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Alyeska experiences [to help plan a family vacation in April, from Midwest, advanced skiers]

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 

Hi everyone,

 

For our family ski trip this year (early April) we were thinking about Alyeska.  It would be quite an experience to go to Alaska and provide a chance to do some other activities in addition to skiing (such as flight to Denali, dog sledding, etc).

 

However, I have a concern that the resort itself does not look that large.  We are all advanced skiers with one upper intermediate.  Not sure the North Face is suitable for a strong upper intermediate skier.   Is there enough resort to keep things interesting for 5 days of skiing?  Another thought is to ski Alyeska for 4 days and mix in a CAT trip if the snow is ok.

 

We ski hard as a family so I do not want us getting bored with a smaller resort.  Other options under consideration are Mt Bachelor or the Banff area for that time of year.

 

I would appreciate any thoughts or insight from anyone who has been to Alyeska.

 

Thanks.

post #2 of 15

Paging @OleCh for comments about Alyeska.  Her DH is upper intermediate.  Here's her trip report from last April.

 

http://www.epicski.com/t/126005/alyeska-in-april

 

How old are the kids?  Tweens or teens?

post #3 of 15
Thread Starter 

My son is 14 1/2 but a good advanced skier.  Easily handles blacks in Colorado and at Whistler.  Still working on powder skills.  My daughter is 17 and is a good upper intermediate.  She can also handle the same black runs as us, just a bit more cautious.

post #4 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by skicol View Post
 

My son is 14 1/2 but a good advanced skier.  Easily handles blacks in Colorado and at Whistler.  Still working on powder skills.  My daughter is 17 and is a good upper intermediate.  She can also handle the same black runs as us, just a bit more cautious.


Trip to Alaska in April would be pretty special.

 

My daughter is 14.  Became an advanced skier during annual spring break weeks at Alta Lodge starting at age 7.  We meet up with friends who also started going there when there kids were under 13 and free in April.  Totally spoiled in terms of skiing.

 

My impression is that Banff would be a lot more scenic than Bachelor.

post #5 of 15

Hi skicool,

 

I grew up in Alaska and used to live in Anchorage until moving to the east coast 6 yrs ago. Alyeska and the entire area is a really unique, beautiful and special place and late March / early April are usually great times to be there, longer days and more normal temps and you can still catch fresh snow. If you hit a storm cycle at Alyeska there's nothing like it. March is by far my favorite month for snowsports in AK. 

 

I think an upper intermediate could definitely handle Alyeska no problem. There are some issues, as you say the mountains ski terrain is not huge and not everything is always open for various reasons. But there is still a ton to do in the area off mountain and if you were to throw in a cat day with Chugach Powder Guides I can't see how you could go wrong. Just the trip from Anchorage down the highway 40 miles to Girdwood is an amazing experience. The same train ride is even better IMO.

 

I am biased because for me Alaska is still home and most of my family still lives there, but I think there is nothing like it in the world and I can't imagine anyone with a sense of adventure being disappointed with a trip there. You could certainly ski everything in 4-5 days but Alyeska is also a beautiful fun resort with plenty to do. 

 

You should go, and report back. 

post #6 of 15

I agree,  Alaska is really special.  Alyeska is a really nice little hill.  If conditions are good, it could definitely keep you entertained.

Since it's so low, conditions can be variable.  If the skiings not good, just go do something else.

post #7 of 15

I have been to Alyeska 4x:

Late March 2007 was epic: 5 powder days out of 6: 2 in resort, 2 in cat, perhaps best ski day lifetime in the heli.

Early March 2011 was in a sustained dry spell after a period of high winds, no powder even in the heli.   3 days in the resort was about right.  Last day was start of the Iditarod in Anchorage.

 

The other 2 days at Alyeska were in mid/late April before/after heliskiing in Cordova.  Snow conditions were not the greatest either time and the North Face was either closed or very restricted. 

 

You proposed timing is good, but I find Alyeska to be somewhat of a powder dependent resort.  It's one of the best anywhere in fresh powder; otherwise 3 days is probably enough.  I would try to book a heli day with Chugach Powder Guides.   The cat terrain is modest in size and no higher than the resort.  It was relatively cheap in 2007 but not so much now.  The heli is expensive but if you get anything close to what I had in 2007 you'll never regret it.

 

Your alternatives are also excellent choices in that timeframe and probably more consistently good.  Early April is the peak time for Mt. Bachelor IMHO.  I've also been to Banff/Lake Louise in early April and I think it's a near optimal time there too.  Of your choices Alyeska has the biggest upside, but also the most risk for a whole week. If you're not willing to spend the $$$ for a heli day, I would probably choose one of the alternatives. 

post #8 of 15

I've never been to Aleyeska but just wanted to add that I could happily ski 60 days a year at Abasin on one chair Pali and not get bored so I don't even understand the question.....

 

I'm jealous you have the chance to go though

post #9 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by UGASkiDawg View Post
 

I've never been to Aleyeska but just wanted to add that I could happily ski 60 days a year at Abasin on one chair Pali and not get bored so I don't even understand the question.....

 

I'm jealous you have the chance to go though

Quoted for truth.

 

I will defer to @Tony Crocker who has been there 4x more than me, I was there only once but it was a trip to remember. The day we got there, because the base is so low, right at sea level..which is really ocean level, but I digress. We had 3" at the base and 28" at the top of the chair. There are few areas with more beautiful views than Alyaska, and that is a great time to go too. 

post #10 of 15
Quote:
There are few areas with more beautiful views than Alyeska

Scenery is as good as it gets in a North American ski area.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by UGASkiDawg View Post
 

I've never been to Alyeska but just wanted to add that I could happily ski 60 days a year at Abasin on one chair Pali and not get bored so I don't even understand the question.....

 

The North Face tram is one of those lifts advanced skiers could never get tired of.  But it was only that good one out of 4 times I've been there, and one other time the terrain under it was completely closed.  Going to A-Basin when Pali is not open is a good analogy.

 

It's hard to argue with a destination that yielded one of the greatest ski trips of my life.  But the other three trips were probably not worth the considerable $$$ spent relative to other destinations.  It's a bucket list spot for skiers, but you need to accept that it might not turn out the way you see in the ski films.

 

Four trips is far from an adequate sample size.  After one trip I was far on the lucky end of the scale.  By now I'm closer to the unlucky end.  Someone who is in Alyeska a whole season will ski more powder than at 99+% of the world's ski resorts. 

post #11 of 15

I think early April is a great time to go to Alyeska. The days will be long and it will be warmer.  I was there in the end of April and loved it! You are right that the resort is a bit small as compared to some big resorts out west, but the terrain is fun even if you not skiing North Face. There is soo much to do in the surrounding area - wildlife and glacier viewing cruises in Seward, in the beginning of April probably dog sledding can still be going on, cross country skiing maybe too, also there is wildlife conservation center nearby that has bears, moose, lynx, fox, owls etc - could be fun to go with kids. We couldn't go dogsledding cause the snow melted in the valley, but in the beginning of April there probably will be a lot more snow. Drive from Girdwood to Seward is stunning - mountains and lakes all the way, DH and I stopped quite a few times to take pictures. It is the most scenic drive I have had to do and there is Exit Glacier near Seward and you can walk or snowshoe close to the glacier itself. DH and I were there for a week, we skied 4 days at the resort then I went heliskiing for 1 day and 1 day we drove to Seward for sightseeing. We didn't have a chance to do the glacier/wildlife cruise, but we met someone who did it with kids and the whole family loved it.

 

For me it was the best ski trip I have had so far because I went heliskiing with CPG on my birthday while I was there and that was absolutely amazing. A note about CPG cat skiing - it was not available the time I was there because it was a low snow season and there was not enough snow in the valley for the cat to get up to the mountains. Also CPG heli skiing is done in groups of 4 skiers, so it's easier for them to make groups with a close match in ability and their guides are great too. It was pricey, but to me it was worth it.

 

Ability wise I am somewhere around low advanced ability, can handle groomed and some ungroomed single black diamond slopes out west and working on my powder skills. I didn't ski North Face when I was at Alyeska because they didn't have any recent big snowfalls and North Face was covered in giant moguls. I might have given it a shot if it was a big powder day, but I didn't think I could quite handle very steep slopes with big moguls yet, also a lot of North Face was closed. I really liked blue and single black diamond trails that were not North  Face, some of blue slopes have a nice pitch and some are really mellow. I think any solid intermediate can ski most of the mountain except North Face. The lower half of the mountain has some really easy blues and greens with a half-pipe and small terrain park. I think Alyeska never gets crowded and the views on the Turnagian Arm from the summit are simply breathtaking - I fell in love with the place and hope to visit again.

Girdwood has a few restaurants that have great food and the locals are laid-back and friendly, I think it's a great place to visit. :) 

post #12 of 15
Thread Starter 
I would like to thank all of you for your replies and thoughts. I really appreciate it. You give me some comfort re Alyeska.

Our family has always wanted to see Alaska and with my daughter going off to college in 2 years time is running out for it to happen in winter. We are Midwestern skiers but should really be living in the mountains. Just was never in the cards. Since this is not a typical trip to one of the usual resorts we wanted to try to get a taste of Alaska as well as ski hard.

I was thinking of the following itinerary:

- Fly into Anchorage (I have 2 freq flyer tickets that can be used for the U.S. or Canada. Might as well use them to go a far a possible. That helps with some of the costs)
- Spend a day and night checking out the city and immediate area.
-Then take a train from Anchorage to Talkeetna and spend the night. While in Talkeetna we could take a sightseeing flight around Mt McKinley and possibly land on a glacier. Not too expensive at $300 pp given that is a once in a lifetime activity. We could also visit a training center for an Iditerod dog sled team and go on the sleds. My kids would be thrilled to do that. Again, not too expensive. Train is not too expensive either.
- then take the train back and do the short drive to Alyeska
- ski 4 or 5 days there. This is where I was thinking of a cat trip for a day with 4 days skiing Alyeska. A heli trip is on my bucket list but it is just so darn expensive at $1,275 pp. But... We will probably never be there again. Hate to say should have done that and have regrets. Could an upper intermediate handle a heli trip? Sounds like with 4 people we would fill a group and they would set it up to our abilities.
- then back to Anchorage for a red eye back to the flatlands.

It would be packed trip and a lot of travel time but I would think the experiences would be awesome.
post #13 of 15

Sounds like a fun plan! Yes, I think upper intermediate can handle heli trip with CPG if they had at least some powder/off-piste experience. Upper intermediate/low advanced  was just about my ability when I did it and I was ok. I skied powder maybe 4-5 times before that, so a little bit of powder experience, but not a lot. It also depends on snow conditions - when I heliskied it was mostly corn snow which is very easy to ski, with some not very deep powder stretches and occasional firm/variable snow. I felt challenged maybe a few times, but most of the heliski day really enjoyed myself. What I wanted to point out is that CPG has plenty of mellow terrain, low angle glaciers that are as shallow as the green slopes and slopes with blue slope pitch - not just super steep spines we see in ski movies and they should be able to accommodate upper intermediate skier especially if it's all family in a group of 4. You could email or call CPG with your concerns. I had the same concern about whether I can handle it, contacted them about it, they were very responsive and after I described my ski level they assured me that I should be able to.handle it.

post #14 of 15

I did not mention that I was first in Alaska in the summer of 2001, and then did some of the non-ski activities mentioned, like Talkeetna and Seward/Kenai Fjords.  The other 4 trips were ski-centric and evaluated as such.  So the itinerary outlined by skicol sounds very reasonable.

Quote:
Sounds like a fun plan! Yes, I think upper intermediate can handle heli trip with CPG if they had at least some powder/off-piste experience.

Only you know what the ability range of your family is.  But the heli operator will choose terrain and pace at the level of the slowest skier in the group.

Quote:
We are all advanced skiers with one upper intermediate. 

To me, this means the upper intermediate should be in a separate group.  At $1275 per person, the rest of you really don't want to pass up steeper terrain if available or ski 12,000 vertical instead of 20,000 (CPG's limit before they start charging extra).  It also puts pressure on the slower skier, trying to keep up and perhaps getting exhausted and crashing doing so.  I have occasionally observed guides swapping out skiers among groups midday to make them more compatible.  If you only have one day, you need to be making this decision in advance to maximize the experience for all of you. 

post #15 of 15

My second time ever skiing was at Aleyska.  First was at Wintergreen, WV.  Was on a business trip to Anchorage and somebody took me to Aleyska for a day.  When we pulled up at the base, first thing I said was "this isn't a WV mountain".

 

There was 12" fresh snow that morning and the guy took me up the lift.  We got off and went a fair distanace and I was managing ok, till I looked ahead and saw him standing on the edge of the horizon with nothing but sky behind him.  When I caught up to him, we were standing on the edge of a sharp long drop off that went all the way down to the base.  I told him "I can't go down that".  He looked at me and said "Well, then where are you going to go?".  He had a good point as I couldn't go back up the hill.  So, I kissed the ground about 12 times on my way down.  And that was my first "big mountain" skiing experience.

 

Saying all that, if I had the opportunity to go back, I would DEFINITELY do it.  As others have said, scenery is awesome and the drive down from Anchorage is beautiful.

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