Alyeska — Mountain Layout
Intermediates will have a field day here, especially with the wide-open bowls and spectacular views from the top of the Spirit quad. Experts have some good drops but the real challenge of Alyeska is the tremendous variety of terrain and snow conditions from top to bottom. Snow may be groomed, cut up or untouched. Sometimes it’s powder at the top, moistening to mashed potatoes at the bottom. An extended snowmaking improvement will include coverage from the bottom of the mountain to the top of the tram. These upgrades will take place for the 2007-08 season allowing the entire mountain to open by Thanksgiving.
Expert, Advanced: The high-speed quad Spirit of Alyeska carries skiers 1,411 vertical feet to the top of the lift-serviced terrain, which is at the base of the Alyeska Glacier. Up here it’s wide-open, above-treeline skiing. The entire 2,500 feet of vertical is skiable in one continuous run, with intermediate to super-expert pitch depending on your choice of route.
You also can hike to the 3,939-foot summit of Mt. Alyeska, where expert-level Glacier Bowl and the Headwall await.
From the quad, experts can go right and drop down Gail’s Gully or Prospector and take a gully left or right of Eagle Rock, then back to the quad. Experts willing to work can take the High Traverse from the quad, arcing through The Shadows between Mt. Alyeska and Max’s Mountain, and dropping down through new snow and open steeps; or continue over the ridge to find good steeps and a short section of gladed skiing on Max’s Mountain (when opened by the ski patrol).
The lower half of the steep North Face makes it possible to ski double-black terrain from the upper to the lower tram terminal. You can scout out this gnarly area while you ride up the tram. The upper part (called Tram Pocket) is above treeline; the lower part is heavily forested with two trails—Jim’s Branch and Last Chance. Descend Tram Pocket, then cut over to the rest of Alyeska’s runs to avoid the gladed area below.
Intermediate: Alyeska also has an unusual combination of open-bowl skiing and trails through the trees directly under Chairs 1 and 4. Intermediates can take the quad chair, drop into the bowl and ski whatever you can see. It doesn’t take much judgment to figure out whether you are getting in over your head, and this bowl gives you plenty of room to traverse out of trouble. The bowl funnels into Waterfall and ends on Cabbage Patch before reaching the base area.
For intermediates taking the Spirit quad chair to the top of the resort, swing left when you get off the chair and follow the Mighty Mite. This takes you past the Glacier Express restaurant in the Glacier Tram Terminal, and back to the quad by three intermediate routes, or tip down South Face (very steep and ungroomed).
Beginner: Beginners should stick to the area served by Chairs 3 and 7. The area is pretty big, but unfortunately used by everyone on their way home. The terrain park has moved to Tanaka providing more beginner terrain runs on Chairs 3 and 7. New magic carpets in this area will eliminate the tow type lift and make life for the beginner skier and snowboarder a bit easier.
First-timer: Don’t make the long trip to Alyeska solely to learn to ski. Not a huge amount of easy terrain, plus the flat light problem, could put a serious crimp in those plans. If “the Alaska experience” (scenery, dogsledding in Iditarod country, being able to brag you “survived” Alaska in winter) is your main goal, then definitely make the trip. You can find some great things to do off the slopes while everyone else skis.