The dream of skiing Alaska
Here I go again… Another post about my love of Alaska! But I just can’t help myself.
Alaska is on the list of every big mountain snowboarder or skier, and for good reason. It’s our mecca. Big mountains (poo your pants big!), steep faces (can’t see past your toes) and deep, blower powder (cold smoke – yes please!).
Having made the pilgrimage to the Final Frontier every spring for the last 4 years, I can honestly say there won’t be a year in my future that I won’t head back there. It is just too good.
So if you’re finally ticking off the heli-ski in Alaska item off your bucket list, you might want to spend a few days warming up first. After all, you don’t want to kook your dream holiday with jelly legs or nerves as you peak over that blind roll over on day one.
Or maybe you want to just ski Alaska in the most beautiful setting in pure, affordable luxury. Then Alyeska Resort is the ideal gateway or destination for the ultimate Alaskan experience. You can even steal a few days of heli skiing or cat skiing right from the hotel coffee shop. For reals!
Things I loved about Alyeska Resort
The welcomed mix of locals and guests in the Alyeska hotel. Such a mix of characters.
Sushi at Sakura Sushi – Head there on a Monday for a beer & roll for $10
The price – From $5 margaritas to deals you can score at the hotel
Spencer Glacier – Not to be missed
The saltwater pool at the hotel open till midnight!
The drive to and from Anchorage – Just stunning
The terrain – The North Face is a leg burner and a half!
Getting to Alyeska Resort
Just a short 40 mile STUNNING drive from Anchorage, Girdwood is quaint mountain town that hosts Alyeska Resort. With A-frame cabins peaking through the woods, quirky locals and a stunning backdrop of the ocean inlet that makes up Turnagain Arm, it is a destination in itself. Public transport to Girdwood is tough so look into renting a car or getting a taxi from the airport. If you are flying with the local heli operator, Chugach Powder Guides they can arrange your airport pick up.
Again, the drive is just stunning. We were there in late March and Turnagain Arm was frozen with the moving tide creating a surge of icebergs – a site so magnificent, half the traffic on the highway was pulled over to take a look! Mind the train tracks!
Where to Stay in Girdwood
No doubt about it, stay at The Hotel Alyeska. It is a luxury hotel central to the resort setup where locals, heliski clients and families can be seen eating sushi together around one large table. Fall out of your bed (the best night sleep I have had in years) and into your ski gear. Meander into the café, fill up on a $5 breakfast burrito and roll straight into the tram (located on the 2nd floor of the hotel).
On both days we were there, it was easy to be first inline for the Tram, coffee in hand and belly full of Mexican goodness. Lucky for us it was the two best days of the season with 22″ inches of fresh pow. We chatted with heliski clients going catsking from the hotel cafe, made new friends in the line up and whooped and hollered as the tram took us up a vertical 2500 feet in 4 minutes.
The hotel’s saltwater pool, spa and selection of not-hotel-priced restaurants were the cherry on top, making it a central hub for locals and tourists alike.
When we were there, the resort was doing a mid-week “Stay and Ski For Free” package including a one-night stay and 2 free midweek lift tickets for $179. So make sure you check the Alyeska Resort website for deals. If you happen to fly in with Alaskan Airlines (very likely), there was also a show your boarding pass and get a free lift pass deal (advertised on Alaska Airlines website).
Went to sleep to this view…
And woke up to this view…
And a roofalanche!
Ahem – The North Face is where it’s at!
The former lead guide Henry Munter, from the local heli operation Chugach Powder Guides says “it is why people people move to Girdwood”. I can see why.
The longest continuous double black diamond in North America, the North Face is a leg burner ready to test any one’s skills. We were lucky to be at the gate just as the rope dropped on the biggest powder day of the season. It was frantic, high energy and loud! Drops, trees, cliffs and open fields of powder, the North Face has it all. Make sure you keep an eye on it opening if you happen to be there for a powder day. With only 4 minutes up the tram (that runs every 10 minutes with 60 people), we were doing 15 minute laps on this legendary Alyeska trail. It has been voted one of the best runs in North America and I can see why!
Other great runs are “Brown Pants” with bands of fun trees, drops and tight steep lines between the trees. The many natural gullies between runs also make for fun riding with lots of side hits for some air time. The groomers are also super fun with 76 trails on 1,610 skiable acres to chose from, serviced by 7 lifts. There is night riding at certain times during the season. No ski touring is permitted from the resort but Turnagain Pass offers some of the best in the world should you want to get amoungst it.
Where to aprés ski
Ahhh aprés ski or in my case ‘during ski!’.
Alyeska has a several bars to add to your list of things to do. At the top of the tram there is the Bore Tide Deli & Bar, taking its name from the Bore Tide that frequents Turnagain Arm when the conditions are right (locals surf the Bore Tide wave in warmer months). I was beat after 5 laps of the North face so came for a quick Bloody Mary and bumped into friends that I hadn’t seen in years. It got a little messy!
Make sure you also go to 7 glaciers and get the locals favourite drink, a “fizz”. This bar serves the most vodka in the whole of Alaska due to this drink! Sadly, the one and only barman that makes it wasn’t working midweek when we visited so I had to miss out – Dayummm. I was genuinely really bummed about this.
At the base of Chair 1 is The Sitzmark. A cool venue for few beers and live music every weekend. They just hosted Bob Weir from the Grateful Dead when we were in town! Very Cool. Another bar in Girdwood to go to when the mountain is packed is Chair 5. Good chicken wings!
Where to eat
With the Alyeska Resort Hotel just at the base of the tram and everything so easily accessible, we ate in the comfort and convenience of the hotel both nights. My favourite was the Sakura Sushi restaurant. As I mentioned, The Hotel is a melting pot for locals and guests alike and on my first visit we were sat next to the owner of the resort! On the second visit, we sat at the bar being served by Toby the head chef. He made us a delicious chef special roll of a multitude of flavours including truffle oil.
On a Monday you can get a roll and a beer for $10. Winning!
If you’re seeking something fancy, 7 Glaciers is a AAA Four Diamond award-winning mountain-top restaurant with stunning views (& the Fizz cocktail). With a reservation your Tram ride up, is free.
Another great bar and restaurant in the hotel is the Aurora Bar and Grill. We double dipped on the Monday specials that night, enjoying their $10 hot wing special before going 20m over the hallway to Sakura Sushi. The next day I was back there for a delicious burger and another Bloody Mary! I have a Bloody Mary problem evidently.
Want to go heliskiing?
Another thing that makes this resort so damn cool is having a heli pad bang next door to the hotel! Chugach Powder Guides are partnered with the resort so should the sun be shining and you fancy grabbing a day in the heli or cat skiing, you can do this right out of the hotel. They do week and day packages so if you’re feeling adventurous and want to go heli skiing, why not call them up and see if you can get a seat! It would be cool to ride some of that terrain one day as they are close to some great lines.
Other cool things to do around Girdwood
I am fortunate to have a few friends with snowmobiles in Girdwood and they took me to the nearby Spencer Glacier (thanks Lesley!).
Two words: MIND BLOWN!
The toe of the glacier is punctuated with ice caves and features. The cracking of the ice in the sunshine sounded like slamming doors! The hotel can arrange a snowmobile tour, heli ride or plane drop to take you to the toe of the glacier. In summer, you can take the local train trough the glacier cut valley and then kayak the last bit there. It is just breathe-taking.
Other cool things to do are dog sledding, ski touring (again Turnagain Pass is a world renowned touring destination with mechanised and non-mechanised zones), ice fishing or if the conditions are right, checking out the Northern Lights.
So you want to ski Alaska?
Then seriously, go check out Alyeska Resort. If you are on your way to Thompson Pass or Cordova to heli ski (I recommend Points North Heli or Alaska Snowboard Guides), then a stop at Alyeska is the perfect way to kick off your trip.
Get rid of your jetlag and warm up the legs. You’ll get your head right into it and make the best out of your heli ski time (trust me on this!). Or if you are after a ski getaway then this resort has something for everyone, offering hotel luxury and great skiing at a really affordable price.
Lift tickets are $60 midweek and $80 on the weekends – quite a steal from the $169 a day you will pay in the lower 48!
Check out Alyeska Resort for more info, prices and for package specials.
For more ski resort reviews from around the world, check out the ski resort section of Still Stoked.
P.s. If you are after travel insurance for your next adventure, I recommend World Nomads. I was insure with them on this and all my snow trips. Prices are really reasonable and they insure actions sports (including snow kiting, heli skiing and backcountry touring) without charging a mega premium. You can also purchase the insurance after you have left home for your trip and extend the trip online during your trip; something that is quite unique to World Nomads and really helpful if your plans change as you travel. I get a few days of heli coverage when I do heli and book in blocks while i’m away as I do different activities.