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Girdwood, 37 miles south of Anchorage, is proof that a charming little town can coexist with a major ski resort, as long as the resort goes undiscovered by the world's skiers. Girdwood still has a sleepy, offbeat character. Retired hippies, ski bums, and a few old-timers live in the houses and cabins among the big spruce trees in the valley below the Mount Alyeska lifts. They all expected a development explosion to follow the construction of an international resort here a number of years ago, but it never happened. That may not have been good news for the Japanese investors who finally sold the resort in 2006, but it is for skiers and other visitors who discover this paradise. They find varied, generally uncrowded skiing through long winters, superb accommodations, and an authentically funky community.

The primary summer attractions are the hiking trails, the tram to the top of Mount Alyeska, and the Crow Creek Mine. In winter, and as late as June, it's skiing. Half the mountain's skiing is above the tree line, with stunning views of the Chugach Mountains and glistening Turnagain Arm below. Olympian Tommy Moe trained here, the Alpine national championships have raced down these slopes many times, most recently in 2009. For advanced skiers, Alyeska is a fairly large mountain -- major areas of very steep, challenging terrain are open for their use, and helicopter and Sno-Cat skiing make the opportunities almost limitless. But the developed mountain doesn't have the size of the famous resorts in the Rockies, and intermediate skiers find themselves skiing the same runs repeatedly during a day.