The Mortals Guide to Skiing Alaska

Alaska is all about, huge mountains, big lines, deep snow, and very vertical pitches.

If you’ve watched any film dedicated to snow sports, you already know what it means to ski or ride in Alaska: huge mountains, big lines, deep snow, and a vertical pitch that looks less like skiing and more like “point your tips down and pray.” Indeed, the state boasts more heli-ski operations than established ski resorts, which has fostered Alaska’s apt reputation as the place where serious skiers and snowboarders go to experience the ultimate in their respective sports. But we all aren’t professional athletes with the skills to ski the backcountry. Don’t let that rule out an Alaska ski trip, however.

Here’s a few tips to experience skiing and riding in Alaska for those of us who are mere mortals at the sport:

Alyeska Ski Resort

Located an hour from Anchorage, the state’s largest city and the typical gateway to Alaska from those traveling from the Lower 48, Alyeska Resort delivers on all your deep powder dreams. It has 1,610 skiable acres, with 76 named trails of various skill levels accessible via seven lifts. An annual snowfall average of 669 inches of snow assures you’ll get the goods, from trying runs like the steep and deep North Face—North America’s longest continuous double-black diamond run—to tree-lined groomers and wide, open bowls for intermediates and experts.

The mountain town of Girdwood delivers on the small-town winter town charm, and has loads of lodging, including hotels, housed, and chalets. And a profusion of outfitters based here can arrange for intermediate- and expert-level outings into the backcountry via helicopter or snow cat. And if you decide to overnight in Anchorage, carve out some time to check out the Hilltop Ski Area, just 15 minutes out of downtown. You can also visit Alpenglow at Arctic Valley, a weekend-only resort with 320 acres, as well as Moose Mountain and Mt. Aurora Skiland, further north in the Fairbanks area.

Valdez

Aptly dubbed the birthplace of Alaska heli-skiing, you visit Valdez to get into the really steep steeps; a handful of heli operations call this place home, and will ferry you to the mountain tops if you’re ready for the challenge. But you can also try ski touring and snowmobile skiing in nearby Thompson Pass, which affords a more approachable price point and access to somewhat easier terrain.

To revel in the chaos and glories of spring in Alaska, visit between March 17-26 and partake in Tailgate Alaska, a ten-day festival that explodes in a parking lot on Thompson Pass. Think #vanlife, RVs, spring ski conditions, loads of fresh turns, and as many as 5,000 revelers.

Mount Eyak Ski Resort

This one-chair, city-owned resort sits in the sleepy fishing village of Cordova. By Alaska standards, the steeps are somewhat limited; it only has 800 vertical feet of skiable terrain, including 30 marked trails of various abilities and a tow-rope on the beginner slope. The lift itself dates back to 1939, offering a rare window into the history of the U.S. ski industry.

Bonus: it often ranks as one of the most affordable outfits in the state.

Points North Heli Skiing also operates out of Cordova, offering easy access to the surrounding backcountry. Bonus: it often ranks as one of the most affordable outfits in the state.

Eaglecrest Ski Resort

Located near the state capital of Juneau, the city-owned Eaglecrest Resort boasts 640 acres of skiable terrain and 1,500 vertical feet, accessible from four lifts. It won’t end up on any “must ski” lists—even though it is the state’s second-largest established resort, and it averages a fairly modest 350 inches of snow each year, but the impassioned locals foster a ski scene like no other in North America.

Haines

A handful of heli operations fly out of this, the most remote of Alaska’s ski spots. But if you want to dive into the vast expanse that typifies Alaska, it’s a worthy destination to visit—either via a short commuter flight from Juneau or a 4.5-hour ferry. Both deliver amazing views.

As for skiing, this spot mostly caters to serious athletes, though South East Alaska Backcountry Adventures does offer guided snowmobile and cat skiing, an approachable outing for advanced skiers and riders.

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