Hitting the slopes
Maybe you’ve seen clips of pro skiers barreling down steep mountains in Alaska and thought, “I want to do that.” Or not. The truth is you can find all kinds of ski/snowboard terrain in Alaska - from mild to wild - for every level of skier or boarder and all styles of the sport, from cross-country to downhill to backcountry, even skijoring. When it comes to things to do in Alaska in winter, there is no lack of outdoor sports options.
Here’s a quick guide to help make the most of your ski vacation time in Alaska this winter.
Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, about 45 minutes south of Anchorage, attracts the most out-of-state skiers and boarders by far. It has a classic resort ski town feel with a hotel situated at the bottom of Mount Alyeska and 76 named trails accessible by chairlift and magic carpet. It’s home to the longest continuous double black diamond ski run in North America and Alaska’s only superpipe. But locals in Anchorage head to Hilltop Ski Area and Arctic Valley Ski Area just as often, if not more. And Skeetawk, in Hatcher Pass, will be the nation’s newest downhill ski area when it opens in early 2020. The first of its kind in the Mat-Su Valley, the ski area will have a triple chair lift and access to a Nordic ski trail system. Head to Fairbanks for the farthest north chairlift in North America at Mount Aurora/Ski Land, or Moose Mountain Ski Resort for the region’s largest alpine ski and snowboard area. But don’t forget Eaglecrest Ski Area in the state’s capital with another 36 alpine runs, four chairlifts and access to both backcountry skiing and Nordic ski trails. Bring your Alaska Airlines boarding pass to Eaglecrest or Alyeska for a free lift ticket on the same day!
Heli-skiing was born in Valdez in 1989 and the industry has never been the same. While it may sound extreme, operators across the board recommend skiers and snowboarders give it a try if they’re comfortable on blue and black runs at a ski resort. Valdez’s Thompson Pass remains the sport’s epicenter, with multiple operators offering services in the area, including the oldest operation in Alaska, Valdez Heli-Ski Guides. You’re sure to see a few big-name big mountain skiers in town if you visit between February and April. But the same can be said at Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, co-owned by Olympic gold medalist Tommy Moe, and even Alyeska Resort, which is home to Chugach Powder Guides’ heli-ski operation. Still more heli-ski operations are based across the state in Cordova, Juneau, Haines and Chickaloon, ensuring that it’s possible to book a heli-ski package in almost any part of the state.
Alaska is home to world-class Nordic ski trail systems across the state. Nearly half of the 2018 Olympic U.S. cross-country ski team came from the Alaska Pacific University team in Anchorage, including gold medalist Kikkan Randall. Hit some of the same groomed, lighted trails they train on in Kincaid Park or the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. Still more trails can be found in Girdwood, on the Kenai Peninsula, at Hatcher Pass in the Mat-Su Valley, at Fairbanks’ Birch Hill Recreation Area and at Juneau’s Eaglecrest. Most communities have shops that offer rental equipment for those giving the sport a try.
No matter where you hit the trails, be sure to dress in several layers — the key to keeping warm anywhere in Alaska in the winter. Check out our suggested clothing guide before packing your bags!