It is so extremely hot here that I long for winter… and the snow!
And so from one extreme to another I go from the south of France to ‘The Last Frontier’ – Alaska, and when you’ve seen this video from Salomon Freeski TV you, too, might see why I dream of skiing…
Alaska is a land of towering peaks, massive glaciers, extensive boreal forests, and rich marine ecosystems. It is the epitome of the term ‘wilderness’.
It also has some fantastic skiing.
Aleyska Resort comes in amongst the top 25 ski resorts in North America. Just 40 miles south of Anchorage in the beautiful rustic mountain frontier town of Girdwood you’ll find more than 1,000 acres of ski terrain suitable for all standards of skiers. With an average of 631 inches of snow annually (or, to be more precise, 621 annual inches of snowfall mid mountain and reports 742 annual inches of snowfall at the peak) it’s no surprise that this resort is being increasingly sought after by adventure seekers and families alike. The ski area has 2,500 feet of vertical rise on 1,400 acres of skiable terrain. 68 trails and 9 lifts include a 60 passenger aerial tram, a high speed quad, two regular fixed grip quads, three doubles chairs, and two pony lifts.
With its lengthy top to bottom intermediate runs there is room and to spare for everyone. In fact the resort has been very carefully thought out. Something I’ve never heard of before but which Aleyska offers are sheltered beginner trails where shaky newcomers can hone their skills without having to merge with more advanced skiers. Now isn’t that a good idea? 11% of the resort is suitable for beginners. 37% of the area is dedicated to advanced skiers including some magnificent open bowl powder skiing and 52% of the area is ideal for intermediate skiers.
It’s hardly surprising that Aleyska is becoming the ‘must ski’ destination in America.
I’ve OD’d a bit on one resort, but Alaska has many more to offer.
10 miles from Anchorage there is the Arctic Valley Ski Area. Whether you ski, snowboard, telemark, or snow skate you can find what you are looking for here. With its 500 acres of skiable terrain it is a very family friendly resort.
Here’s another something different: Mt. Aurora Skiland, the farthest north chairlift in North America. Although not a large resort it appeals to adventure seekers. Open weekends only it is probably unique in the fact that there are no snow making operations here. The powder will always be fresh and natural.
There are eighteen swooping, wide open intermediate runs and eight narrow, steep, and challenging advanced slopes. There are also 10 beginners trails located around the mountain. Family owned and operated this small resort has created a niche in the ski industry. Ski or board your heart out until the sun sets or until 5pm (whichever comes first) because there are no lit trails after the sun goes down. And if its off-piste exploration that you’re looking for then head on into the six outlined areas and try your skills out in “Bering Straight,”or “Cindy’s Hot Chocolate,” “Bob’s Bomb,” or the “Budweiser Rocks.” that should get your heart pumping.
Fairbanks is the closest town at 21 miles away, so you are well and truly in the wilderness at this resort.
Eaglecrest, Hilltop, Moose Mountain, Mount Eyak are other resorts to look out for in Alaska plus the nordic or cross country ski resort Tsalteshi Trails Association which is located just south of Soldotna, on the Central Kenai Peninsula and has over 15km of groomed trails.
And then there’s the famed heli-skiing.
Skagway, at the northern end of Alaska’s inside passage, is surrounded by an extremely jagged, glaciated, mountain landscape that includes the world’s largest non-polar ice caps. The mountains rise up to above 6,000 feet directly from the ocean. The variety of terrain from glacier cirques with a multitude of steep couloirs to open undulating bowls of heavenly powder make for excellent skiing and riding.
These mountains get the greatest annual snowfall on the planet, neighboring Mt. Fairweather receives over 1,000 inches of snow annually. The terrain surrounding Haines, Alaska is unique in North America, and offers world class climbing and skiing. Peak elevations in this region range up to 20,000 feet.
And then there’s the Chugach range mentioned in the Salomon video above. Some call it ‘the world’s most adventurous winter-sports playground’ and certainly Doug Coombs, who pioneered this resort, loved it. “We were infatuated with the Chugach terrain,” he wrote on his website.
It has an annual snowfall of between 30 to 80 feet per year and the regions’ maritime snowpack sticks to even the steepest faces. Cold air pours in from the Copper River Delta making the snow cold and velvety. Breathtaking knife blade ridges make for landing zones on peaks with elevations up to 6,800 feet — and descents up to 5,000 vertical. Not only are there steep couloirs and chutes, the terrain also lends itself to long ridgelines and big open bowls.
With more than 2,500 square miles of glaciated mountains to choose from this mountain range offers the perfect combination of steep, ride-able terrain and abundant powder.
You’ll ski between 20,000 and 30,000 vertical feet during an average day. No wonder mark Abma, Mike Douglas and Dane Tudor were so enthusiastic.