A ski resort with terrain for all levels and closeby lodging, lots of apres ski activities and a good ski school make for great vacations on snow.
Any serious skier or rider has Alaska atop their bucket lists. After all those Warren Miller movies, why not? Sure, the big dream is to sign on to one of the many heli-ski tours operating out of The Last Frontier. But that’s not our focus here.
There are three traditional ski resorts in Alaska and you don’t have to be auditioning for a ski movie to enjoy them. The three: Alyeska and Hilltop near Anchorage and Eagle Crest Ski Resort in Juneau.
So, depending on your ability or the skill levels of your family or traveling partners, skiing and riding in Alaska can be a combination of traditional resort-style vacations and heli-skiing (you can do both at Alyeska, for example) or one or the other.
Know that skiing in Alaska is BIG, BOLD and, yes, COLD.
There are lots of reasons why skiing and riding in America's northernmost region is so popular. First, it’s a no-brainer if you live there. But, if you live in the lower 48 (or even Hawaii, the southernmost state) or Europe or anywhere else in the world, you’ve seen Alaska the Legend in so many ski movies, you simply “have to go there.” Or, as the late, great filmmaker Warren Miller put it so many times: “Go now or you’ll be one year older when you do.” But, in reality, it’s the choices of traditional resorts and deep powder heli thrills that start the juices flowing.
Let’s start with the biggest and arguably the best: Alyeska Resort. This is a year-round true destination resort for locals and visitors alike. It features the 300-room Hotel Alyeska, a 60-passenger aerial tram bringing skiers and riders (and summer visitors) up 2,220 feet for absolutely amazing mountain and ocean views. You’ll look out on the Turnagain Arm, some seven “hanging” glaciers and more peaks than you can count in the Chugach Mountain range.
You can ski and ride over 1,610 skiable acres on 76 named runs. That includes the world’s longest double black diamond run. Don’t worry over snow – Alyeska generally sees an annual snowfall of 650 inches of snow. There are seven total chair lifts – two high-speed detachable quads and two magic carpets for beginners on just 11 percent of the terrain. But, you’ll be far more comfortable if all members of the family have already learned the basics of skiing. Some 52 percent of the terrain is dedicated to the advanced intermediate skiers/rider.
If you are interested in combining resort-friendly downhill skiing and riding with heli fun, you can do that too at Alyeska. Chugach Mountain Guides operates from inside the Alyeska Hotel. You can split up and have truly great days here.
You’ll find Alyeska a 47-minute drive from Downtown Anchorage, but you also can take the train if 1.5 hours doesn’t bother you.
Hilltop is a small locals ski hill that began life in 1984 in Anchorage’s Far North Bicentennial Park at the base of the vast Chugach Mountains. It's owned and operated by Youth Exploring Adventure, a local nonprofit.
Hilltop offers a triple chair, handle tow and platter lift and you can play on 30 acres of groomed and lighted terrain for night skiing. If you need to get the kids or yourself comfortable on skis before heading to Alyeska, this is the place to start. Some 80 percent is rated easy. There is also plenty of Nordic terrain with nordic trails in the park for cross-country skiing. Hilltop Ski Area has one terrain park
While Alyeska attracts the most skiers and snowboarders because of its location in the big city of Anchorage and gets the most attention, it’s not the only big game in the state. Eaglecrest is located just 12 miles from Alaska’s capitol city of Juneau on Douglas Island.
Here’s the dirty little secret: Eaglecrest is one of the world’s hidden gems and you’d be wise not to overlook it if you want resort-style skiing in Alaska. Start with the fact Eaglecrest has virtually no lift lines, affordable tickets and all of the other perks of being a smaller resort. But the biggest reason it is truly a gem is you have a huge variety of piste and off-piste skiing. There are 36 marked trails (20 percent beginner, 40 percent intermediate, and 40 percent expert) or simply pick your own route down.
Eaglecrest operates with an open boundaries policy, meaning they do not discourage leaving the ski area proper to venture into the backcountry for even more of an adventure (as long as you know your backcountry safety skills). If you have never tried backcountry before, this is a fantastic opportunity for you to get ready for serious heli-skiing on your next visit. Oh, yes, you’ll come back.
OnTheSnow provides snow reports and information on three main traditional ski resorts in Alaska. The three are Alyeska Resort, Hilltop Ski Area and Eaglecrest Ski Area. There are some others, as well. Arctic Valley is 10 minutes from Anchorage, but only open weekends. Ski Land and Moose Mountain are in Fairbanks, where most visitors only come to see the Northern Lights in winter and Mt. Eyak in Cordova is a locals ski hill with one of the only single chairs left in America. It operates only on weekends, holidays and "powder" days. There are at least 10 heli-ski operations, and lots of Nordic skiing opportunities. Also cat skiing is operated by a few providers.
Absolutely. The three traditional resorts combined with all that diverse terrain and heli-ski options and prodigious snowfall make skiing and riding here an absolute must on your list. Check out which resorts are open for skiing right now.
We’d answer that if it was possible to do so. But this is Alaska and every single thing about this state is scenic.
Alyeska is not geared for beginning skiers and snowboarders. Most of its terrain is more suitable for strong intermediate and advanced skiers. Hilltop in Anchorage is a great place for beginners. Then, head to Alyeska when more comfortable.
There are at the very least some 10 heli-ski operations in Alaska with most clustered around the Chugach Range near Girdwood (Chugach Powder Guides), Valdez (Black Ops Valdez, Valdez Heli Ski Guides) and Cordova (Points North). The best time to heli-ski is during March and April when the days are longer, warmer and the weather is generally a bit better.
National Georgraphic recently named Girdwood as "the best ski town in the world." That ought to get your attention. They say: “Not only do the slopes at Alyeska offer endless year-round entertainment, but the whole vibe the town offers is what truly makes it stand out from the crowd. There is something so special about this place that it has a way of totally refreshing your soul and giving you a whole new perspective on life, every time you visit.”
Juneau, Alaska just doesn’t flow off your tongue as an ideal place to visit in winter. But, don’t underestimate it. It’s truly a small town with one main street. Downtown Juneau is the best location for easy access to winter activities. It is totally walkable (forget the sandals) with several shops and restaurants handy. And the skiing is virtually a snowball's toss away.
Your best bet is Alaska Airlines. You can fly with them from Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Portland, Seattle, and Spokane to Anchorage Airport (ANC). You then can play at the Anchorage area resorts or hop a local Alaska Airlines flight over to Juneau and ski and ride Eaglecrest.
You had to ask, didn’t you? Well, perhaps the news isn’t all that bad. Girdwood, the little town at Alyseka, will likely come in with highs in the 36 degree range and lows in the mid-20s in January. But, by mid-March, it warms up a bit. Juneau will be about the same. Dress warmly is the rule of thumb.
Winter in Alaska is stunningly beautiful. It is a far different scene from the decks of the summer cruise ships from which thousands of people only see this gorgeous state. But, the truth is the main reason to visit in the winter and spring is to ski or ride. That should be reason enough for us, however.