Photo courtesy Alyeska Resort
Alpenglow at Arctic Valley, Anchorage • 320 skiable acres on 1400′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 3900′; Base elevation: 2500′. 4 Lifts: 2 doubles, 1 t-bar, 1 rope tow. Uphill capacity: 3200/hr. Terrain Mix: 20-50-30. Longest Run: 4500′. Season: usually mid November to late March, Saturdays & Sundays plus holidays. Annual Snowfall: 250″.
The SKInny: No frills ski area; no rentals or lessons, but they do have a terrain park of sorts to attract the younger crowd. It’s run by the Anchorage Ski Club, and they do about as good a job as any volunteer operation with limited funds can do. Had a few seasons with no grooming, sporadic lifts, etc. but the hard work and persistence of the membership has paid off. It is a terrific ski area, with some steep, nasty runs yet there is a small-time atmosphere about it. Ticket prices are downright cheap, and the skiing is usually awesome. Look, you’ve got to support this place if you’re in the Anchorage area.
Signature Route: High Traverse.
Alyeska Resort, Girdwood (south of Anchorage) • 1000 skiable acres on 2500′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 3939′; Base elevation: 250′. 11 Lifts: 1 tram, 3 quads, 3 doubles, 2 rope tows and 2 carpet lifts. Uphill capacity: 10,000/hr. Terrain Mix: 11-52-37. Longest Run: 10,560′. Season: usually December to June (weekends only after mid April). Night skiing Fri & Sat. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 700″. Snowmaking: 37%.
The SKInny: Hard to believe Alaska’s biggest and best ski area, with awesome open bowls, deep powder, and long legendary runs tops out at about the same elevation as some eastern peaks. Nothing against New England, but location is everything. Alyeska has terrain to die for, and indeed, some of it could kill you if venture into the extreme territory. You’ll need powder skis if you want to make the most of Alyeska. Liftlines are short, powder is awesome, amenities (the Alyeska Prince Hotel) are also awesome. The only knock on Alyeska is, “why isn’t it bigger?” Well, it offers a half mile of vert and 1,000 acres of Alaska cow pasture…it’s big enough. This is an incredible ski area. Hotshot heaven, wanderers will love it as well. About the only thing it doesn’t do in abundance is beginner terrain, but it has enough to keep anyone busy. True novices will fare better elsewhere, but even emerging intermediates will love this place. Let the crowds go to Whistler, the rest of us will take Alyeska. For the 2007-2008 season, Alyeska did $4.5 million in improvements, including snowmaking from the upper tram terminal to the base, and reconstruction on the Weir, Von Imhof, Denali, and Waterfall trails. With that snowmaking upgrade, Alyeska should be open for Turkey Day.
Signature Trail: North Face, High Traverse, Moneys.
Mt. Aurora Skiland, Fairbanks • 100 skiable acres on 1000’+ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 2000′; Base elevation: 943′. 2 Lifts: 1 double, 2 rope tow. Uphill capacity: 500/hr. Terrain Mix: 20-40-40. Longest Run: 5000′. Season: usually late November to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 300″.
The SKInny: Mid-sized ski area that provides excellent variety among its two dozen or so runs. Lift lines are virtually non-existent. It’s operated by Steve and Brenda Birdsall, and although a bit of a sleeper, the lift equipment is good, the lodge is pleasant, and the skiing is grand. Aurora Skiland is one of those places that if you happen to hit it when conditions and the weather are right, you will call it your sentimental favorite for the rest of your days. Also, happens to be the northernmost ski area in the USA.
Eaglecrest, Juneau • 640 skiable acres on 1400′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 2600′; Base elevation: 1200′. 3 Lifts: 2 doubles, 1 surface. Uphill capacity: 2000/hr. Terrain Mix: 20-40-40. Longest Run: 10,560′. Season: usually December to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 300″. Snowmaking: 6%.
The SKInny: Owned and operated by the City of Juneau, this is as good as a “town tow” can get. In fact, there are a few well-known operations in the lower 48 that could take a lesson or two from Eaglecrest. Something for everyone, except that hotshots will feel like their audience is missing. Snow is such that skiers frequently venture out of bounds…although Eaglecrest has plenty to offer inbounds. Good for beginners, families, even wanderers will like this place.
Signature Trails: The Face
Mt. Eyak, Cordova • 50 skiable acres on 800′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 1200′; Base elevation: 400′. 2 lifts, 1 single chair, 1 rope tow. Uphill capacity: 500/hr. Terrain Mix: 20-60-20. Longest Run: 3000′. Season: usually mid November to April or May. Rentals. Annual Snowfall: 350″.
The SKInny: Small but mighty operation run by the Sheridan Ski Club. Even if you don’t like these smaller areas, Eyak deserves your business simply on the basis of its single chair, originally built in 1939 at Sun Valley Idaho. It’s history…and the skiing is also tremendous.
Hilltop Ski Area, Anchorage • 30 skiable acres on 294′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 894′; Base elevation: 600′. 2 Lifts: 1 double, 1 surface. Uphill capacity: 1300/hr. Terrain Mix: 80-10-10. Longest Run: 2100′. Season: usually November to early April. Night skiing. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 100″. Snowmaking: 100%.
The SKInny: This is an outstanding little ski area for beginners and young families. There are a few trails that give the feel of a ski area, but nobody’s going to get lost here. Nothing for hotshots or wanderers, just good fun for young skiers or anyone who is learning the sport. Helpful, attentive ski instruction. Atmosphere sometimes leans a little too heavily towards snowboards, but there aren’t too many full-fledged jerks on the slopes here. It’s a fun little local ski area.
Moose Mountain, Fairbanks • 200 skiable acres on 1300′ vertical.
Specs: Summit elevation: 1987′; Base elevation: 680′. Lifts: Buses with ski racks; ride up and ski down. Buses added as skier count increases through the day. Uphill capacity: hard to say. Terrain Mix: 15-65-20. Longest Run: 7920′. Season: usually November to late March or early April. Weekends & holidays.Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 70″.
The SKInny: Personally, I’d prefer a detachable quad, but you take what you can get. Moose sells a couple of different ticket plans; either an all-day ticket for which you’ll get a handful of runs, or a 10-punch ticket which never expires. Skiers who motor along will get better value from the day ticket; some people buy the punch ticket for days they only plan to make a few runs, hold it, and buy a regular ticket other times. Now, besides this whole bus thing, Moose has some terrific terrain that is NEVER crowded. With effort, you can positively find a trail that will be yours alone. There’s plenty of runs here. Hotshots will find it a bit lean, but wanderers will be absolutely thrilled. And there’s certainly plenty of stuff for solid novices and emerging blues. Hop on the bus, Gus.
Signature Trail: Alpenglow.
Skiland • See Mt. Aurora, above.
Lift Tickets at Discount: This is a “clearinghouse” of sorts that many ski areas use to raise cash by selling discount tickets in advance, called Liftopia. If you haven’t used this service, it is important to knowfor certain that you are going on a specific date. The deeply discounted tickets must be purchased in advance; generally up to two days out. The sticking point is that some ski resorts only make a limited number of tickets available to Liftopia for any given day, so they might be sold out if you wait too long…so, as soon as you are absolutely, positively sure that you will be skiing on a certain day, click this link to get deeply discounted tickets. I’ve used this service many times, but again, ONLY when I am absolutely certain I will be skiing on a specific date. You need to have access to a printer to print out your receipt, and you have to take identification with you to the mountain. I’ve knocked a third off the price of some tickets. Not every area participates, but it’s well worth checking if you’ve got a date nailed down. Note that sometimes they offer deals in which you can pay a slightly higher fee that gives you the option to change dates.