Girdwood Alyeska Ski Resort
By Radu Marculescu
Located just 35 miles southeast of Anchorage on the scenic Seward Highway, Girdwood is a ski resort small town in the Municipality of Anchorage and home to the well known Alyeska, Alaska 's biggest ski resort. The Alyeska Resort is a popular recreation corner for Alaskans as well as world alpine skiers. Strategically located near Alaska 's winter wonderland, Alyeska is largely expanding to attract more year-round visitors to the resort as well as to the spectacular Chugach Mountains Range. The Chugach Range is famous for its remarkable helicopter ski runs and extreme skiing in a maritime powdery snow environment.
Previously called Glacier City, Girdwood was founded as a gold mining town in 1900, and named for James Girdwood, an Irish immigrant with his first gold claim on Crow Creek in 1896. Over the years, Girdwood served as a logistic center for placer and lodge gold mines in the Turnagain Arm area. At its beginning, it also served as a transit point between Seward and gold mining activities in Alaska ís Interior. As a result of these activities, a segment of the Iditarod National Historic Trail crosses the Girdwood Valley. At the end of World War II, mining activities stopped and Girdwood was almost a ghost town. Girdwood's development as a ski resort started in 1950 and culminated in 1960 with the presence of the first chair lift and the Roundhouse ski lodge, both still in use. Then in 1964 when Good Friday earthquake with the magnitude 9.2 affected the area with a costal move along the Turnagain Arm, the town site of Girdwood was relocated two and a half miles inland to the current location. At this new site, Girdwood emerged as a town of about 2,000 year-round residents with local public services, businesses, restaurants and bars, boutiques and shops, hotels, B&Bs, and affordable vacation rental properties. Today, with a 307-room luxury resort hotel, nine lifts, one 60-passenger aerial tram, up-mountain facilities, restaurants, and shops, Alyeska is world-class ski and snowboard resort for family vacations.
Alyeska receives 200,000 skiers annually and some of them come to Girdwood for many ski and snowboard competitions including the prestigious U.S. Alpine Championships. The resort is also one of the best training facilities for many of the U.S. Ski Team members. Former U.S. Ski Team glories such as Tommy Moe, Mike Makar, Megan Gerety and Hilary Lindh, and more recently snowboarder Rosie Fletcher trained on Alyeskaís skiing runs. For many years, SKI Magazine readers rated Alyeska in the Top 25 ski resorts in North America.
The resort has a number of unique and spectacular features. This is the only ski resort on earth where the ski slopes are facing the nearby ocean in the area at the end of Turnagain Arm. Located at the base of 3,939-foot Mount Alyeska, the resort offers very steep slopes with 2,500 feet vertical rise, a top elevation of 2,750 feet, and 1,000 acres of skiable area. Number one in snow for North America, the area receives an annual average of 700 inches of snowfall. The resort has over 68 runs - some of them lighted - open for skiing and snowboarding, in their majority long runs designed for intermediate and advanced skiers. With its non-existent lift lines and ski in/ski out accessibility, snow making capability, maximum lift capacity of 10,335 skiers and snowboarders per hour, and stunning views, Alyeska Resort is one of the most fascinating Alaskan destinations.
The ski season begins at the Alyeska Resort - weather permitting - in Mid-November and runs through April or even May. Plan to be in Girdwood for the best ski of the year at the end of February until mid of April. In this area, there are close to sixteen hours of daily daylight during April and only six hours of daylight in December. If you choose to visit Alyeska, you will be very surprised by the relatively mild temperatures comparable to Juneau and other communities in southern Panhandle of Alaska. Average winter low temperatures in Girdwood are around 14 degrees F and below zero degree F at upper elevations.
Girdwood has lots of attractions all year-round such as snowboarding, skiing and dog sledding in winter or hiking, rock climbing and kayaking/rafting in summer.
If you plan a winter or summer vacation to Girdwood/Alyeska for the entire family here are some suggestions:
- Plan to stay more than one week.
- Make Alyeska a vacation base for your stay. The Hotel Alyeska, rated a four diamond hotel by the AAA, is located in an unattached wilderness of towering spruce trees, majestic snow-capped mountains and hanging glaciers. The hotel can be reached from Ted Stevens/Anchorage International Airport or ports by shuttle, car, and bus or by train. Girdwood Shuttle of Girdwood offers various shuttle services that include shuttles from Ted Stevens/Anchorage International Airport to the Hotel Alyeska, and cruise ship pick up and drop offs in Seward and Whittier. Once in Girdwood, the shuttle can be used for local tours of the Girdwood Valley and other destinations. For reservation visit their site at: www.girdwoodshuttle.com or call at: 907-783-1900.
- Book transportation and lodging in advance.
- Beside the Hotel Alyeska, in Girdwood you can find a large selection of convenient rental efficiency rooms, vacation condos, single family homes, lodges and B&Bs at very affordable prices with discounts available for other activities. For detailed information regarding Alyeska accommodations call or fax: 907-783-2000, 888-783-2001, Fax: 907-783-2425 or visit their web site at www.alyeskaaccommodations.com
- Buy your fishing license online from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website: www.adfg.state.ak.us with the addition of a king salmon fishing stamp. Also, get a free brochure of current fishing regulations provided by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for information on seasons, closures, limits, and methods.
- Dress appropriately. Weather is unpredictable anywhere in Alaska.
- If you are already in Anchorage, rent a car and drive to Girdwood. Renting a car is more practical and affordable way to explore Girdwood's natural wonders and Alaska ís attractions along the U.S. highway system. This quaint town is the gateway to Portage Glacier, Prince William Sound and the Kenai Peninsula. Whittier, the starting point to glacier viewing and saltwater fishing trips, is a 30 minute drive. Seward with its glacier viewing and wildlife cruises is only one hour and a half drive away. A two hour drive to the Kenai River can give you the best opportunities for scenic views and world-class fishing.
- Ride the resort's 60-passenger aerial tram to the Seven Glaciers Restaurant for spectacular views of Turnagain Arm and the surrounding Chugach Mountains.
- Enjoy the best spring skiing and snowboarding in the world. If you are a beginner willing to challenge the mountain ski runs take a lesson in skiing or snowboarding.
- Enjoy tubing with your family at the Glacier Tubing Park.
- Spend a day for tree skiing or ride an eleven-seat Bombardier Snowcat in a 1,000 acre area of lower elevations and alpine terrain located in the upper Girdwood Valley near Alyeska Resort. It is a fun and beautiful adventure. For more information call 907-783-4354 or visit Chugach Powder Guides website at www.chugachpowderguides.com/snowcat.html
- Ski Chugach Mountains Range near Girdwood! With 3,000 to 4,000-foot vertical runs and mountain peaks supplying high quality powder snow, you will find here the best helicopter skiing and boarding in the world. Plan your trip and make advanced reservation at Chugach Powder Guides web site: www.chugachpowderguides.com. Olympic Gold Medalist Tommy Moe is one of the guides and co-owner.
- In winter or spring look for spectacular Northern Lights. If you are guest at the Alyeska Hotel, sign up and they will call you at any hour of the night for viewing the Northern Lights.
- Enjoy winter dog sledding at hand in Girdwood's Moose Meadows.
- Dine at Chair 5 Restaurant located on 5 Lindblad Ave. Visit their site at: www.chairfive.com or call 907-783-2500.
- In the summer, pan for gold at historic Crow Creek Mine near the original buildings. The mine is located three miles up from the Alyeska Ski Resort. For information call 907-278-8060. In addition, explore the area surrounding Girdwood and plan other available outdoor activities, including berry picking.
- Drive to Portage Glacier Visitor Center and see Portage Glacier, one of the most visited places in Alaska. For special attractions, call 907-783-2326.
- Savor a dinner at one of Alaska ís top restaurants - Double Musky Inn Restaurant. Visit their website at www.doublemuskyinn.com or call 907-783-2822.
- Visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, a rehabilitation facility for orphaned or injured animals.
- Start your kayaking, sightseeing and fishing adventures in Prince William Sound from Whittier.
- Drive to Hope and relax in the classic atmosphere of the first gold rush town in Alaska. You can pan for gold in Resurrection Creek or go fishing.
- Enjoy an incredible summer Alaskan adventure! Get the last edition of the MILEPOST, the legendary guide to Alaska. Board the Alaska Marine Highway ferry from Whittier to Valdez. Valdez is called Alaska ís little Switzerland. In Valdez drive north on the Richardson Highway to Glennallen. The highway is a scenic road that follows the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and has some of the breathtaking mountain scenery in the world. Then turn west on the Glenn Highway National Scenic Byway at Glennallen and drive back to Anchorage.
As always, Alaska is the top tourist draws in vacation destinations - the incredible wonderful Land of the Midnight Sun that leaves unforgettable memories and impressions for a lifetime.
Top Alaska Vacation Destinations