Alaska Ski Area Guide -- Very Complete

  • 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%.
    At right, photo of Alyeska circa 1969
    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.
    Signature Trails:.


  • 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.


Best all-around Skiing Guide for Women...

Mom has a pretty raw deal on the average ski trip. They're expected to make sure every child is geared up and ready to go...settle the arguments, feed the family, prepare the snacks, pack the chapstick, and so on...and then ski the black diamonds with dad after the second lesson.

Sound familiar?

The book, Skiing: A Woman's Guide by Maggie Loring and Molly Mulhern Gross ought to be mandatory reading for every ski mom. It not only provides the basics for managing the gang, it also gives a step-by-step instructional guide from a woman's point-of-view. This link is to amazon.com, where you can usually pick up a used copy for about two bucks. Mom, it's the best two bucks you'll spend all winter.

Key

Hotshots are skiers who can ski anywhere, anytime, in any conditions, and generally enjoy showing off those skills. Wanderers are skiers who like to go exploring, to essentially get "lost" and move from face to face, seldom skiing the same trail twice. Newbies are the girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband who has never skied before, but gamely insists on going along. Obviously, Blues represents intermediate skiers, while Blacks refers to experts.

A note about ski area statistics: Although it's hard to believe, some ski areas are (gasp!) less than truthful with their numbers. Like the guy who lies about his, uh, shoe size, some ski areas believe that inflated numbers make their resort sound more appealling. When these numbers are obviously questionable, we put a note: (?!) and will attempt to verify the legitimacy of the claim.

A Signature Trail Is mostly subjective. Whether it's history, reputation, the view, or degree of difficulty...it's the run you have to do, even if it isn't necessarily the best the resort has to offer. If a ski area calls a trail by two names (one at the top, and another at the bottom) in an effort to claim more trails, we go by the upper name. If a trail is called "Upper Whatever" and "Lower Whatever," we simply list it as "Whatever" in this index.

More

Use this to get Lift Tickets at Discount: There 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 usually best to know for 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, usually when I am absolutely certain I will be skiing on a specific date. Some resorts offer "flex" tickets with which you can specify the date, and some have a few different tiers of pricing. In other words, you might be able to get a lift ticket that can be used on different days, but you'll pay a little more for that privilege. 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 -- even half off -- the price of some tickets. Not every area participates, but it's well worth checking before you head to the slopes.

A tiny portion of your Liftopia purchase helps fund this website, at no added cost.

If the ski resort business interests you, I strongly recommend a book by Hal Clifford called Downhill Slide: Why the Corporate Ski Industry is Bad for Skiing, Ski Towns, and the Environment. It provides an inside look at the marketing logic behind clocktower villages, and the dubious practices of the US Forest Service that enables these resorts to be built. Fascinating reading.

Ski Movies for Mere Mortals

Did you ever feel like those big money ski movies are often a big let-down? You get all pumped up for the new release from some ski film company, and it's mostly incredible footage of guys jumping out of helicopters and shredding down some un-named mountain on the far side of the globe. They're neck deep in powder, skiing lines that you'll never, ever see. If you want ski movies you could actually relate to, a bunch of guys called The Meatheads, from Burlington, VT have made a series of "Ski The East" films. They film at real resorts like Sugarloaf, Blue Mountain, Big Boulder, Mount Snow, Ski Sundown, Stowe, Jay, Mountain Creek, Killington, Sunday River...urban locations ranging from Virginia to Quebec...mogul skiing with The Hammer and Radio Ron...and backcountry throughout New York, New England, and the Chic Chocs. It's simply fantastic -- and since it's the same terrain we can get to, it's inspirational!

Their most popular current release is No Matter What , which received the ski equivalent of an Oscar for the Jay Peak powder segment, filmed during 2012 of all things. One that is probably their best is from a year ago, called Prime Cut . Another favorite is Wanderland: An East Coast Ski Thriller. All Meatheads DVDs have hours of "bonus" footage, so it's like getting three ski movies for the price of one. The links go to Amazon.com, which enables you to order and return if you don't like them. And a small percentage of the sale helps us pay the expenses of this website, at no extra cost to you.

Here's a preview, courtesy Youtube...




Masthead photo courtesy Arctic Valley.