One unexpected adventure happened during the winter of 2000. A heavy snowfall caused more than a dozen avalanches along the Seward highway between Anchorage and Girdwood. What began as a weekend shoosh-out for our church youth group became a week long experience that Claimjumper and I will never forget. Far from being a bad memory, this is one of the fondest! Alyeska Resort is a huge winter playground, with more to see and do than a week will allow.
To find the Alyeska Resort, head south out of Anchorage on the Seward Highway. At about mile marker 90 there will be a turnout to the left on Alyeska Highway (N60 56.435880 W149 10.324860) at a Tesoro gas station strip mall. Stop here for chips and sodas, to fuel up, grab some pizza from one of the two pizza restauants, browse the "Tourist Trap" and check your email and grab a large cup of joe at the internet cafe. Then follow the Alyeska Highway all the way to its end at Alberg Avenue. Parking for the resort is to the right. To find the Alyeska Hotel, turn left on Alberg Avenue and follow the road watching for a sign indicating the main entrance to the hotel.
Alyeska is a monster of a mountain, and boasts some of the most outrageous runs in North America both in terms of length and steepness. With the addition of a tram and trails to the north face, this mountain got even harrier. After learning how to ski here, I have yet to find a run at any other resort that I would not consider riding. The mountain is open to skiers, telemarkers and snowboarders, and there is plenty of room. In addition to the tram, there several quad lifts that keep the lines flowing quickly. I rarely wait longer than two minutes for a lift even on the busiest weekends. For beginners, the rope tows have been replaced with "Magic Carpets". These things are amazing. They are like those moving elevators you find in airports. You just stand on them and up you go to learn on gentle slopes.
The resort features rentals and offers a number of different lesson packages for all abilities. There are also restaurants located at both the top and bottom of the mountain. These establishments are pricey. Hot tip: eat at the Bake Shop located behind the Sitzmark lounge (N60 58.783140 W149 07.609020). It is much cheaper and the food is excellent! But be warned, they do not take plastic (debit or credit cards) or our of state checks. To find it, walk around behind the Sitzmark (at the bottom of chair 3 lift). There will be a row of shops with the Bake Shop being the furthest to the east. If formal dining with spectaular views is in the cards for you, we highly recommend the Seven Glaciers Restaurant at the top of the mountain. The food was amazing and the service was outstanding. I really appreciated the chef's creating delicious treats for us throughout the meal and encouraging us to try things we had never tasted before. Tickets need to be purchased in order to ride the tram up to the restaurant. However, if you are a skiier/snowboarder and you reserve first seating, then save money by riding up before your day lift ticket expires.
If you are looking for a place to dine with a little more local flavor, we enjoy the Chair Five restaurant. They have some of the best pizzas in Alaska. Head back down Alyeska Highway toward the Seward Highway, taking a right on Hightower Street. Drive past the Crow Creek Mercantile (N60 57.762960 W149 08.041380). Make a left on Lindblad Avenue and drive about a half a block down the road. Chair Five will be on the left (N60 57.829560 W149 08.098260).
Alyeska has also become a summertime destination. The tram makes runs through the summer up and down the mountain, so summertime visitors can enjoy the scenery from the observations decks, or by hiking out onto the trails. Alyeska features berry picking and wildlife viewing. There are rafting excursions, paragliding outfits, and kayaking adventures also available. We will continue research on these companies and report any recommendations, except maybe the paragliding because we are both chicken! There are several great gift shops at the bottom of the hill worth checking out. We just love visiting the Kobuk Valley Jade Company (N60 57.627900 W149 06.705780). They have an observation area where one can watch the huge saws cutting up the blocks of jade. And of course the shop features plenty of souvenirs made from Alaska's state mineral.
As for places to stay, we have rented condos and stayed at the Alyeska Resort Hotel - the hotel formerly known as "Prince" (N60 58.236360 W149 05.927220). Talk about a nice hotel! The rooms are comfortable, the tram is right out the door of the main building, there is a swimming pool and large hot tub, saunas, weight room, restaurants, shops, a spa and a central lounging area where guests can relax in front of a fire and watch the skiers. Being trapped in Girdwood did not seem bad at all while staying here. Even when the city lost power the hotel was able to use its emergency backup generators to show movies in the large conference rooms. This is definitely the place to get snowed in! The Alyeska Hotel was the only hotel in Alaska to receive the "four diamond" award from AAA in 2006. Insider tip: to save a bunch of money when staying at the hotel, we buy vouchers at Costco. For Valentines Day in 2009 I treated Claimjumper to spa treatments of her choice. She thoroughly enjoyed the experience. This was not cheap, but let's face it guys, it is important to treat our wives to something special from time to time.
One summer afternoon we took the tram up to the top and hiked back down. The round trip took about two hours (we were stopping a lot to take in the scenery and snap photos) and cost $16 for the tram ticket. The mountains are as gorgeous in the summer as they are in the winter. Wild flowers abound and streams and small water falls flow down underneath the trail. The trail is a road built for trucks, but is quite steep in places. The trail forks at about the one-third point. We took the left fork as it is less steep but it heads away from the Alyeska Hotel parking lot over toward the day lodge in front of Chair 4. So when we reached the bottom we hiked along the bicycle trail next to Alberg Avenue to get back to our vehicle. Along the way we noticed blueberry pickers, which we thought odd as it was not even mid-August yet. But sure enough, they showed us their half full berry baskets. As we walked we saw more and more bushes on both sides of the bicycle trail.
For a great hike, summer or winter, try the Winner Creek Trail. Find the trailhead just to the left (when looking up the hill) of the bottom of chair 7 about a hundred feet from the tram station (N60 58.190 W149 05.700). After my snowboarding muscles gave out, I hiked up this trail to find the Winner Creek Gorge Trail Cache. Although the cache indicates it is accessible in the winter, the geocache was locked in its hiding place by snow and ice. I found the cache, I could touch it, but I could not dislodge it. I' returned the following summer and dropped in some RomancingAlaska.com swag. The short distance I went to find the geocache features some of the largest blue spruce trees I had ever seen.
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Last visited: April 2009.