Brought to you by Alyeska Resort & Hotel Alyeska
Alaska won’t wait, so get up and get going.
Those words, plus the daydream of snowy Mount Alyeska over cozy Girdwood, are the motivation keeping me in motion on this cold 4 a.m. in March.
A powder-heavy winter has occupied the great white north, and “work” dictates I must go. I’ve read the snow reports. I’ve studied the travel advisories. And my bags are packed; it’s time to get on that plane.
We’ve all heard the stories of times-gone-by when flight attendants poured a proper cocktail (in a glass) while the passenger parted actual curtains at the window––sadly, this is not the inflight reality of today. The good news is that the Great Land is doing a stellar job of maintaining reasonable safety for visitors and locals alike. Part ‘n parcel to this process is the Alaska Travel Declaration Form. It’s a snap, non-invasive, and 100% online. Anyone planning to exit the airport at Anchorage will be filling one out.
Here, I acknowledge the incredible network of friendships that is our hallowed community of shred. A room had been prepped ahead of my arrival, and a truck waited for me at the airport (cheers, boys), and the two feet of snow covering that vehicle confirmed that good times were ahead.
If you’ve ever driven toward Girdwood, you remember it. Seward Highway and its passage along Turnagain Arm is a mountain-topped, sea-floored ride through fantasy land. You know those rare locales where surf, ski, and skate may be combined in a single day? At Girdwood, this can be accomplished in a window of mere hours.
Originally anointed Glacier City, the town tucked along Turnagain Arm got a facelift and a name change thanks to a linens magnate from Ireland with a golden gleam in his eye. “Colonel” James Girdwood (historical reference sporadically omits rank) arrived in Turnagain Arm a wealthy man in a remote area who sparked an evolution that spanned: a gold rush, a metamorphic tourism industry, television and film appearances, birth of a ski resort, local Olympians, and a population with the backbone to survive a 9.2 earthquake––and you better believe those townsfolk still skied every chance they got. This is Alaska, after all.
As for the ski area, which calls Girdwood home, why that’s none other than mighty Alyeska Resort. If it’s not already on your list, now might be a good moment to reach for a pencil.
Bird’s Eye On Alyeska Resort:
650 inches of annual snowfall
1,610 skiable acres, including the world’s longest double black diamond
76 named runs
a vertical rise of 2,500ft
7 total lifts: 2 high-speed detachable quads, 2 fixed quads, 2 magic carpets, and a 60-passenger Aerial Tram.
Think backcountry caliber terrain with lift access. The destination is a skier’s or snowboarder’s dreamscape, which the geography of Alaska made reality.
By the time I got there, more than 600″ of snow had fallen across the region, a handful as recent as just 48 hrs prior. And if the weather forecast was worth its salt, I had a high-pressure session to look forward to.
Mornings are for low-gear at Alaska; it’s a result of winter days dominated by long, frigid nights. Eventually, the sun does barge its way in, but that big burning ball has a devil of a frost to tangle with all the same.
Making my way to the slopes, I’m pleased to see COVID safety in practice throughout Alyeska Resort and Hotel. People are masked, conscientious, and skiing like they give a damn. First laps are as fast and as cold as any luge course ever built. That low temp keeps the surface layers of the snowpack chalky and dry.
The terrain of Mount Alyeska awards vision as well as technical skill. There are hidden pockets and twisting gullies, plunging faces and daunting cliffs–and that’s when visibility reveals them. A quick ride on the upper-most chairlift, Glacier Bowl Express, puts me at a nexus of pincer-tight chutes, one mighty long traverse, or the gates of the notorious North Face.
At the time of this trip, wind and edge action had polished most of the top sections to hard, bone-white slate with a dusty chaser of pure dry powder. North Face, in particular, was a mischievous example of this combo. Prior tracks, frozen solid, had vanished beneath a buffed velvet of moved (and moving snow). Amongst that, patches of bulletproof hardpack lurked like a snow version of the comedic banana peel.
When in doubt, bounce skiers-left into Upper Bowl where rolling faces collect good snow and gullies make for perfect halfpipes built by Mother Nature herself, all of which adds priceless zest to this dance with gravity.
Night may rule Alaska winter, but those boys and girls ski into it with gusto at Alyeska. The lifts spin, the locals finish their day jobs, and a feel of true community takes hold. Of huge help in that regard is the close nature of the Girdwood valley itself; everything waits within easy reach, including many a scenic backdrop to add the exclamation point on a day of recreation enjoyed at Alyeska Resort and Girdwood Valley.
Insider’s (or perhaps by now obvious) tip: there are a brewery and taproom in this town, memorably named Girdwood Brewing Company. On a solid snow year like the present, one can even ski to it. There you´ll find friends, even if you’ve never met before. Good conversation will flow while refreshment is enjoyed. And before the bottom of the glass, I’m reminding myself that I really must visit more often.
*March, April, and sometimes even May receive (rightfully) the bulk of media attention when it comes to the ‘shred trip,’ but any time is a good time to hit up Alaska and Alyeska Resort in Girdwood Valley will be waiting when you do.