Alyeska offers downhill thrills for mountain bikers
If you’re already daydreaming of flying down the black diamonds of Alyeska again, you don’t have to wait until the snow flies. The same slopes that attract downhill skiers and snowboarders open up this month for mountain bikers who want a similar summertime thrill.
The Downhill Bike Park opens noon-6 p.m. Thursday, July 4, and will be open Fridays through Sundays through Oct. 14 (as well as the Mondays of Labor Day and Columbus Day).
“Lift-access mountain biking is a new sport in Alaska,” said Brian Burnett, mountain services manager at Alyeska Resort. “We are seeing a growing group of riders every weekend, along with a core group that is out on the hill rain or shine. We have built some trails that are just right for skills development for the new riders, and there are trails experienced riders can test themselves on.”
Chairlifts will take bikers to the trails of their choice, and over the years, those choices have blossomed. Downhill Addictions, a local mountain biking operator, began building trails in the early 2000s, christening the mountain to the fledgling sport. That company has moved on to downhill mountain biking adventures based out of Healy, but the seed was planted, and today Alyeska Resort staffs its own trail builders and maintenance workers to take care of the trails.
Today, the sport continues to grow, but the lift-access trails are still tricky enough to require some bike-handling skills. Burnett said the resort offers guided biking and skills courses for those who want to gain confidence.
“We suggest a progression of trails to improve skills before moving on to more difficult trails,” he said.
As with skiing, the trails are marked by level of difficulty, he said – from the relatively mild green trails to the technically challenging and very steep black diamonds.
Ted’s Express (Chair 4) and the Bear Cub Quad (Chair 3) will accommodate bikes and their riders from the beginning of the season. In the fall, the Tram will open up, too. There are 15 routes from which to choose, with some of the most entertaining names, including: Gummy Worm, Chips ’n Salsa, Xtra Tuff, Rollover and Blueberry Pancake. Day passes are $25, and gear is available for rental, starting at $30. This is a helmets-and-knee-elbow pads kind of undertaking, so come prepared.
And if riding all-out on a downhill trail isn’t your thing, don’t worry. Burnett said there are nice paved paths for riders to enjoy – from the hotel, to the Girdwood townsite, and even out to Bird Point on the Seward Highway. The hotel throws in cruiser bikes for free for any guest choosing that route.
— Melissa DeVaughn
Big Wild Ride a great big undertaking
Alaska Randonneurs’ Big Wild Ride could be the best-kept secret in Alaska. Long-distance cyclists the world over have discovered this spectacular 1,200 kilometer grand loop of Interior Alaska, and they are showing up once again this year to tour the state on two wheels – all in less than 90 hours.
The event, set for July 21-25, travels from the fog-shrouded fjords of Prince William Sound, through the Alaska Range, past Denali and to the shores of Cook Inlet’s Knik Arm. It’s a very challenging course, climbing more than 27,500 feet and requiring cyclists to check in along the way, making it official.
The Alaska Randonneurs have been providing full Super Randonneur brevet series for riders since 1998, offering rides across the state. So think of the Big Wild Ride as all of those mixed into one, grueling but gratifying event.
Not only do cyclists get to experience the state on their bikes, but they also can opt for a mini-tourist experience, with train and ferry travel to the Ride’s starting point in Valdez, and lodging at some of the small mom-and-pop operations that give Alaska its quirky reputation.
As is always required of this event – it’s not a race, but there are time requirements and it’s not an easy undertaking – riders must complete a prerequisite number of brevets before being accepted. This year’s field is full, but the Alaska Randonneurs could use volunteers. It’s a great way to reconnaissance the course – and perhaps plan to do it yourself one day.
For details, go to alaskarandonneurs.org/big-wild-ride-1200k/.
— Melissa DeVaughn
Halibut, silvers and pinks create a Valdez bounty
If you’re one of those fishermen who just doesn’t care what type of fish you are targeting – so long as you are out on the water, taking in the scenery, dipping a pole and enjoying the moment – the place to park yourself is Valdez. Here is a town that started its fish-quest in May, with the Valdez Halibut Derby, and doesn’t wrap up until September, with a giant party to celebrate all things salmon and halibut.
“It’s been great so far,” said Valdez Fish Derbies’ Donna Morales. “The charters that are going out are all coming back with their limits, no problem. And there have been some good-size fish, too.”
The Valdez Halibut Derby continues through Sept. 1, and the Pink Salmon Festival and Cook-off is July 6.
“It turns into a civic center party since that’s where all the events take place,” she said. “It celebrates the pinks coming in.”
The Kids Pink Salmon Derby, set for July 20, is free, and kids get a T-shirt to boot.
“It’s not like these pinks can pull you off the rocks, so it’s safe for the kids and they (pinks) give a little fight just enough to get the kids excited,” Morales said.
That same day, the Valdez Silver Salmon Derby begins, and Big Prize Friday – which means a $500 payout and special prizes – follows on July 26.
Moving into August, the fun continues. The Women’s Fishing Derby kicks off Aug. 10, and a highlight is the Women’s-Only party at the civic center.
“It’s a no-men-allowed women’s party,” Morales said. “It’s an open bar, with a little costume contest and games. It’s just a lot of fun.”
Tickets are $50 for the season, or $10 per species. And don’t miss the end-of-season Spawn Til Dawn Derby Celebration, set for Sept. 1.
— Melissa DeVaughn
Valdez Fish Derbies
The Valdez Fish Derbies continue throughout the summer. Here are the dates:
Halibut Derby May 18-Sept. 1
Kids’ Pink Salmon Derby July 20
Silver Salmon Derby July 20-Sept. 1
Women’s Silver Salmon Derby Aug 10
Silver Big Prize Fridays July 26 and Aug. 30