by Louis Bignami

Mount Alyeska means “the great land” in Aleut, and Alaska derives from the term.  It seem particularly appropriate for the resort where the land, the hotel, the view, and the seven glaciers up in the surrounding mountains more than make up for the problems of the 250 foot base elevation which means sometimes wet snow, fog and spring icing for those who do not find Alaska “sticker shock” terminal. However, the resort, particularly if taken in combination with Anchorage offerings and the wonders of Alaska offers wonderful values and indelible memories.  

Excepting Anchorage residents and the Japanese – the Japanese owners of Alyeska market the area in Japan — Alyeska seems the kind of resort where skiers say, “I’ve been there, rather than I go there. ” Above all, Alyeska is Anchorage’s weekend ski resort, as you can’t just drive there from the Lower 48 on the Alcan. So during the week crowds are minimal to non-existent. This may change with expanded lifts to improve existing service and access a potential area that could total a massive 6,000 acres. 

Strongpoints?  Difficult double black runs – if open – and night and heliskiing are major attractions for skiers and boarders. Night and heli-skiing are, like ice climbing and snowmobiling, world-class. Long nights require late starts and lights until the middle of February when Mt. Alyeska gets more hours of sunlight that any other “Lower 49” ski resort.  Well, it does if it’s not snowing, raining or foggy.  

So the best values are doubtless only available for locals able to comfortably ski black trails and who can zoom down the 40 miles along the Turnagain Inlet from Anchorage on those wonderful days when the North Face access gates open and you can see across Cook Inlet and the powder sparkles up over skier’s shoulders.  

Anchorage, with seasonal attractions like “Rondy” the annual ten day Fur Rendezvous with the three-stage, 25 miles a day World Championship Open Sled Dog races daily and oddments like snowshoe baseball with – think about it – an orange softball also offers year big city cultural attractions that peak in the winter and superb, if expensive, air connections.  One time Alaska visitors should know spring visits can piggyback trips to Denali or the wonderful train ride from Fairbanks to Anchorage too. 

Drawbacks beside the elevation and weather?  With beginner lifts only gaining a bit over 300 feet of vertical, and covering barely over 10% of the area, the mountain best suits strong intermediates and experts like the Tommy Moe, the 1994 Olympic Gold and Silver Medallist.  Many many experts place Alyeska in the top three “Tough Mountain” rankings in North America.  Skiers with lesser abilities tend to complain about wet snow and flat light – the latter results from overcast or foggy days and tends to blur contours for to surprise one’s knees in mogul fields. 

So what’s the best approach for maxim value?  Reserve a hotel in Anchorage during the ten wild days of “Rondy.”  Book a 4WD vehicle, and party hearty if you like.  Just check weather and snow conditions nightly.  Then buy day passes on Alyeska when powder’s perfect and go for the half-day afternoon and ski until nine combo passes that let you drive down after ice melts off the roads.  Other-wise enjoy the dogs and wildness, and ski some of the best cross-country tracks in America right in town and under the lights if you wish.

Main Category: Skiing 

Sixty-eight reported tracks and the longest run of about two miles fails to describe the options as the open slopes offer dozens, perhaps hundreds of lines across just over 1,000 mostly open acres.   If the lift system ever extends up to the 3,939 foot elevation Mt. Alyeska and over to Max’s Mountain instead of stopping at 2,750 feet the skiing for experts would be even more  incredible.  Plans to expand the acreage to up to 6,000 feet can radically improve ratings.   

Some visitors describe Alyeska skiing as “backcountry steep without heli-skiing prices.”  It’s definitely a difficult mountain and those who can handle the steeps and the alternation of waist-high powder and very wet cement in wildly varied visibility. The best skiers adore the area and many feel it is one of the three toughest in North America.  With early snow powder skiing can be wonderful down to basic blue levels early in the season, and spring corn snow, at least in the afternoon after ice melts, is good until well after the lifts close. 

 So the skiing suits experts or intermediates with black ambitions, and locals who can drive down when the powder piles up even after work.  The entirely double black North Face can be incredible when the gates open at the top, but the Headwall and best steeps around the boundary ridge to Mount Max’s Mountain are, unfortunately higher than the black diamond High Traverse trail so it’s walk up time, and, incidentally, the only way down from the end of High Traverse is the double black Max’s steeps.  A number of gates and a couple of major closed areas further restrict black diamond access.

However, these areas can be open well into June – Alyeska had 20 feet of snow on the mountain as of May 12th, 2001 even thought it’s tram only and no skiing below Chair 6 the end of April. 

Intermediates do have some decent cruisers in the high bowls and down the valley between the Upper Tram Terminal and the bottom of Max’s, and the entirely wide and the separate blue slope under Tanaka lift offers multiple downhill lines.  

The other drawbacks relate to the fog and wet snow due to the low elevation and influence of the Turnagain Arm.  Good sunglasses – orange lenses can help – at least partly solve the flat light problem. 

Still, there’s no getting around the morning ice during spring at the bottom of the hill, and there’s no question that beginners and cross-country skiers do better in and around Anchorage. 

Beginner Trails

With just 11% of the green beginner trails jammed in at the bottom of lifts between the Hotel and the Daylodge beginners need to take advantage to the discount tickets for lifts 3 and 7 or the even cheaper Pony Lift below the day lodge.  Everything further up the hill runs from blue to double black diamond, only runs under Chair 3, Chair 7 from the hotel to the beginner’s area and the two surface pony’s at the day lodge and behind Sitzmark Bar and its $8 burgers suit beginners. 

Warning: There are no green trails from lifts other than the Pony Lifts and chairs #3 and #7 , although the chair that accesses Tanaka’s blue run offers ambitious beginners the chance to kick turn or traverse down the putative blue slope. 

This kind of segregation means beginners can take Chair #3 up and run the Prince run all the way back to the hotel for their longest run.  Otherwise, the green’s cut off this route with the lazy slopes of Sitzmarks, slightly more demanding Christmas and low and slow Perseverance trails back to the bottom of Chair Three.  Fortunately, there’s a special low rate for beginners on lifts #3 and #7. 

Beginner’s slopes tend to clog with children and new skiers during holidays There are better beginner slopes in and around Anchorage at spots like the 30-acre Hilltop Ski Area with 80% beginner slopes and 100% snowmaking and, for the more expert, 15 meter, 40 meter and 60 meter lighted ski jumps.

Intermediate Trails

Intermediates enjoy a bit over half the hill.  The best starting runs are the easy and aptlynamed confidence and Cheechako off the top of Chair Three. The best intermediate lift is Tanaka, that’s strictly for intermediates who run the wide, winding and quite wonderful blue cruiser underneath.  After a warm-up, the quad chair behind the Daylodge dumps off into a nice lace of blues down the ridge between the closed cliffs area and the nice long cruiser Upper and Lower Sour-dough trails.  

A switch to Chair 6 and it’s back down the hill on the two mile long string of blues – Silvertip, Ptarmigan Gully, Corkscrew, Switchback, Klondike and Cabbage Patch that cross the entire resort and end over at the Daylodge Quad. Skiing can extend into May or even June some years. Note that everything below Chair 6 closes with the main mountain in April, but skiing on the upper mountain can continue into, or even through June as it usually ends with good snow on the mountain when skiers switch to fishing and kayaking.

Advanced/Expert Trails

It’s not accidental that Robbie Rollins of Anchorage, Alaska and Jesse Tol of Valdez, Alaska who came in 5th in the 2000 World Extreme Skiing Championships and who both competed regularly on the IFSA and WESC tours learned to ski here.   Gates control access into New Years and Christmas Chutes  into the wild vertical of Far Side, M’s Branch and the tree-studded Last Chance.  All of these dive off the ridge  up from the top of the Alyseka Tramway’s. A marvelous open collection of untracked powder on steep, but usually wide routes peaks in the extremely tough skiing along the boundary edge of the massive wooded no ski area just right of the Alyeska Tramway. 

More mannerly black trails up towards Glacier bowl like Prospector and Chilkoot Ridge/Alpine can, with minimal blue interruptions bash down the ridge through The Slot and the blue cruisers to the Day Lodge.  High Traverse, for those who can manages double diamonds off Max’s  at the far end offer a long black cruiser. 

If New Years and Christmas Chutes close it’s possible to traverse the Glacier Bowl above Center ride and run the massive open slopes below Head Wall.  Poling, herringboning or hiking over, depending on snow conditions can be relatively easy due to the low elevation.  The entire range of treeless terrain all the way to Max’s Mountain is now “hike in.”  Should this ever open up with new lifts it will come close to doubling the black diamond and double black diamond terrain as, it must be noted, the price of some considerable avalanche control problems. 

Until then, experts with decent budgets should, ski Alyeska Resort with the gates are open and on days when the gates close consider the world-class heliskiing or even snow cat options. 

Racing Trails

There are two FIS-approved racing downhill courses, and a $1 a run racecourse is open on weekends when a number of ski competitions, and downhill teams from local schools set gates here. There are special racer’s classes and periodic competitions all year too.  Locals do seem to specialize in extreme freeskiing and boarders make up a greater percentage of those on the mountain each year.  Check on events through the Alyeska Ski Club for a list of ski competitions that grace most weekends. 

In June the Alyeska Ski Club offers special five-day race classes are offered for skiers, and boarders find freestyle seminars and classes as well.


Resort Base: 250 feet
Base of Lifts: 250 feet
Top of Lifts: 2.750 feet
Mountain Top: 3,939 feet (Mt. Alyeska)
Skiable Vertical Drop: 2,500 feet 

Low elevations that eliminate mountain sickness and the need to acclimate come at the price of wet snow and, in the spring, morning ice. Granted that most of the intermediate and expert runs high are open bowls where ice is less of a problem, and the high runs are wide blue cruisers, but the vary low elevation of the beginner’s areas that barely tops 550 feet and only offer 300 feet of vertical limits good snow conditions for new skiers.  Adequate snowmaking and decent grooming reduces the problem. 


Shredders don’t like the invert ban that keeps heads up and boards down, but they make do with big air off a massive collection of cat tracks, a decent half pipe and superior drop ins on North Face after a slog up to the ridge above the nasty and narrows below Christmas and New Year’s Chutes which continues on into Far Side.  Shedders also dodge around the trees on both sides of the closed area between Mt. Alyeska and Max’s Mountain.   The best time of year for experts may be the February value season when the North Face collects powder and it’s still too cold for ice. 

Intermediates can do very well on the wide cruising lane under Tanaka Lift too.  But this is a mountain for better boarders as the active boarding section of the Alyeska Ski Club suggests.  The club does run all sorts of special events on and in a moderate half pipe and the usual collection of tables, rails and the like. 

Beginners on a budget can snowboard in Anchorage at the nifty little 30 beginner’s hill at Hilltop with it’s modest half pipe and mild terrain park under the lights next to the ski jumps.   Crowds can be a problem on the Christmas and school holidays and on weekends in both places.

Night Skiing

When the resort can’t open until 10:30 in the morning and it starts getting dark just after three, you’d best have night skiing.  Alyeska offers 2,000 feet of well-lighted vertical along 27 trails fom the beginner and intermediate areas up from the Daylodge.  This skiing peaks from Thanksgiving to the end of February when days are short – hence the 10:30 AM opener and nights are long.  By the end of the season in late April or May or June or ? – skiing stops when the skiers don’t come with plenty of snow on the mountain – it can be light late. 

Early in the season the most hours for the dollar are the combination afternoon half-day and night lift ticket combination.  Note that by late spring there’s no need to keep the lights on and “night skiing” becomes “twilight skiing.”


At least a half-dozen heliski operations offer heliskiing out of Girdwood, Valdez and Kenai with, in at least one case, Valdez Heli-Camps, a snowcat option. Fixed wing aircraft with skis add range and options.   Seasonally deprived skiers can make arrangements to land on glaciers and ski during summer months.   

Alaska Backcountry Adventures from nearby Valdez runs both heli-skiing and, for greater range to untracked snow, lifts on deHavilland Beavers with skis that allow landings on glaciers and alpine areas out of helicopter range. 

Chugach Powder Guides has a use permit for 750 square miles with snowcat backup or a lift pass at Alyeska resort in case of poor flying conditions.   Full day packages with lunch run 16,000 to 20,000 vertical feet in six or seven runs in untracked powder to spring corn along the Chugach Range at a bit under $600 a day.   Fat skis like Atomic Powder Rides can improve “tip lift” and rentals are available.  Most cat skiing days run $150 to $165 or so. 

One of the more interesting operations are the June into early July “Kings and Corn Adventure Trips” from Chugach Powder Guides that serves up five days or corn-snow heliskiing, king salmon fishing and whitewater rafting plus backcountry lodgings at the Winterlake Lodge a floatplane shuttle away from Anchorage. 

Note: the only heliskiing options that compare are in British Columbia in and around Whistler where the exchange rate can cut costs, and the only real problems with the Alyeska heli-ski operations are the usual delays due to storms or fog, and there snowcat skiing backup eliminates wasted weathered-out days.

Snow Conditions

Since the base level at Alyeska is only 280 feet above sea level and the damp and temperature moderating influence of the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet is always in play, the 600 or so inches of snow tends to be heavy, sometimes mixed with rain or sleet, and can thaw, freeze and behave in various unpredictable ways generally handled by considered grooming and snowmaking system that covers 37 % of the mostly lower sections of the mountain.   

Icing is a problem on the lower elevation trails as nights are much longer than days during the early season to maximize icing time, but there’s no place better, and few steeper when the powder stacks up, and spring skiing means the longest ski days in North America that can start in mid-morning to avoid icing.   Skiing can be as late as June with, for example, two five-day teen ski and snowboard camps for serious teen racers and freestyle boarders.

T he optimum approach may combine selected days at Alyeska when lower elevation powder is new, or spring corn not entirely frozen with the higher elevation joys of heliskiing backed up by snowcat skiing on “no fly” days.


The Alyeska Resort Mountain Learning Center is certified as a member of the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA), and it runs full programs for both downhill skiers and boarders.  Their beginner ski packages with lessons and lifts run $29 fir adults and $20 for children with rental gear an additional $10 or so.  Intermediate and expert group lessons cost $33 for adults and $25 for children.  Add lift tickets and the price goes up $15 and $5 respectively.  Another $10 each adds rental gear. 

Private instruction for one on one alpine and Telemark skiing or snowboarding runs $40 an hour for adults and children and $20 an hour per additional person.  Three-hour lessons cost $120 and $40 per extra person.  All day lessons from 10:30 until 4:30 cost $200 and $60 respectively.

There are a whole slew of special lessons that include Women’s mid-week snow clinics, special kid’s ski and snowboard packages on weekends and Anchorage School District holidays, etc. There is a very active adaptive skiers program as well. 

Summer ski and snowboard camps offer a couple of sessions in June on Alyeska Glacier.  The Ski Camp covers technical and speed coaching for the 12 to 18 year old set and race experience is suggested.  The Snowboard camp run to freestyle rail slides, table tops, jumps and half pipes. 

Days are a lot longer and weather is generally better after the middle of February.  Christmas and school holidays and weekends find the resort loaded with Anchorage residents down for the day.

Equipment Rentals

Good gear can be rented at both the Westin Alyeska Prince Hotel (APH) and the Daylodge with waxing, tune up, binding adjustments and other services at both locations, but somewhat different rental gear. Rental package rates run a reasonable $22 day for the usual package for adults and $12 for children.  Adult night rates drop to $12.  High performance packages are $29 and $22 for adults from both locations and $22 for children at the APH.  Demos packages at both spots are $36 for all.   Individual skis, boots, poles, boards etc. are also available. 

Snowboard packages at the Daylodge run $30 day and $20 night for adults and $28 and $20 respectively for children.  Cross-country packages at $15 for all, and $12 for snowshoes are both available at the hotel.  Credit cards are taken and gear is always available during the week, and usually available on the weekends on all save the big holidays as the Anchorage weekend skiers either own their own gear or rent in town at some savings. 

Rental shops in Girdwood offer savings and switch to fishing gear sometime in May, but there is usually some gear available in June or even later to access the glacier skiing.  Girdwood Ski & Cycles on the Alyeska Highway into the resort rents cross-country skis and shoes, snowshoes and backcountry gear with some particularly good values in used equipment.

Lift Facilities

Nine lifts center around a pair of Von Roll Tramways trams that make up the Alyeska Tramway from the Hotel up to the Seven Glaciers and Glacier Express Restaurants. Each tram holds about 60 people and can crank up the 2,025 feet of vertical on a 3,869 span run as the weight of the descending tram helps pull the ascending tram up the hill.  Trams shoot 800 skiers an hour up the hill and, even with the hill’s 10,000 skier an hour lift  capacity, can develop lines before and just after the 10:30 starting time on weekends and holidays. Six chairs take care of the expert’s area just above the hotel and the blue and part of the green areas by the Daylodge.  Surface lifts handle beginners.  

Chair #4 from the aid station near the Daylodge runs up towards Eagle Rock and, with a show downhill schuss, connects to the other main quad, Chair 6 up into Glacier Bowl. There’s another quad with minimal rise from the hotel over into the boomerang-shaped arc of beginner skiing that, with the Prince Run under the lift are about it for green runs if you don’t count the minimal area served by the surface pony drags by the day lodge and behind Sitzmark Bar.   

The other doubles, are nicely isolated Tanaka out by the parking lot that serves it’s blue run, and the Chair #5, the double from behind the day lodge up to just below the top of the tram.   As a result the best expert skiing from Glacier Bowl and Head Wall around to the Max’s double diamonds is almost all higher than  the black diamond High Traverse so it’s herringbone up or slog up. 

Since the lifts do not reach up to the permit boundary that runs roughly along the crest above Headwall over to 3,302 foot Max’s Mountain, the best steep skiing from Glacier Bowl, Center Ridge, Headwall and over into Shadows and the open double black steeps is uphill from High Traverse.  This long, if basic black run cuts across the middle of open bowls to the double black steeps of Max’s.  

There’s a lot of gate access from the ridge above New Year’s Chute to well below the Upper Tram Terminal where the double blacks break back towards the hotel.  The huge wooded area of the Cliffs is off limits too. Additional gate access includes the woods on lower Max’s Mountain and towards Center Ridge, and an amoeba sprawl of closed area in the avalanche zone below the peaks mean you don’t get as much skiing as you can see. 

Lift lines aren’t a problem on weekdays; they do start the day from the hotel up the tram on weekends when the slower chairs from the day lodge may, in fact, be the fastest way up the hill.  Lifts are run in summer for hikers and mountain bikers and, of course, high on the glaciers hike-in skiing may run nearly year round.  On perfect powder days night skiing can collect Anchorage residents out for after-work exercise as well.

Lift Tickets

Tickets seem reasonably priced considering the general high cost of everything save gasoline in Alaska, and while skiing times are a bit different at Alyeska the rather later start reflects the shorter period of daylight from the early through the value season.  

Ticket periods include: 

All day passes:  10:30 to 5:30 – this can be after dark around Christmas
Half-day passes: 1:00 to 5:30
Half-day plus night is 1:00 to 9:30 

There’s also a $25 Frequent Skier/Rider Card with $5 off for every regular price ticket.  Alaskan’s ski for less at $38, and hotel guests pay $35 with other adults paying $45.  Half-day passes run $31, night passes are $18, and late night $10.  Overall the half-day and night combination passes seem the best values which free mornings to recover from the prior night’s parties or to explore the very interesting attractions of Anchorage, Seward and the Kenai Peninsula. 

Students 14 to 17 with school ID pay $26 for the day, $22 for half-day, $26 for 1/2 day and night, with night passes $18, and late night $10. Those under 13 and over 60 pay  $19 for everything save night passes at $13 and late night passes at $10 Children seven and under and adults 70 and over pay $7 and the former ski free with a paid adult. 

There’s a special family of four passes at $100 for days and ½ day and night.  Additional family members pay $15. 

Beginners do well with $17 passes for chairs three and seven or pay a mere $7 for the Pony lift. 

Seasonal passes peak at $999 with ½ price child or student passes, midweek savings, punch passes, transferable passes, multiple family passes and a pari-mutuel confusion of other choices offering various savings.   The packages that include lodgings, 3-day lift tickets, shuttles and ground transfers and air can offer considerable savings early and late in the season.

Main Category: Other Outdoor Activities 

Heli-skiing, snowmobiling, and ice climbing are all world class. Decent sleigh riding, snow hiking and snowshoeing deserve a look, but serious ice skating, ice hockey and cross-country skiing area better found in and around Anchorage where some of the best cross-country tracks in America and active skating and ice hockey programs indoors and out deserve a look. 

Fishing sings! Locals fish through the ice for trout and such; for saltwater species like halibut or, best of all, for fish saltwater and streams for incredible salmon and steelhead – the world record salmon topped 100 pounds when caught from the nearby Kenai River.  Anchorage locals fish for salmon right in town. 

 Birding is exceptional in the spring, and fall hunting attracts visitors from all over the world.  Summer activities – backpacking, hiking, mountain climbing, white water, sea kayaking, hot air balloon rides and much else offer an even more varied menu and, of course, you can ski on glaciers and such year round.

Cross-Country Skiing

Cross-country skiing at Alyeska is marginal with Winner Creek, an ungroomed 6-mile trail better suited for snowshoeing winding through a mix of woods and meadows towards the Chugach Kennels sleigh rides.  There’s rental gear at the Westin Alyeska Prince Hotel Rental Shop and lessons at $40 an hour and $20 each for additional students and additional cross-country on Moose Meadows.   In the winter the conditions at the base elevation are likely to be either too soft for decent technique and in the spring morning ice limits decent skiing to afternoons. 

Fortunately, Anchorage offers some of the best urban cross-country tracks in America and asks only for a donation.  Kincaid Park has at least 40 kilometers of carefully groomed tracks on 1,500 acres of nicely varied trails with wonderful views of Mt. Foraker or, on a clear day, Denali AKA Mt. McKinley , the tallest peak in North America.    At least half park tracks half are lighted for night skiing and the area’s open until nine at night.  Just add eight points to the Alyeska ratings! 

There’s more skiing at Russian Jack and Far North Parks.  The very large and very active Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage sets and cares for the trails and they even offer a free and – listen up in the Lower 48 – waterproof trail map.   Any alpine shop in town offers rental x-c gear, and the infamous Tour of Anchorage early in the year is the second largest cross-country ski race in the US.


Alaska defines snowmobiling.  Drive through town and each and every home has a trailer with snowmobiles.  At least a half-dozen operations offer rentals, guided trips, backcountry tours and even overnight lodge to lodge treks that could even include the Historic Iditarod Trail trip that runs four days and three nights at $1,400 from Alaska Snow Safaris, the largest snowmobile outfitters in Alaska.  

Three-Hour Winter Wonderland tours cover set trails with some open snowfield shots and an always-exciting chance to see wildlife – bears are, it might be added, hibernating.   Trips on new Polaris snowmobiles offer a snack and hot drink break, and they outfit riders in snowmobile suits, helmets, boots and gloves.  Prices are $95 per person with an additional adult rider at $45 or $25 for children 8 to 15 years old.  

Hours are eight to six, seven days a week so it’s possible to tour in the morning and hit the slopes on a half-day/night pass for a very, very full day.   Bookings, and some close in tracks to crowd a bit over the holidays -- hence the slightly lower ratings. 

Locals can get quite competitive about their snowmobiling skills and in April the Alyeska Snowmobile HillClimb offers a Saturday morning HillClimb, a Saturday afternoon HillCross, a Sunday morning SnowCross and a late afternoon Freestyle Competition with special rates at the hotel.

Ice Climbing

Beluga Point and the steeps along entire inshore section of the 40-mile drive from Anchorage to Alyeska Resort along the Turnagain Arm offer world-class ice climbing that starts as early as November and, depending on altitude, weather and the proximity of the water can extend into, or at spots like local glaciers Denali, even through summer. 

Helmets are required as falling ice is a problem in and around the Turnagain Inlet where temperature varies so wildly.  Booking a guided day, or instruction through alpine shops in Girdwood or in Anchorage is highly recommended.  Local cliff and waterfall climbs offer their own pleasures with aquatic views. These sessions can evolve into expeditionary ice climbing on Denali or the many other over 14,000 foot peaks in Alaska.


 As yet. there’s no organized tubing or tobogganing are the resort, but the crafty Girdwood kids have all sorts of “down the block” runs.  There’s a lot more slopes in the same Anchorage parks that set cross-country tracks too.   “Tubejoring” and “Tobogganjouring” behind local horses and  -- a rather dangerous practice indeed – 4WDs or snowmobiles isn’t unknown either.  One can doubtless tube up on the glaciers all year.

IIce Skating/Ice Hockey

There’s casual ice skating out on the pond behind the Westin Alyeska Prince Hotel and rental skates are available. Local children seem to know which lakes are safe to skate, but for more than a casual pickup game of ice hockey it’s necessary to drive into Anchorage where active ice hockey league play floods the ponds and indoor rinks with players.

Sleigh Riding

The Carriage House B&B and Stables offers sleigh rides behind Percheron draft horses that run about a ton each.  So there’s no problem pulling 6 to 8 passenger and 15 to 20 passenger sleights in the country or on hayrides in town.  Their white Vis-à-vis Carriage handles the no snow horse-drawn action. 

Dog sled rides are everywhere.  In Girdwood, one hour trips leave from the resort and head across Moose Meadows with a stop for hot chocolate and a chance to mush the dogs.  Adults pay $60; children pay $45, and anyone who’s considering this should read some Jack London Alaska adventures to add perspective.

Chugach Express Dog Sled tours offers half-hour, hour and two hour dog sled tours by reservation only through a mix of meadows, timber and open terrain with views of the mountains and glaciers that surround the valley and, depending on the route and trip length, a look across the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet and the mountains on the far side. 

There are at least another two dozen dog sled operations in and around Anchorage.  Mush a Dog Team-Gold Rush Days in Chugiak about a half an hour from Anchorage runs sleds along a set trail to a reasonably authentic Gold Rush miner’s camp.  During Anchorage’s Fur Rondy in February the streets are filled with snow for mushers and their dogs, for the three-day, 25 mile a day dog sled championships and the World Championship Dog Weight Pull.  The 1,500 to 2,000 yapping sled dogs that roar out of town on the Iditarod endurance race to Nome are worth fighting the crowds to see too.   There’s an hour run with an Iditarod musher just outside Anchorage at $100 too.  Mushers also run dogs on carts during summer months.

Snow Hiking

Snow hiking in Alaska is what the locals do if the 4WD doesn’t run and there’s not enough snow for snowmobiles, cross-country skis or snowshoes.  It’s functional, not recreational, and in Girdwood and the surrounding areas ice can be a major problem on cleared walking areas until the thaw releases Alaska’s world-class mosquito flotillas.  Besides, nobody snow hikes in hip-high powder. 

So try the streets and sidewalks in Girdwood or along the shore towards Seward and try to stay out of the slush.  Also consider hiking trails along the shore or, at low tide, sandbars with an eye out for the sometimes six-foot tidal bores that race up the Turnagain arm where the difference between low and high water can near 40 feet, the second largest tide change in the world. 

Never forget the bug dope “industrial grade 80% DEET may be enough to do the job, at least sometime.   For if it’s warm enough to hike comfortably, the mosquitoes some call “Alaska’s state bird”  funnel up over your head.  Alpine shops can suggest hikes through the snow where wind can keep the mosquitoes away at least part of the time too.  Snow hiking is best early and late the year before the powder piles up and the snow cement isn’t frozen.


Snowshoe rentals are available at the resort and decent tracks are as close as Moose Meadows’ signed and set trails.  Alpine shops  can supply more rental gear – ski poles are nice aids for adults and snows with metal “ice claws” on the bottom cut slipping and sliding.   However, the best snowshoe tracks in Alaska may be the carefully set and safely policed tracks in Anchorage parks. 

Following snowmobile or other packed trails is a lot easier than trying to plow through powder, but snowshoers need to keep an ear out for snowmobiles and get off the track.  This is a good idea where cross-country skiers hit high-speed down hills too. 

Premium snowshoes and enough attention to the proper footgear to insure warm feet is a must even though increasing numbers of snowshoe racers/runners wear sneakers and such. 

Guided walks are available by arrangement at the resort and at alpine shops in Girdwood, and there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of trails for snowshoers and cross-country skiers in and around Anchorage.

Main Category: Children

Children who ski at least at the intermediate level can take advantage of the children stay with parents free programs, but Alyeska isn’t a children’s resort save on weekends for local children who ski and board well flood in.  There are few beginner’s areas, and not offer much in the way of child care save for Little Bear’s Playhouse in Girdwood or, possibly, through a local babysitter.  The Playhouse is open from seven to six on weekends with shorter hours weekdays and, of course, given the spotty nature of local transportation, parents must shuttle their kids there and back.  After skiing baby sitters can be had at times. .  There are limited child’s diversions after dark too.  

In contrast, Anchorage serves up bags of affordable kinder-friendly skiing on tidy areas like Hillside, and their cross-country ski options are world-class.  Add a host of kid friendly museums; all sorts of childcare and a mix of big city diversions and parents might consider a stay in town with day skiing.  

Alyeska does seem child friendly for day skiers from Anchorage and the junior program offers an active slate of weekend races for regulars.

Main Category: Aprés-Ski

Après Ski, or rather it’s lack,  reflects the Anchorage weekenders who flood into the resort.  There are two good Japanese restaurants and the wonderful tram top Seven Glaciers Restaurant with incredible views on clear days and prices to match the altitude.  There’s decent budget dining off the hill, better than usual food at the Double Musky and in watering holes like Chair 5 some entertainment and the odd band, but overall there’s not enough nightlife to justify Anchorage residents sticking around when there’s wild and woolly bars and clubs, dining affordable and otherwise, great performing arts,  and mobs of movie houses just 40 miles away in Anchorage.   So ratings reflect the state of the Seward Highway as much as local options.

Dining Out

Restaurants on the mountain peak at 2,300 foot elevation with Seven Glaciers, the AAA four diamond dinner choice and it’s incredible views.  Appetizers like the superior peppered Dungeness crab cakes run $9 and up, salads, or soups like smoked salmon bisque are  $6.50 and up and entrees range from about $28 up to $48 for Alaskan King Crab add desert and a selection from their wonderful wine list and $200 for a couple isn’t unusual.  It rates a nine or ten. 

Two solid Japanese choices reflect the resort’s ownership. Tapanyaki Katsura offers dining for about 20 as a chef slices and dices lobster, beef, salmon and more with $55 and $44 prix fixe menus – the former serves up live lobster and fillet of beef, the latter runs to scallops and New York strips.  Takanawa Sushi Bar can sneak up on you with wonderful sushi and a bit of sake with saucers that stack and stack to the point that $40 to $60 each isn’t unlikely. 

Glacier Express at the bottom of the Glacier Tram terminal is the basic cafeteria-style choice on the hill.  It’s not bad on a nice day when you can sit on the deck, but tends to be crowded otherwise. 

The best place to eat in Girdwood is the Double Musky Inn that’s come a long way since it’s founding as a “grill your own” ski bar with picnic tables and a polka band.  These days the spot Esquire Magazine called “the last great American roadhouse” serves wonderful Cajun cooking with Alaskan ingredients for one of the rate “fusion” taste successes.  Shrimp ettoufee and jambalaya remain local favorites and the one can get out for $20 to $25 each for a full dinner, meats cooked to exact degrees of doneness and “heat to suit” on the Cajun items.  Do ask about deserts.  Drawbacks?  They’re only open for dinner from five to ten – four on weekends, closed Mondays and they don’t take reservations so either  arrive very early or very late or expect to wait. 

Cheap eats run to tacos in the Girdwood Station Mall and, of course, roasted chickens and such from the Safeway Grocery Store. 

Those who stay over in Anchorage won’t do better with reservations than the Crow’s Nest at the Hotel Captain Cook, arguably Alaska’s best, or the Top of the World in the Sheraton.   As at Alyeska, Asian restaurants are particularly good and old time favorites such as Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant that runs to incredibly large “sourdough everything” breakfasts and historic photos. 

Overall, restaurant prices seem fairly reasonable when put in the context of the very high Alaskan cost of living.  On a budget, follow the locals, eat lots of sour dough breakfasts or hit spots with bottomless soup bowls.  Prices do cut the ratings a point or two when compared to lower 48 resorts.

Cafes/Pastry Shops

At the resort the Pond Café serves up super sourdough pancakes for breakfast and the stew with sourdough rolls are good  and you get out for about $10.  The Bake Shop at the base lodge offers superior buttered sticky buns – two buttered big ones make a massive budget breakfast and one can always lick fingers.  Their lunch soup is a best buy on the hill with a “bottomless bowl” and it’s different each day.  Then there are the incredible sourdough pancakes made from an 80-year old starter, not to mention the rye crust pizzas. 

The best café bar in town for food and brew values is Chair Five, it’s next to to Post Office and even though it looks like a typical burger and pizza spot – the latter are homemade with fresh dough and the former a buck or more less expensive than at the resort. “Cocunut” halibut and local seafood run around $15 for a full dinner – get the garlic-mashed potatoes -- and a half dozen pasta dishes cost less.   All of these are “Alaska size” and come with bottomless baskets of homemade rolls with butter. Chair Five is the spot for serious tipplers too – see Clubs and Bars. 

The Alpine Diner and Bakery also offers decent pastry as does Java Haus with the best morning coffee in Girdwood.  Overall cafes and pastry shops offer the best values at the resort.

Clubs and Bars

At the resort, Sitzmark Bar and Grill runs to beer, short order food and a variety of evening bands with a small cover charge. In Girdwood next to the post office, Chair Five is the watering hole for serious tipplers as they pour a huge collection of beers with Guinness, Full Sail Amber and a half dozen other premium beers on tap, plus dozens of micro brewery beers plus a whole batch of imported bottled beers and 20 plus single malt and more blended scotch than a rugby team could tipple plus dozens of decent wines by the glass or bottle.  Bud and such isn’t that expensive either. 

While there’s a little more action during holidays, nightlife is really in Anchorage where conservative types can get gently jazzed at spots like the Whale’s Tale at the Hotel Captain Cook and at other upscale hotel lounges and bars or head to OK Corral for country music

However, strange clubs and bars come in clusters around historic Spenard district where Chilkoot Charlies, known as “Koots” to locals, is a barn of a place with threatens ears with very loud rock from two bandstands and sports a slogan to bring home on a tee-shirt – “We cheat the other guy and pass the savings on to you.”   Add three dozen kinds of beer, a new Swing Bar with big band dancing, lots of pool tables – Alaskans can be pool sharks – and oddments like fur bikini contests.  In the lower 48 this would be a single’s bar, In Alaska  unaccompanied ladies get swarmed as there are eight or nine men to every women in the winter when the bush empties.  

Music at Koots runs from Metallica, to Cosby Stills and Nash, Bon Jovi and more and the spot has stacked up more “best bar” awards than empty beer bottles out back. 

Also in Spenard, Christmas visitors should check the Christmas in Spenard show – skip the Spam appetizers – at Mr Whitekeys Fly By Night Club . There are better choices from the “Gormay Kweezeen” menu than Cajun Spam and Spam with Nachos even though anything with Spam is half-price if ordered with champagne and free with Dom Perignon.  Some do call Spam “Alaskan Foie Gras”, and there’s both a site and a Spam song.  Unfortunately, their Whale Fat Follies Show – use your imagination – closes Labor Day Weekend. 

Add five points for Anchorage!


There are no movies in Girdwood or at the resort where there is cable and Pay for View, but there are dozens of screens in Anchorage and several big multiple screen operations.   Besides there’s a video rental store on most corners as winter nights grow 20 hours long and require diversions to avoid cabin fever.   In addition, during Fur Rondy in late February   the Telluride Mountain Film Festival fills the Bear Tooth Theatre Pub ( .   Since the drive to and from Anchorage after dark can be okay, or an expedition, cinema buffs best consider videos, resort pay for view or stay in town with the cinema and best nightlife and day ski the resort.   Ratings relate to road conditions. 

The best cinema in Anchorage is doubtless the historic 4th Street Theater that opened in 1947 and still offers the lighted Big Dipper in its ceiling.

Performing Arts

Cultural activities seem thin in Alyeska even though there is a summer jazz festival and such, but nearby Anchorage offers a choice of performing arts in the winter.  That’s when many Alaskans come in out of the brutal temperatures further north and enjoy Fur Rondy and other events.  

Oil money built an incredible infrastructure in Anchorage centered around the massive Anchorage Performing Arts (APA) Center that, at times offers wonderful Imax pictures about wolves and other wildlife.  The APA and other venues support lively local theater, opera, ballet, classical music, folk music/dance and a flood of traveling productions from the USA and, increasingly from Russia and Japan, as performers break trips in this major air transport center. 

The confusion of local theater companies includes the Eccentric Theatre Company with productions in Cyrano’s Off Center Playhouse.  Big productions include  standards such as “Damn Yankees or Chicago” in the APA Center that also hosts international performances of groups like the Moscow Festival Ballet, and a series of concerts and more by the Active Anchorage Concert Association and much more.  Local papers offer weekly listings of activities as does the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce website. 

Anchorage ratings are definitely high save when things slow down during summer when it’s out and about time.   Ratings at the resort are at least four points lower.

Main Category: Other Attractions

Alyeska and Girdwood really isn’t suited to non-skiers not interested in ski events, at least those that can’t drive into Anchorage, to the historic attractions of Seward or the fishing and such down on the Kenai Peninsula.  Getting around can be a problem in the winter with icy roads, fog and dubious weather.  Those who don’t ski would do better to stay in Anchorage and let the skiers commute out to the ski hill.  Ratings relate to road conditions.

Festivals and Events

After the Christmas week special events at Alyeska and in Girdwood it’s time to get serious about skiing. Ski competitions generally start with the Coca Cola Holiday Classic with men’s and women’s GS and SL in the middle of December.  GS and SL races snowboard races are set the first two weekends after New Years and the January ACS Race runs Women’s and Men’s Slalom and GS the following weekend.  Mighty Mites kids compete the same weekend, there’s a weekend of snowboard boarder cross and another Mighty Mites finishes the month. 

February starts with Mighty Mites and a Snowboard Half Pipe the first weekend with a youth slalom race the following weekend.  The Alyeska Cup offers a full range of men’s and woman’s Giant Slalom, Super-G, Downhill and Slalom over the Presidential holidays.  The rest of February mixes Mighty Mites, snowboard slalom, giant slalom, and slopestyle. 

March runs to snowboard half-pipe races, youth slaloms, Alpine Junior Olympics, the Hillberg 8 and under championships in downhill, GS and slalom.  In 2001 the Snowboard Nationals followed and the 1 and under state championships.  The Bruce Hun memorial finished the month with men’s and women’s events and the Brian Russell Memorial offered a costume events and the race year ended in with the class competitions for men and women in Slalom and Giant Slalom in the Tommy Moe Invitational. 

In April the “Slush Cup at the bottom of Chairlift #3 closes the ski season with pond and slush skiing and more.  It’s not quite as strange as 4th of July Forest Fair in Girdwood like the women’s “Dancing Mops” group. April also brings Alyeska Snowmobile events such as a Saturday morning HillClimb and a Saturday afternoon HillCross. On Sunday a morning SnowCross and a late afternoon Freestyle Competition finish the weekend that is offered in conjunction with special rates at the resort. 

There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of events in Anchorage, but the top choice for those smart enough to reserve hotels way in advance is Fur Rendezvous, fondly called “Rondy” by locals that runs the last days in February before the Iditarod Race to Nome starts the first weekend in March just before the International Ice Carving Championships.  Traditional native skills, and competitions, and a host of dog events like “short” 3-day, 25 mile a day World Championship Sled Dog Races and dog weight pulls are unforgettable. So in a different mode is the snowshoe softball tournament.


Excursions run south to Seward and north to Anchorage to the heart of Alaska’s population and activities. 

To the South Seward is about a two-hour drive to the Alaska Sea Life Center’s aquarium and museum and there’s an nice wildlife cruise around Resurrection Bay.  Closer to the resort, the Big Game Alaska Wildlife Center saves injured animals and for the $5 admission offers up chances to pet all sorts of unlikely creatures like reindeer or the pet moose. 

Anchorage deserves at least a couple of days and, given the wonderful performing arts, cinema and club scene some nights too.  In fact, nightlife buffs might stay in Anchorage and day ski Alyeska like the locals.  The Alaska Heritage Library and Museum downtown on Northern Lights Boulevard runs to Native American baskets, carvings and other wonderful crafts with a mix of fair paintings by Alaskan artists and rare books for history buffs. 

Earthquake Park, also on Northern Lights, shows what happened when the biggest earthquake in North American, a 9.2 monster, sent Anchorage neighborhoods sliding into Cook Inlet on Good Friday of 1964. 

Just out of down the Begich,-Boggs Visitor Center – both Congressman died in a 1972 plane crash – shows a superior documentary “Voices from the Ice” that explains the glacier just outside, where there ice bergs – well “bergettes” – calve off into the inlet. The Portage Glacier here is the most popular tourist attraction in Alaska.

There’s a decent zoo with artic and other animals the fine Alaska Native Heritage Center with crafts and other exhibits and much else.  Anchorage tours are available through local hotels.  However, it’s worth noting that driving Alaskan highways during questionable weather is best left to locals.


Shopping at the Alyeska Hotel is upscale.  There are better prices in Girdwood and, in particular, in Anchorage where the politically incorrect can find wonderful fur garments.  Native Americans offer some splendid, and more not-so-splendid, jewelry, stone and woodcarvings, beadwork and other crafts.  A stop at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art to see what the best items look like is a must.  There are jewelry savings at the shop in the hospital that treats Native Americans and a number of the best upscale shops cluster around, and in the Hotel Captain Cook. 

Cold weather clothing – handmade sweaters and great knitted caps – is basic, if not particularly inexpensive.  The usual assortment of candles, tee-shirts and other tourists items. 

Best values? Furs and fine jewelry. from top shops.


There are no Spas in Girdwood, but the resort offers a lap pool, hot tubs, a masseuse, hair care and more.  Most major hotels in Anchorage offer soffer health clubs that include some spa offerings.  Years back, when single miners came in from the bush or commercial fisherman ran up the creek at Ketchican to “spawn” massage parlors reportedly offered more than the basics, and one local noted that’s why there are so few spas.  “If Alaskans want spas, we go to Hawaii, or California.”

Tourist Attractions

Girdwood lost its historical attractions when the Good Friday Earthquake of 1964 trashed the town and airstrip with a massive tidal bore that left both spots under the high water level – the tidal changes in the Turnagain Arm are, at 38 feet, the second largest in the world.  So everything got relocated or rebuilt.   

History does wait in Anchorage with excellent museums, and there are a host of active outdoor attractions towards Seward and over on the Kenai Peninsula plus a scatter of mining camps and other attractions.  However, winter driving requires a considered approach and visitors may do best who seek out Anchorage tourist and cultural attractions. 

In Anchorage the superb Museum of History and Art stresses the wildlife, peoples and challenges of the circumpolar North.  Keep an eye out for art as 1% of all construction budgets goes for art in public places. Get to town the right time of year and you can catch 40-60 pound salmon in Ship Creek right in town and in summer tee times on golf course are as late as quarter to nine at night.  The flip side is six hour days during winter months that sends locals to cultural attractions and an amazing collection of odd-ball bars and other attractions. Anchorage would rank from about seven in the early season up to eight in the spring and summer when snow and weather were not problems.


The hulking gray chateau-style Westin Westin Alyeska Prince Hotel Hotel, locals call “the Alyeska,” is the only AAA 4 diamond hotel in Alaska.  Rooms are very large with decent robes, full services, two phones, two doubles or a king size bed, and even a handy fridge for brown baggers and all sorts of special touches such as a “Northern Lights” wake-up service.  Figuring out the bedside controls for everything can provide an interesting five minutes too. 

TIP: rooms facing north get the best views of the lights that remind many of “improperly adjusted florescent bulbs.”   Rooms on the other side of the hotel offer views of the mountain that are entertaining day or until the nigh skiing closes at night and, of course, there’s Turnagain Inlet and the mountains on the Kenai Peninsula side.  

Prices vary and hotel guests do get $10 off on lift tickets. The best deals are packages like the four night ski package that offers lift tickets for three days, accommodations for four nights and other options at $699 per room, single or double occupancy.  The Ski/snowboard package runs to accommodations for two for a night, breakfast for two at the Pond Café and a pair of adult, all-day lift tickets for $199 per room.  Otherwise rooms range from $145 to $220 a night with suites and townhouse suites in the $280 to $600 range with a “royal suite” at $1,200.  Alaska does add a 8% tax.   Even for the price the Alyeska deserves it’s top rating. 

After that things drop off and the best deals for are either rentals or one of the at least a couple of dozen B&Bs offer breakfasts and a variety of log to high-tech lodgings in and around $100.  The Alyeska Getaway a large, one-bedroom that sleeps up to four comes with a fireplace, Jacuzzi bath and full kitchen with variable prices depending occupancy, season and number of days. 

One of the best B&Bs is the Northern Composure B&B a cozy one-room suite complete with a jetted hot tub, a full kitchen and hearty breakfasts about three blocks from the slopes. The kitchen could, at Alaska prices, save the cost of lodgings over a week!  

The Alyeska Hostel, in Girdwood about a mile from the slopes is only $10 a night, with $2.50 showers, one private room at $35 a night, and there’s a stovetop.

In Anchorage three are all the usual chain hotels and motels from the suites at the Captain Cook, most feel is the best hotel in town, down to the Anchorage International Hostel on H street downtown with men’s and women’s dorms with kitchen facilities and, at times, family, couples’ and private rooms at $12 a night for dorms and $$40 or so rooms for members.  Check with the hostels for membership, there are no age requirements save children need to be with parents. .  A passport photo and minimal membership fee open up hostel stays.


As one might expect from the Japanese ownership, Japanese (3) is quite common at Alyeska Resort, and ski instructors and other staff can usually manage to find someone who speaks Spanish (1), French (1), German (1) , Italian (1), etc.   German speakers should immediately head for The Bake Shop where Stefanie speaks German and serves up great German rye and other breads!

Time Zone

Mount Alyeska and Anchorage are in the New Pacific time zone one hour earlier than the Pacific Time Zone in the USA and nine hours earlier than GMT.

Tourist Information/Traveler Support

There’s all the usual information and services, money exchanges, etc. at the Alyeska Hotel, and Girdwood, while small, does have a post office and the usual services found in ski towns.  Almost all restaurants, lodgings and other service providers accept plastic.


Minimal public transport between Alyeska and the more affordable shops in Girdwood make getting around rather a problem after one arrives.  The best bet, particularly for those who want to enjoy heliskiing, visit the Kenai Area and the wonderful other attractions in a 100-mile radius, is a 4WD vehicle and reasonable snow, and in particular, ice driving skills.  Fog can be a problem as well.  Alaskans handle weather and road conditions as a matter of course that would be considered “stay at home” in the Lower 48.  So take care or stay put. 

Overall Safety

Crime, save for DUI going and coming from Anchorage or over to the Kenai, is low at Alyeska as the Japanese owners stress security.   While Anchorage is better than most big cities in the Lower 48, but it does have a crime rate.  Break ins into cars parked at trailheads in the wonderful x-c areas aren’t unknown.  It’s rating would be a point or two lower than Girdwood.


Ski patrol members have been voted the best in the US three times and handle the usual, and unusual, mountain emergencies.  There’s a clinic at the hill and the Girdwood Clinic with urgent care is a few hundred yards away in Girdwood.  

Anything that can’t be handled locally can be moved 40 miles by helicopter or ambulance from the resort to the Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, the largest in Alaska, or Alaska Regional Hospital.  Because of the sparse Alaskan population save in and around Anchorage where the population and medical facilities roost, air evacuation is quite usual in Alaska where the bush depends on bush pilots for just about everything. 

International Media

Japanese (3) newspapers, magazines, paperbacks and TV shows are available as are (1) French language shows from Canada and various TV cable international show from time to time in other European languages.  The most popular languages aside from these are doubtless Native American.  Still, Anchorage has a good selection of international papers and some books in spots like the newsstand across from the Hotel Captain Cook as well.  However, Alaska is definitely an English-speaking bastion.   So five’s for English, three’s for Japanese and one’s for other things.

Level of Crowd

Like many ski resorts near population centers that are not really destination resorts, Alyeska is close to deserted during the week with a commute of night skiers in the evenings and Anchorage downhillers flooding down the Seward Highway early Saturday and ebbing back on Sunday.  School holidays like Christmas collect crowds.  

So the ratings could run from zero and one during the week to four on weekends and five on Christmas and Anchorage school holidays.   Visitors drop back during Fur Rondy, when everyone stays in town for the non-stop action.    Ratings are for weekdays.  Add three or four for holidays and two or three for weekends.

Rent A Car?

A car certainly helps get down the Seward Highway to the Kenai Peninsula for some fishing, or when hauling kids to Girdwood for daycare with a stop at Safeway for what passes for “reasonably priced” groceries in Alaska.  Drivers can also drive to world-class ice climbing – some of the best anywhere is on Beluga Point, the best priced heliskiing, seasonal bungee jumping or sea kayaking and lots more. 

Offsetting this are Alaska driving conditions that make a 4WD an absolute must and find locals stashing blankets, shovels and other survival and “unsticking” gear in all vehicles.   

In good conditions and daylight, the Seward Highway from Anchorage and the Airport take less than an hour for the 40 scenic miles along the Turnagain Arm, but it isn’t a great route after dark as there’s periodic black ice, fog, avalanches, moose and other critters, and even the odd falling sheep.  Still Alaskans regularly drive down to ski Alyeska nights and weekends, and accommodations, meals, services and supplies are all less expensive in Girdwood or in Anchorage, and the latter offers massive doses of culture and other diversions in the winter.  Traffic does get a bit heavy weekends, holidays or when the Kenai River salmon fishing heats up. 

So rent a 4WD with the optional insurance unless you’re an NCAA – No Clue At All – snow driver or the timid sort who should both consider shuttles, cabs or pedestrian pleasures.  Make certain that you carry all the usual tools in the vehicle; consider a limited food stash.  Don’t even ask about cab rates!  Driving is a must in summer!  Those who absolutely hate vehicles should check with Alaska Railways for the optional stop tickets to Girdwood on the Seward run.

Travel Time From Arrival Airports

Getting there from Anchorage Airport by car is as simple as following the signs south to the New Seward Highway AKA Highway 1 – anything that says “Soldatna” or “Haines” will serve -- and driving along the east edge of the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet and turning left when you see the Alyeska or Girdwood signs at  mile 90.  

A stop in Anchorage to stock a condo or B&B kitchen or pick up odds and ends can save a few dollars and is recommended for after dark arrivals.  Planning a layover day in Anchorage going or coming offers a good chance to enjoy the areas cultural and other attractions too.  

Otherwise, with good road conditions in, hopefully, daylight, expect an hour drive, but it’s best to allow at least a couple of hours to stop to see the sheep and wildlife on the cliffs east of the highway or check out the whales in the water to the west.  Tip: if there’s an accident on the Seward Highway, as isn’t uncommon, consider a dinner stop at Turnagain House, at amount the midway point, until traffic clears.  

Far North Tours offer a shuttle van service from Anchorage International Airport and various Anchorage hotels to and from Alyeska Resort that takes an hour to an hour and a half depending on the day’s route. The Alyeska Resort Express shuttle serves locals with runs from the Northway Mall and the University of Alaska and other spots in town to and from the Alyeska Resort Daylodge at $12 round trip and $8 one way.  Alpine Air Guides and Alyeska Air Service offer custom air taxis into Girdwood. A train ticket to Seward and a request stop at the Girdwood train station is a once a day option that rarely seems to link well to air arrivals.

To What Group of Travelers Would this Destination Appeal? Solo travelers

Single ladies do well at Alyeska and in Anchorage as the male to female ratios seem at least five or six to one, and perhaps higher during winter when men who work in the bush on mines, oil operations and lodges head to Anchorage for the winter.  Anyone who can afford to stay on the resort is, of course, well off, and the weekend action isn’t bad, but this is far from a single’s resort.  Families from Anchorage flood in on weekends and holidays.

Romantic partners

 Lots of Japanese couples come here on the theory that a child conceived under the Northern Lights will be extremely smart.  Don’t expect much in the way of hand-in-hand walks in the cold and wet.  However, the resort rooms are quite lovely, and the Seven Glaciers Restaurant reasonably romantic.  You can spot the tourists in restaurants in Girdwood; they’ll be dressed up. 

A group of friends

Groups that ski or board at the strong intermediate and up levels find solid snow sports and a batch of alternatives – charter fishing, mushrooming, kayaking, rafting, etc. – not usually found in conjunction with ski resorts.   With wheels to get into Anchorage for Fur Rondy or other winter activities, or over to the Kenai River and other fishing in Soldotna where the world record king salmon was caught, those who don’t ski can do well.  Cross-country skiers and beginners should probably stay in and around Anchorage.  The resort does crowd with kids at Christmas and the Presidential/Easter holidays.

Families (both with small children or a family of all adults)

Families with children who require day care need to shuttle the small fry into the day care operation in Girdwood.  Rounding up baby sitters can be a chore during holidays too.  Offsetting this inconvenience are special family rates and an assortment of “kids stay free” programs.  Families with at least teenagers won’t have these problems and with limited lift numbers and good segregation between ability levels on the mountains, keeping track of younger set isn’t as hard as at more massive resorts.   Children will find plenty of local kids to share the fun with on holidays. Early and late season rates seem attractive.  Best of all,” there is no charge for children under the age of 18 with no more than two adults using existing bedding.” 

Group Travelers (Clubs or Organizations)

The Alyeska Resort does offer all sorts of convention and other group services with 30,000 square feet of facility space. The drawback would be the logistics and expenses of getting there from the lower 48 where costs are lower, and given the Canadian exchange rates, Canadian ski resorts like Whistler, Blackthorn and the like can cost a lot less for more vertical and more reliable snow. 

All the night skiing does mean that a schedule of morning meetings and afternoon and evening skiing still meets the requirements for tax deductions with eight or nine hours on the slopes.