Alaska has no shortage of winter activities. From ice skating on frozen lakes to dog mushing and winter hiking, the darkest months of the year can still be filled with some fun in the outdoors.
But it’s impossible to talk about winter activities in Alaska without highlighting the largest ski resort in the state: Alyeska Resort.
Every year, thousands of visitors, and even more Alaskans, hit the slopes of the famous Mt. Alyeska.
The ski resort consistently makes it on lists of the “top 25 ski resorts in the U.S.”, and is praised for its world-class expert terrain. With the accolades set to one side, is taking a trip to Alyeska Resort worth it?
This is the question I hope to effectively answer in the words to follow.
We’re going to take a look at what Alyeska Resort has to offer the typical, intermediate skier/snowboarder, and how the resort stacks up against other more prominent (and accessible) ski resorts.
Skiing at Alyeska Resort: Is It Worth a Visit?
One important thing to note about Alyeska Resort is that it is not just a ski resort. During the summer and shoulder seasons, the resort becomes a playground for hikers and mountain bikers.
For the sake of this article, we will only be focusing on the state of Alyeska Resort during the ski season.
Important Facts About Alyeska Resort
- Average Snowfall: 669 inches
- Skiable Terrain: 1,610 acres
- Number of Runs: 76
- Total Ski Lifts: 7
- Difficulty Rating: 11% Beginner, 52% Intermediate, 37% Expert
Location and Access to Alyeska Resort
The location of Alyeska Resort is a rather advantageous one, particularly for those visiting the great state of Alaska.
The resort is situated in Girdwood, Alaska, a small town of about 2,000 residents. Girdwood simultaneously feels like a secluded mountain town and a bustling center of tourism.
An hour to the north sits Anchorage, the state’s largest city, as well as the closest airport, Ted Stevens International Airport.
An hour to the southeast lies Whittier, a city only accessible by a 2.5-mile tunnel through a mountain (or by boat). And two hours to the south lies Seward, the lovely city where I now type these words.
Girdwood serves as a great hub if you are wanting to explore other parts of south-central Alaska.
In comparison to other ski resorts in the country, the cost of travel to Alaska and Alyeska Resort’s relatively remote location may prohibit some potential visitors from considering further.
Although, when your trip to Alaska is also full of exploration and travel to different parts of the state, the epic nature of your vacation is probably justified even with the high cost.
The Skiing Experience
Alyeska Resort offers a skiing experience that is spectacular in more ways than one. With over 1,610 skiable acres, visitors can explore a wide variety of terrain, from nice and easy groomed runs to steep chutes and massive alpine bowls.
The 76 named trails on the mountain are accessed by six chairlifts and one tram. Compared to other ski resorts throughout the U.S., seven total ski lifts seem like a rather small amount.
Up here in Alaska, however, we’re just happy to have an easily accessible mountain at all. Taking a break from skinning up our ski runs and embracing the luxury of modern ski lifts is a welcome and appreciated way of getting in some turns.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand how frustrating it can be to wait in a lift line while the clock is rapidly ticking away. During primetime on the weekends, the need for maybe one or two more lifts becomes apparent.
While it is generally true that Alyeska Resort’s terrain is suitable for all levels of skiing experience, it is important to note that the mountain as a whole is heavily skewed towards the more expert side of things.
Among the 76 ski runs, only 11% are graded as beginner friendly. As far as I’m concerned, this 11% of runs are great for learning and progressing.
For those who only feel comfortable sticking with the Green Circle runs during their visit, they may be a bit disappointed after a while with the lack of variety.
Experts, on the other hand, will be able to enjoy the 37% of runs that are graded as Black Diamond or Double Black Diamond. Alyeska Resort also boasts the world’s longest Double Black Diamond ski run.
A handful of the expert lines are hike-to, meaning that after taking the lift up as high as you can go, you may have to trek by foot to reach the Black Diamond run of your dreams.
Having ski runs such as these be accessible partially by lift is something that elevates an expert skier’s experience at Alyeska.
The remaining 52% of runs lie in the intermediate category. The Blue Square ski runs are typically the most popular, and thus the most crowded. As someone relatively new to skiing, these runs are where I’ve spent the most time.
ParksandTrips.com, using their proprietary Difficulty Score system, finds Alyeska to be “one of the hardest ski areas in the country” with a score of 76.8.
They rank the mountain in the top 10% of North America’s most difficult ski resorts. Along with the large percentage of expert runs, the 2,500 feet of lift-serviced vertical rise account for its Difficulty Score.
On select nights during the week, Alyeska Resort offers night skiing.
To ski under the stars and enjoy the view in the evening is often a completely different experience from the usual daylight hours. In a state where the sun stays up from 10 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon during the winter, having the option to ski into the night is a very welcome option.
Night skiing hours are from 4 to 8 pm, and are in a completely separate cost bracket from the rest of the lift ticket options. Trying to save some money? Then consider ending your day with some exhilarating night skiing.
Alyeska Resort is known for its exceptional snowfall, thanks to its location in the Chugach Mountains.
At the summit of the mountain, a yearly average of 669 inches of snow covers the expert-rated bowls and chutes.
Lower on the mountain, the snowfall isn’t as great, with a yearly average of just over 500 inches. This is still an impressive amount of snow, however, and is among the highest snowfall in North America.
Some years, the base of the mountain can be a bit hit or miss with snow coverage, but Alyeska Resort curtails the issue by using snowmaking machines.
Capricious Alaskan Weather
Alaska is not an easy book to read when it comes to weather. A large amount of snowfall often comes at the price of fewer bluebird days, and the quality of the snow that’s falling can vary.
Alyeska Resort sits just a couple miles from a branching arm of the ocean. The Turnagain Arm, as the ocean waterway is called, contributes greatly to the weather that the mountain receives.
The snowfall is often rather wet as a result. If you’re expecting blower powder seven days a week, you may be disappointed.
In general, the snow at Alyeska is perfectly fine for a weekend of skiing. Even though the weather can be fickle, it’s an incredible experience to ski and looks at the ocean simultaneously.
Pricing at Alyeska Resort
One gripe that keeps many people from visiting Alyeska is the lack of a “network pass”. Passes such as Ikon Pass and Epic Pass allow skiers to buy one pass and visit a number of different ski resorts.
Alyeska has nothing of the sort. Unless you buy an Alyeska Resort-specific pass, the only other option is daily lift tickets.
For adults, a full day of skiing can cost from $119 to $88, depending on a couple of factors such as the day of the week and military service.
A half day of skiing for adults ranges from $105 to $64, and night skiing from $65 to $55.
For youth, those numbers drastically decrease.
When you factor in possible gear rentals, the cost can quickly become bigger than anticipated.
However, Alyeska Resort offers several package deals that may decrease the amount you spend in total. Taking advantage of the resort’s “Stay and Ski” package, for example, will include lodging, lift tickets, and other amenities.
Other Activities and Amenities
In addition to skiing and snowboarding, Alyeska Resort offers a range of activities and amenities for visitors to enjoy.
One example is the Nordic Ski Center. The resort has nearly four miles of groomed cross-country ski trails that you can either explore on your own or take a tour with their professionals.
The Girdwood Valley is full of trails that are just waiting to be explored by snowshoeing. Whether you want a simple stroll through Moose Meadows or something more challenging, there’s no shortage of options.
Exploring dining options, relaxing at the spa, ice skating, and dog sledding are more ways you can spend your time off the slopes.
In Conclusion, Is Skiing at Alyeska Resort Worth It?
So, to answer the question at hand, is skiing at Alyeska Resort worth it? This may not be satisfactory, but the answer really depends on what you’re looking for in a ski vacation.
For skiers and snowboarders looking for a challenging mountain that also offers a wide range of other winter activities in the area, then yes, taking a visit to Alyeska is absolutely worth it.
For those with an intermediate to advanced ability on the slopes, the variety of runs will definitely scratch your ‘shredding’ itch.
Skiing at Alyeska Resort is honestly a very unique skiing experience. The location, terrain, and views all add up to make a resort unlike anything else offered within United States boundaries.
On that point, Alaska is a bucket list location for many people. If you are wanting to check the largest state in the country off of your list, why not at the same time get in some jaw-dropping turns at Alaska’s most popular ski resort?
Whether you are an experienced skier seeking a new challenge or a family seeking an ideal winter vacation, I’d say that Alyeska Resort at the very least deserves consideration.
Josiah B gained invaluable experience while living on the road with his family, during which time he felt overcome with the desire to continue exploring. That search landed him in Seward, Alaska, where he currently resides. His love for the outdoors is welcome with open arms in the Last Frontier, and with an endless amount of hiking and backpacking to be done, he’s eager to share the best that Alaska has to offer.