A former gold-mining town carved out of the forest at the foot of the famed Chugach Mountains, Girdwood has refashioned itself into Alaska’s premier ski town. Hippies and ski bums flocked here in the 1970s and, a luxury hotel at the ski area’s base notwithstanding, its laid-back, frontier-style ambience remains intact. Many roads are unpaved and Carhartt clothing is a popular fashion choice. Situated about 40 miles south of Anchorage (and its international airport), life in this humble hamlet of 2,000 revolves around skiing and snowboarding.
Rising up from the edge of town, Alyeska Resort is the largest ski area in Alaska. It has six lifts, two magic carpets, and a 60-person tram that climbs the mountain’s steep north face with views to the ocean. Tree line is low this far north, so the upper half of the mountain is wide-open alpine, more like the open terrain of the Alps than a typical American resort. There are ample blue runs and a smattering of beginner runs near the base, but experts will get the most out of the mountain. If you’re not afraid of a little in-bounds hiking, the ridges near Alyeska peak harbor an array of vertiginous chutes.
As you would expect in Alaska, crowds are nonexistent. There is also real-deal Chugach heli- and cat-skiing available right from Alyeska’s base area. Best to visit in March, when there is an average of 12 hours of daylight, though lifts keep running through April and on weekends in May.
Ask a Local
Girdwood native Elyse Saugstad is a professional skier and the 2008 freeride world champion. Here are her recommendations.
Budget: The Alyeska Hostel is close to the resort. What it lacks in frills, it makes up for in flavor. It’s been around since 1980 and has a lot of history.
Swank: The Hotel Alyeska is the resort-owned hotel. It's really nice, has great dining, and they'll even do a wake-up call for the northern lights. Step right out your door and onto the tram.
Cheap: Coast Pizza, at the entrance of Girdwood, has quick slices of pie and one of the best grilled sandwiches around.
Gourmet: The Double Musky Inn is a Cajun-cuisine restaurant for people who like to eat meat. Not only are the fillets the size of your head, they are cooked perfectly. And the gumbo is to die for. Really.
Best After-Ski Party Spot
The Sitzmark, at the bottom of the mountain, is the classic ski bar that's survived all the changes of the resort through the years. It has the perfect mix of food, booze, live music, a constant rotation of ski movies playing on TV screens, and a killer sundeck for the springtime when it warms up.
Best Rest-Day Activity
Head into Anchorage—the “city” in Alaska—that has a plethora of options and is only 45 minutes away.
Girdwood’s Classic Ski Run
Try the north face from Christmas Chute to the bottom. It's the leg burner of the century when it's a deep powder day, which is quite often with the amount of snowfall Alyeska receives.
Crystal Mountain, Washington
While skiing and photographing at Crystal Mountain in Washington, I found a cave into which the sun shines first thing in the morning. I found it to be perfect for a skier to air and photograph. I had a hard time finding someone willing to jump the cliff for me, but finally found local hot skier Nash Grimm, who styled the line perfectly. I love the extreme backlighting and the timing of the skier jumping right through the sun. One of my favorite pictures I have created.
Andes Mountains, Chile
After a 45-minute snowmobile ride into El Cajón del Maipo, in the Andes Mountains, Chile; El Morado (The Purple) Glacier stands over a frozen lagoon at nearly 12,000 feet. After walking a few minutes in separate directions, photographer Cristian Saavedra Junge gets in position and captures Spiro Razis shredding and turning to the side to avoid the cliff ahead. This is only one example of the wonders to explore inside the vast Andes Mountains.fashioninn4us.blogspot.com