As the Bull Wheel Turns Alaska offers mix of culture, winter sports opportunities
Ryan Summerlin March 12, 2011
This past week I attended the North American Snowsports Journalists Association National Annual Meeting at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, Alaska. This was a real treat as I have never skied in Alaska and this opportunity for adventure was hard to pass up. Hosted by the Anchorage Convention & Visitors Bureau, there was no lack of things to do while visiting.
I got in a day early and checked in to the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage and spent an afternoon exploring the shops and business district of the downtown area. The Anchorage Fur Rendezvous was happening, and it was all about fur and native culture, and a variety of events leading up the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Races, which I would attend the following Saturday.
Alyeska Resort is based out of Girdwood, Alaska, about 40 miles from Anchorage off the scenic Seward Highway in the Chugach Mountains. Alyeska Resort is a year-round resort set at the base of the mountain with the tram right outside the back door to transport skiers and riders up to the mountain complete with the AAA Four Diamond, Seven Glaciers Restaurant.
With an average of 650 inches of snowfall per year, the mountain did not lack of snow, but there was a lack of fresh snow during my visit. They are so far north that the resort lifts don’t operate until 10:30 a.m. and continue to 5:30 a.m. with night skiing offered Thursday through Saturdays until 9 p.m. The resort offers 1,400 acres of mostly above tree line skiing and riding with more than 2,300 vertical feet serviced by a total of nine lifts.
The weather was great with blue skies and cold temperatures. The snow wasn’t going anywhere and the groomed runs were the ticket until the sun hit the other surfaces.
Lots of other winter activities are offered here as well, including heli-skiing with Chugach Powder Guides, cross country skiing and snow shoeing, snowmobiling, dog sledding and not to mention the spa services and great dining offered at the Alyeska Resort to enjoy after all those activities.
While visiting, I took an afternoon tour of the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center about. It’s about 20 minutes from the resort and houses a host of native animals including buffalo, caribou, moose, grizzly bears including two kodiak cubs, musk ox including a year old calf, bald eagle and more. Most of these animals were rescued and like our own Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, are being rehabilitated. This was a truly worthwhile tour.
The big event was the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, held the first Saturday in March in downtown Anchorage. Made it back to Anchorage after the meeting just in time for the start. Sixty-two teams with 16 sled dogs each lined up and were introduced and counted down to take off down 4th Street. This is a great experience with thousands of folks lining the side walks and cheering on all the teams. It was amazing to see these husky mixed dogs, that are breed for speed, so amped up as they came to the start line – barking and howling and shaking with adrenaline as they eagerly awaited the count down and the incredible power and torque they generate when they take off. The official start was to be held the following Sunday just outside Anchorage.
Later on that day there were also other fun events including a vintage Snow Machine Parade. Anyone could also participate in “Running with the Reindeer,” a crazy event like the Running with the Bulls in Spain. This event had a huge turn out with folks dressed in elaborate costumes with crazy hats and outfits or even half naked. The participants tried to stay ahead or get out of the way of the heard of reindeer that was set free to run to their pen at the finish line.
Former Zephyr Cove Resort manager and Tahoe local Tom McAleer was one of these crazy folks who joined in, and it was great to run into him in Anchorage. There was also a fun carnival and Live Fur Auction going on where anyone could buy just about any kind of pelt, from fox to beaver to lynx.
All in all, Alaska is great state with lots of adventure and fun and if you ever get a chance to visit, I would recommend spending more time checking out everything they have to offer. For more info on Alaska, visit www.
Anchorage.net, and for info on Alyeska Resort, go to AlyeskaResort.com.