Get ready for a real leg burner.
Skiing in Alaska is at the top of most ski and snowboarder wishlists. And while the state is best known for its helicopter-accessed big-mountain terrain, I took a more conservative approach for my first visit to Alaska with a visit to Alyeska Resort, the state’s largest ski area.
Surprisingly, The ski trip was one of the easiest I’ve ever taken, thanks in large part to the fact that I was on a press trip with Eddie Bauer, who took care of the details and outfitted us in Alaska-worthy winter gear.
My plane landed in Anchorage in a snowstorm (a good sign for a ski trip accompanied by a suitcase full of down Eddie Bauer outerwear), and I hopped in a taxi for the 45-minute drive along the coast to Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, my home for the week. It took me about 20 of those 45 minutes to realize I was about to experience a ski trip unlike any other.
On one side of the road, mountains towered. On the other, the waters of Turnagain Arm, a branch of the Cook Inlet, sprawled. Here, I learned from my driver that surfers gather twice a day to ride the wave formed when a super low tide and a super high tide collide. The phenomenon, called a bore tide, creates a singular wave that surfers can ride for five to 15 minutes (or up to an hour if you paddle out far enough).
But I wasn’t here for the surfing, and eventually, the road veered away from the water and into the mountains where Alyeska Resort is tucked. The grand chateau-style hotel is basically a hotel and ski area basecamp in one. It sits at the base of the four-minute aerial tram, the most direct way of accessing the ski area’s notoriously steep and deep terrain — including the North Face, where you’ll find North America’s longest continuous double-black-diamond ski run.
On my first ski day, six inches of fresh snow fell, a snow total that had me, a longtime Colorado skier, excited. It turns out the Alyeska regulars don’t get excited unless there are eight-plus inches of fresh, an entitlement born out of the fact the ski area sees 669 inches (almost 56 feet) of annual snowfall on average. For context, that’s well over double what my home Colorado resort sees yearly.
This winter is no different. According to Kara Edwards, the Alyeska Resort general manager, “As of January 15, the resort is exceeding its snow average, with 428 inches accumulated this season thus far. Being in Alaska, the mountain also closes later in the ski season, with plans to stay open until April 28, 2024, conditions permitting.”
Alyeska lives up to its “steep and deep” tagline with predominantly expert, black-diamond terrain and 669 inches of annual snowfall. Oh, and it has the longest continuous double-black-diamond run in North America.
There’s a mountaintop restaurant overlooking seven “hanging” glaciers.
A 50,000-square-foot Nordic spa at the base of the ski area is a destination in itself — or a great excuse to cut your ski day short and warm up.
It’s the only ski resort in North America where you can get mountain, glacier, and ocean views. (And if you’re lucky, the Northern Lights.)
With another deep winter on tap, here’s everything you need to know to book a trip to this great northern ski area, including what to eat, where to play off the mountain, and most importantly, where to ski.
When to Go
Alyeska’s ski season usually runs from late November to late April. To enjoy one of Alyeska’s notorious powder days, your best bet is to visit in January and February, when the ski area typically sees the most snow. Good skiing continues into March and April.
If you want to party, visit the closing weekend (April 26-28, 2024) for Spring Carnival, featuring costume contests, live music, and the beloved Alaska Airlines Slush Cup, a pond skim that has been part of Alyeska’s closing weekend for over 38 years.
Where to Stay
Alyeska Resort: To be honest, it’s hard to recommend anything other than Alyeska Resort, which is part of the ski area and provides the best access to the mountain (plus an unbelievable Nordic spa). For an upgrade to the standard hotel room, Edwards recommends booking a room on the top floor in the new Black Diamond Club, which has 36 newly renovated rooms, a private concierge, complimentary breakfast and après drinks, and a VIP ski valet. All guests, Edwards notes, have access to my favorite in-hotel feature, a “Northern Lights concierge, where guests can sign up to be woken up and alerted for aurora viewing.”
Girdwood Vacation Rentals: If you’re not staying at Alyeska Resort, your best bet is to stay in the town of Girdwood, which butts up against the southern side of the ski area. You can walk to the base and quickly hop on the Ted’s Express chairlift from many of the vacation rentals on Airbnb.
Where to Eat
Jack Sprat: One of the best meals I had on my Alyeska trip was at Jack Sprat, a Girdwood spot that serves up "fat and lean world cuisine." All their seafood comes from Alaska and is sustainably caught, and they adjust their menu based on what ingredients are available. The restaurant has just as many options for meat eaters as it does for vegans, and the vibe is warm, welcoming, and hip.
Seven Glaciers: Eating a meal at Seven Glaciers is just as unforgettable as a ski day at Alyeska. The restaurant sits atop Mt. Alyeska and is accessed by the Aerial Tram, which is an experience in itself. In addition to a multi-course prix fixe chef's tasting menu and award-winning wine list, Edwards says the restaurant offers "unparalleled views of seven hanging glaciers" and "is a AAA Four Diamond Award restaurant." Reservations are a must.
Forte Alaska: I ate most of my meals at Forte, which is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and is inside the Alyeska Resort hotel. My breakfast favorites included the Forte Italian Bake and Breakfast Pizza (sans meat) and the Alaska halibut over orzo for dinner.
Where to Après Ski
Girdwood Brewing Company: For a traditional brewery vibe within walking distance from the base of the ski area, head to Girdwood Brewing Company. The timber-framed taproom has craft beer galore (plus root beer and kombucha) and a rotating cadre of food trucks — including crepes, ramen, pizza, and Mexican fare. If you want a bite with your beer, check out the food truck schedule here.
Chair 5: Chair 5, also known as “The Dive,” is the local hangout. It’s been in operation since 1983 and has the wall-to-wall memorabilia to prove it. The rustic vibe is the perfect place to put you at ease, and the pool tables provide redemption following a tough ski day. In addition to being Girdwood’s go-to watering hole, Chair 5 also has a separate dining room and a reputation for excellent deep-dish pizza.
Sitzmark Bar & Grill: Sitzmark, which is part of Alyeska Resort, sits in the southern base area. It’s the mountain’s go-to après spot, with a menu of warming winter cocktails — like the Nutty Irishman made with hazelnut schnapps, Irish cream, and coffee.
Aurora Bar: While not open during my 2023 visit, Edwards says the brand new Aurora Bar is this year’s après go-to. She hints that at Aurora, “skiers can take in mountain views while grabbing a beer and a bite to eat.” And notes that the bar is close to the Nordic Spa, which has a “Twilight Soak for an evening of hydrotherapy soaks, saunas, and massage treatments.”
Alyeska Nordic Spa: When the Nordic spa opened at the Alyeska Resort in 2023 — all 50,000 square feet of it — it caused waves. Not only is it Alaska’s first Nordic spa, but it has become a destination in its own right, drawing Alaskans and visitors to its hot and cold hydrotherapy pools. The full-day spa experience is set outside, at the base of the ski area, and is surrounded by the northernmost rainforest. For a shorter, less expensive soak, book the Twilight Soak, which runs from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Snowmobiling: One of the most memorable things I did in Alaska was a snowmobile tour around a private gold mine. The trip, which was led by Glacier City Snowmobile Tours, Alaska’s longest-running guide service, was a short drive from town and included a fire-pit lunch that was crashed by a rogue Alaskan husky that freely roams the basin and once saved someone’s life. The guiding company also takes people to the blue glaciers, icebergs, and ice caves of the Alaskan backcountry. Just make sure and bundle up; I wore my puffiest Eddie Bauer coat for this excursion.
Heli-skiing: If you want to go beyond the confines of the ski area, Edwards recommends booking a heli-ski tour, which conveniently departs from the resort’s helicopter port. The excursions are available between February and April, snow dependent, and provide deeper access to the world-famous Chugach Mountain Range.
Glacier Cruise: Starting in mid-February, winter visitors to Alyeska can book a glacier cruise up Blackstone Bay, a scenic fjord carved by retreating glaciers. The boat ride includes a visit to two tidewater glaciers, Beloit and Blackstone, and numerous waterfalls. Along the way, you’ll see sea otters and harbor seals and experience a walk through Alaska’s surprisingly thick and lush rainforest.
How to Ride
Tickets: If you have the Ikon Pass, you’re in luck. Alyeska joined Ikon for the 2023-2024 season, giving Ikon Pass holders seven days at Alyeska Resort with no blackout dates. Ikon Base Pass holders can ski Alyeska for five days with select blackout dates. Alyeska Resort is also available on the Ikon Session Pass. Adult, full-day lift tickets start at $109. Half-day tickets start at $99, and night skiing (4 p.m. to 8 p.m.) starts at $69.
Rentals: There are two on-resort ski rental spots — the Daylodge in the southern base area and the rental shop within Alyeska Resort hotel (the latter is for hotel guests only). At either location, a basic setup (ski or snowboard) runs for $72 a day. For a non-resort option, checkout Powder Hound, a ski shop at Alyeska’s southern base.
Alyeska has just seven lifts, including the 60-passenger aerial tram, and 1,610 skiable acres. It isn’t anywhere close to the size of North America’s larger resorts, but Alyeska’s 76 named trails don’t encompass all of the skiable terrain. “The popular Glacier Bowl creates a blank canvas to carve our tracks,” said Edwards.
Programming: Alyeska’s terrain can be intimidating, even for advanced skiers, but it’s worth noting that much of the lower mountain consists of blues and greens, and there are two magic carpets.
Edwards says the ski area’s snowsport school has “classes for skiers as young as four, [and] uses the award-winning approach to ski and snowboarding teaching the Terrain Based Learning Method.” There are also teen-specific classes, adult groups, and private lessons.
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