Three Days at Alyeska

Once again I have fallen behind on the blogging so I’m going to add two posts in short order.

My last post was made from the top of Hatcher Pass as we awaited a second showing of Northern Lights. They did not appear. It seems we may have misread the forecast – actually the web site admitted the data was a bit off – and what we thought was a prediction for good lights was actually a graph of what happened the night before. Anyway, there were no more aurora borealises (auroras borealis?) to be seen.

The next morning we didn’t much feel like hiking with our snowshoes so we went for a XC ski up to an old mine at the top of Hatcher Pass. There is a lodge nearby that grooms a ski trail so Sara had some fun dragging the whole family out on skis. Tanzi was an amazing trooper and ran as fast as she has ever run trying to keep up.

Climbing down about 4′ of snow to read the interpretative signs.
Truckin’ Tanzi.

In the afternoon we drove back down past Anchorage to Girdwood and Alyeska Resort. Alyeska was forecast for sunny skies and warm weather so the weekend Spring Carnival was well timed. There is also a laundromat with showers (and a cannabis shop and a hair salon and a Thai restaurant) in Girdwood so we could get all cleaned up.

Friday was nice and sunny and we were on the slopes at the crack of 11:30. That was a mistake. First, we didn’t realize the lifts do not even open until 11:00 as the resort runs from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Moreover, the sun is not directly overhead until about 2:00 p.m. This all means the slopes did not really soften up at all in the morning. We explored a bit, came back to the van for lunch, and when we headed out again about 2:30 everything was nice and slushy – perfect spring skiing.

The view down the mountain and across Turnagain Arm at 12:43 p.m.
The view at 5:11 p.m.

Alyeska is a very cool mountain, but it is an odd layout. A tram goes up the north side from the hotel and two lifts go up from the west side from a day lodge. The second lift to the top is really the only lift worth riding if the tram terrain is not good, which in this case it was not because it is shaded nearly all day. Alyeska calls their north face the longest double-black run in the world and it might be true – it is a long steep run and if the conditions are not good it is off limits. This leaves only the large bowl served by the top lift. Fortunately the bowl is quite large and has a lot of fun gully and ridges to explore, but it might get old after a while. (This from a guy who grew up on an 800 vertical foot, single-lift ski are with a total of 16 runs. My how times change.)

Friday night was the start of the Spring Carnival so we hit the bar to see who would get entries into the pond skimming event – Slush Cup. Everyone who wants to enter comes in costume and the judges and crowd pick the best. It was pretty serious stuff in the small village of Girdwood.

While the band was playing that night Sara looked over at a guy sitting next to us and noticed he was wearing a Wallowa Avalanche Center sweatshirt and hat so we started chatting with him and his group. His name was Sonny and we had actually run into him in La Grande at a WAC run raiser after the Warren Miller movie in November. He and a friend from Stanley, ID were up in AK ski/snowboard touring and they ran into some more friends with WAC connections of some sort so we spent a long time chatting with them about the Wallowas, central Idaho, their touring, and our experiences in AK so far. Odd and fun how many of these wild coincidences seem to be happening on this trip.

Saturday we did it right and lazed around even longer so we didn’t hit the mountain until after 1:00. We got in a few runs before the heading down to watch Slush Cup. A few years ago I did a pond skimming event at Jay Peak. That was completely tame by comparison. The Alyeska Slush Cup, sponsored by Alaska Airlines and lots of other big names, seems to draw the entire village of Girdwood and a fair bit of Anchorage. The “pond” is actually two ponds. The first is about 30 feet, then there is a sharp jump, and then an 80 foot pond. Last year it was 70 and apparently too many people made it to the end so they lengthened it. I don’t know how anyone made it because the lip on the jump is so sharp that people have learned the only way to have a chance to make the whole thing is to do a back flip off the jump. This preserves enough forward momentum, if you land successfully, to continue skimming. Let’s just say most people can’t do a backflip on skis in the middle of a pond so it was quite entertaining.

This guy is riding a cardboard bear. He made it across the first pond but didn’t make it very far off the jump.

This is how it is done! Video of one of the most successful entrants. 

Saturday evening as we explored the bar/music we again ran into Fairbanks Jerry, who had come down for the event, so we hung out with him and some friends. Fairbanks Jerry is clearly our AK connection so at some point on this trip we are going to have to visit him in Fairbanks and get the rest of the AK tour.

Sunday was the dummy downhill – unmanned contraptions sent down a steep hill and over a large jump – and the tug of war, both of which we watched between slushy ski runs. The best dummy downhill entry was the first one, made by kids from one of the local ski clubs. It was a cardboard mockup of a Piper Cub airplane, complete with flares for smoke. It had a spectacular jump and then crashed into the fence right in front of us. The best part was that the flares continued burning and it started to light the whole thing on fire. Fortunately the ski patrol came down and pulled it apart before it completely went up in flames.

The tug of war was unexpectedly fun as they had a huge kids division. I don’t care how warm it is, I don’t want to get pulled into a pool of water in the snow, but these kids didn’t seem to mind getting pulled in. Half of them jumped or dove in once their team lost. I found it rather amusing watching little kids get dragged into the icy water! The adult competition was much stiffer as apparently every rugby team in the Anchorage area entered a team.

After all the festivities we headed back up the hill for some last slushy runs. We stopped at the 7 Glaciers bar at the top of the tram for the much-touted but off-menu Fizz, made by only one of the bartenders. It was delicious and a great way to wrap up the trip. We started chatting with a couple guys next to us and found that one of them was good friends with the star of our CC hockey team while we were there. Now we get to visit the guy’s bar in Eagle River, AK. I wonder if he has any CC jerseys on the wall! Again, such a small world that we could be thousands of miles and 20 years removed from CC, but  in a bar at the top of a ski resort we run into the guy’s buddy.

Not a bad view for the bar tenders and patrons of 7 Glaciers.

We spent Sunday night again in the parking lot at Alyeska, but in the interest of blog economy, that’s it for now. I’ll add what we have been up to for the last couple days to the next post.



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