Spring offers plenty of ways to enjoy Alyeska’s slopes
Winter is a fantastic time to be in Alaska. The natural beauty of winter in this state can be overwhelming at times, and so can the weather conditions. The dark, the cold, the heavy amount of precipitation in both liquid and frozen form as well as the seemingly endless and unchanging weather patterns combined can drive a person crazy even if one is getting outside and being active.
But as the days tick away, there’s light on the proverbial horizon, as well as the actual horizon. The latter parts of winter are in full force, and spring is just around the bend. The days are gaining daylight and that mysterious glowing orb in the sky is getting higher and higher. Yes, late winter is one of the best times in the 49th state. Big storms are frequent, as are sunny days. The snow adds excitement and fuels the fire to keep those who love winter pursuing their passions, while the sunlight energizes the willingness to get out and get after it.
Below are three of my personal favorite ways to ski in the mountains on late winter days:
One foot in front of the other is the most humbling means of transportation, and “earning your turns” is arguably the most humble way to ski. The pace of ski touring is slow, tricky and hazardous but the experience is always worth the effort; your legs and core will get a more intense workout than any crossfit class can offer. Seriously, skiing three laps (about 9,000 vertical feet) in the Virgin Creek drainage in Girdwood is like doing a month of workout classes, so bring extra calories to burn throughout the day.
The Anchorage and Girdwood areas are certainly not short on ski-touring stashes. From Hatcher Pass to Turnagain Pass to the Girdwood Valley, the terrain is large and the climbs are just as technical as the ski runs. Nothing is more rewarding and thrilling than standing on top of an Alaska peak that you climbed, taking in the view and gearing up to ski a huge run.
Make sure you have a savvy ski partner, appropriate ski and safety gear (and know how to use it) and have a plan of where you’re going and what you hope to accomplish. Ski touring requires self-reliance and good decision-making skills, so always know what’s above and below you, watch for terrain traps and exposure, and never be afraid to bail on the mission.
Make the drive to Girdwood and jump on the chairs and tram at Alyeska Resort. The view is insane, and the midafternoon sun is truly a gift after the cold dark days of winter. With Glacier Bowl Express spinning, it’s easy to crank out 15 to 20 laps in a day, especially if you and your ski posse have found a fun jib line or jump features that seem to litter the mountain during the spring days.
Then there’s the spring dumps, and it’s a full-on powder day. Just when you thought you were over winter and looking forward to trail running, mountain biking and fly fishing, a storm rolls into town and unloads. All of a sudden it’s game on, and the powder frenzy is in full force. Skiing at the resort is a fun way to get some great turns in and enjoy the mountains of Alaska.
By far the most thrilling and hands-down the best way to get into the mountains, heli-skiing is a true adventure. It does, however, come with a high price tag. Jumping in a heli and getting backcountry laps will turn you on unlike anything else in the sport. Also will set you back over $1,000, but if you’re into skiing and riding it’s something you must splurge on at least once in your life. Flying in a helicopter in, around and through the Chugach Mountains is worth the price of admission, while skiing untracked POW is the cherry on top.
The pick-ups and landing zones are chaotic, windy and loud but when the heli lifts off, leaving you, your guide and the rest of the group on top of a ski run, all is suddenly quiet and calm. You are left in awe as you gear up, taking in the view. The runs can be unbelievable, and focusing on your turns can be difficult because the surrounding Chugach is mesmerizing. After a few thousand vertical feet of skiing, untouched powder snow and incredible views, “elated” is one of many words that describes the feeling accurately. Book a day but just know that weather, wind and snow conditions can leave the heli grounded, making it not a sport for those who are easily disappointed.
However, when it’s good, it’s epic.