backcountry tours, so book ahead.
And don’t overlook current snowpack, urge Girdwood ski veterans. The Chugach is world famous for its multi-faceted terrain, but the brush and rock filled steeps require solid base for maximum ski safety. Just ask the locals and after a few beers they’ll advise, ski with caution if arriving to less than 500 inches of total snowfall.
Snow Safety; know before you go…
Respect Mother Nature or she’ll make you pay the price. Famed big mountain snowboarder Jeremy Jones aired those words perhaps most famously, but following critiques on weather, snow safety was the second-most stressed point provided by the AK ski-lifers polled for this piece. Knowing your personal experience level, from morning coffee to evening dry out, is critical to the success of an AK ski adventure. When BC, always travel in groups, carry transceiver, probe and shovel. And know how to use them.
On piste, by comparison, is a different chapter to the same story.
AK resorts like Alyeska offer terrain specifically suited for a variety of interests and all ability levels–including night skiing (a clear lense is a valued friend). Alyeska’s Mountain Learning Center, especially, opens the AK ski aperture, inviting first timers to fine tuners and all spectrums in-between.
Go with an open mind, two pair waterproof gloves, and a healthy appetite for laughter.
Alternate itinerary; off-piste done properly…
The true beauty of basing ski adventure out of Alyeska, for example, is that the hotel, all of Girdwood, and indeed Turnagain Arm waits to fill any sudden downtime.
As stated above; weather happens. Moreover, legs get tired and (dare it be said) even ski holidays benefit from diversity.
Off-piste options are most readily accessible from within the Hotel Alyeska. There, comfort speaks for itself via a top-tier pool, spa, and gym—not to mention the hotel’s panoply of gastronomic and mix-o-logic options [insert romantic interlude here]. But for options further afield, look no further than nearby Turnagain Arm, said to be among the most picturesque destinations within all of Alaska. The parallel running, Seward HWY South is sole access to coveted Turnagain Pass and Kenai Penninsula while Girdwood Valley, specifically houses as ecelectic a community as is likely to be found in-state. An artful nature takes precedence among its estimated 2,000 persons population, weaving a valley-wide network to include not just Alyeska Resort but restaurants, galleries, speak easies, a library, a brewery, and after hours activities the likes of trivia nights, film premiers, community bonfires, exhibits, holiday programming and more.
It’s said that an expert level AK holiday-maker plans for the slopes, but the professional manages that PLUS a peppering of the above.
The intangible X; all things un-plan-able…
Here hide the AK aspects which just can’t be penned upon a schedule.
There’s a unique humor to the Last Frontier best approached with an improvisational mind.
(i.e. the common accommodation joke that all Alaskans live in igloos)
Anything can happen which, naturally, lends to the Great Land mystique. Case in point: Aurora spotting. Whether ski focused or not, a night beneath the colors of Aurora Borealis is the treat of a lifetime which few get the chance to enjoy. Aurora forecasting offers a glimpse at each evening’s chances while Hotel Alyeska staff are kind enough to disperse wake-up calls upon request.
And finally, planning the successful Alaska ski adventure implies an openness to the truth that AK is a big state but small community. This fact should not only be acknowledged but embraced. Whether a seasoned veteran of AK winters or a cold-toed first timer wondering what they’ve gotten themselves into; the chance meeting to turn an ordinary trip into a personal ski epic waits a mere greeting away. That mentality, in a nutshell, is the ‘X’ in AK’s allure as well as the powder-dappled reason why so many plan to ski here in the first place.