Here I have covered activities in Girdwood. In Whittier, south of Girdwood and on the Prince William Sound side of the mountains, you can go ocean fishing or sea kayaking, or take a glacier and wildlife cruise.
Mount Alyeska, at 3,939 feet, has 1,400 acres of skiing, beginning from a base elevation of only 250 feet and rising 2,500 feet. The normal season is from late November through April, and it's an exceptional year when there isn't plenty of snow all winter (although the warming climate has brought some late starting ski seasons). Recently the resort has experimented with skiing into June on the upper mountain, so don't rule out a day on the slopes if you come in May. Snow lasts a long time with average snowfall of 721 inches, or 61 feet. Because it's near the water, the weather is rarely very cold. Light is more of an issue, with short days in midwinter. There are 27 lighted trails covering 2,000 vertical feet on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings from mid-December to late March, but the best Alaska skiing is when the days get longer and warmer in the spring.
Alyeska has nine lifts, including the tram. Two chairs serve beginners, with a vertical drop of around 300 feet. The other 89% of the mountain is geared to intermediate to expert skiers. The biggest drawback for less experienced skiers is a lack of runs in the low-intermediate ability range. After graduating from the primary beginners' lift, chair 3, skiers must jump to significantly more challenging slopes, which explains the long lines in busy periods on chair 3. More confident skiers like the mountain best. Most of it is steep, and the expert slopes are extensive and extreme. The vertical drops from the north face of the slope are claimed as the longest double black diamond runs in North America, if not the world. Helicopter and Sno-Cat skiing goes right from the resort's hotel as well.
An all-day lift ticket costs $60 for adults, $45 for ages 13 to 18 or 60 to 69, $30 for ages 6 to 12, $5 for accompanied children age 5 and under, and $15 for skiers age 70 and older. Private and group instruction is available, and you can save a lot by buying your lessons, lift ticket, and equipment rental at the same time. A basic rental package costs $35 a day for adults, $27 for ages 13 to 18, $20 for ages 6 to 12 or 60 and over; high-performance and demo packages (at the hotel rental location only) are $45 to $75. There are groomed cross-country trails as well, which are pleasant but either flat or, if you go up the Sno-Cat trail, very steep. You can rent at the hotel, but the best Nordic skiing is in Anchorage.
The resort's utilitarian day lodge is a large, noisy building with snack and rental counters, located at the front of the mountain. The relatively cozy Sitzmark Bar and Grill nearby has long been a more comfortable place for a meal (burgers are around $10). The Hotel Alyeska is on the other side of the mountain, connected to the front by the tram to the top and beginner-level chair 7 (you can ski right from the door). It makes a quieter and more genteel starting point for day-trippers as well as guests, with the same equipment rental prices as the day lodge, plus higher-priced demo rentals. There are several dining choices here and at the top of the tram.
There are a couple of great Chugach National Forest trails starting in Girdwood. Among the best trails in the region for a family hike is the Winner Creek Trail, which begins behind the Hotel Alyeska and leads to a roaring gorge where Winner Creek and Glacier Creek meet; a hand-operated tram crosses the water. The trail is essentially level and a good length for an afternoon: The round-trip to the gorge is about 4.5 miles.
The Crow Pass Trail is more ambitious. The route rises into the mountains and continues all the way over to Eagle River, after a 26-mile hike that can take a couple of days. But with less expenditure of time, you can make a strenuous dayhike of it going just up to the pass, where you can see the glaciers, wildflower meadows, and old mining equipment. The Forest Service's A-frame Crow Pass public-use cabin makes an excellent destination for an overnight from Girdwood; it lies on a lake at 3,500 feet of elevation, half a mile from the pass. The trail head is up Crow Creek Road, off the Alyeska Highway.
Glacier City Snowmobile Tours (tel. 877/783-5566 or 907/783-5566; www.snowtours.net) operates out of the Great Alaskan Tourist Trap gift shop in the shopping center on the Seward Highway. Guides suit up clients -- most of whom have never been on a snowmobile -- and drive them to a promising site, determined according to snow conditions. At best, the winter tours make it all the way to Spencer Glacier. Groups are no larger than six, and the attitude is casual: After a brief introduction, you are driving your own machine, using your own judgment. A 5 1/2-hour outing is $250 per person.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.