Skiing in Alaska is a unique experience; one that is definitely worthy of bragging rights. Alaska, the last frontier, is remote, cold, snowy and mountainous – sounds like the perfect ski destination for a powderhound! Alaska is also vast, although this is probably an understatement, as the state of Alaska is enormous – one fifth the size of all the other states combined. Alaska stretches so far to the west that the International Date Line has a major kink in it so that the whole state can be in the same day!
With all that space, Alaska is perfect for heli skiing
and cat skiing
, and considering the tiny local population, you certainly don’t have to worry about crowds at the ski resorts!
Alaska Heli Skiing
Alaska heli skiing and heli boarding is world renowned, thanks in part to plenty of ski movie exposure. The state has at least ten heli-ski operators, with a high concentration around the Chugach Range near Girdwood, Valdez and Cordova. Many of the operators run single day as well as multi-day heli skiing trips (e.g. Valdez Heli Ski Guides
, Black Ops Valdez
), although a couple of operators (e.g. Points North
, Majestic Heliski
) only offer multi-day packages.
One of the great attractions to Alaska heli skiing is that the packages that are generally very economical. The accommodation component in particular is inexpensive. More beer money – fantastic!
Most of the Alaskan heli ski companies cater to strong intermediate riders and above. However Alaska is famous for the expert and extreme terrain that can be tackled (sometimes) due to the relatively stable maritime snowpack. Heli ski runs in Alaska are long, and you’ll clock up lots of vertical in a day, lots more than anywhere else in North America. You’ll definitely need an intense pre-trip fitness regime.
Considering the fickle Alaskan weather, the rate of no-fly dates is generally higher than in other parts of the world. However no one seems to care because it’s the stormy weather that brings the huge volumes of snow. Some of the operations use cat skiing as a back-up option, whilst others have a ski resort nearby.
See our heliskiing USA
overview and USA heli-skiing comparison
document to see how heli skiing Alaska compares to other US operators. The comparison includes the size of terrain, annual snowfall, season dates, vertical, cost and location. To compare to other North American heli-skiing, see our heli skiing Canada
overview and the Canada heli-ski comparison
Alaska Cat Skiing
Whilst cat skiing
is used by a few of the heli ski companies as a backup option in inclement weather, a few companies also provide the option to just go cat skiing. Chugach Powder Guides and Valdez Heli Camps are probably two of the biggest cat ski operators.
See our USA cat skiing comparison
to see how Alaska cat skiing compares to cat ski operations in the rest of the US.
Alaska Ski Resorts
There are also Alaska ski resorts, but interstate and international visitors are more inclined to only visit the ski resorts if they (or their partner or family) are also there to heli ski. With no crowds, that means more fresh tracks or ‘roys for you!
near Anchorage is probably the most well known ski resort. Located in the community of Girdwood in the Chugach Range, it is a good family resort with well developed amenities and lots to do besides ski. The resort is a very respectable 1,400 acres (567 hectares) in size with 762 metres of vertical drop. Terrain includes open bowls as well as tree-lined runs and glades.
Also near Anchorage is Alpenglow at Arctic Valley. The ski area is tiny with only a few lifts and 25 runs. It’s well known for its terrain parks, but there is also some good bowl riding.
Near Juneau (the capital) is Eaglecrest Ski Area. This locals’ mountain only has 3 chairlifts and 640 acres of terrain (which is big by Alaskan standards) that is mostly suited to beginner and intermediate riders.
Other small ski resorts include Mt Eyak in Cordova (near Points North Heli Skiing
), Hilltop, Moose Mountain, Skiland and Ravenswood.
Alaska gets huge volumes of snow. Alyeska Resort
receives a massive 650 inches (16.5 metres) of average snowfall per year, and in 1997/1998 and 1998/1999 the mountain received about 28 metres!
Higher up in the mountains many of the heli skiing operators receive an average of about 20 to 25 metres of snowfall per season. That is mega, especially when you compare it to the heli-skiing area near Sun Valley in Idaho that only gets 5.1 metres a season!
Most of the ski areas in Alaska are near the coast and the snow that falls has high water content. This wet snow clings to everything so it has the advantage of providing a more stable snowpack than what you’d find inland. This fresh snow is easy tackled with a pair of fat skis or a powder board, and as the storm passes and the temperatures drop, the snow can often “dry out”, leaving beautiful powder.
Alaska Ski and Board Terrain
There’s minimal likelihood of suffering from altitude sickness when skiing in Alaska! The ski resorts are at very low elevations thanks to cold temperatures and a very low snow-line, so there are opportunities for tree skiing. The cat skiing also tends to be in the low lying protected areas amongst the trees.
The Alaska heli-skiing terrain is a little higher up and above the tree line. The alpine terrain has some resemblance to heli skiing New Zealand
, although the runs in NZ are much shorter. The treeless terrain also has some similarities to Chile heli skiing
. And thanks to the relatively stable snowpack in Alaska, there’s a higher likelihood of experts being able to access some of the steep scary slopes.
Alaska Ski Season
The ski season varies amongst the resorts. Some resorts have a hiatus over January, whilst others operate from November through to April.
Considering the latitude it’s not surprising that the Alaska heli skiing season is not in the peak of winter. Some companies only operate during March and April, and a couple of operators also extend a little into February and May.
As an indication of daylight hours, at Alyeska the average daylight hours are: December 7.2; January 8.3; February 10.6; March 13.5; and April 16.2. Night skiing in Alaska during spring is a completely unique experience!
Why Go on an Alaska Ski or Snowboard Vacation?
Alaska has a lot more going for it than just the Alaskan malamute and the dancing northern lights. With a culture that is not pretentious, it’s just interesting to hang out in Alaska. Of course with so much snow and great terrain, it’s too much of a temptation to go out skiing or snowboarding. And for ski bums, one of the best things about Alaska is that it’s very inexpensive. Perfect!