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Ski areas across Alaska enjoy big-time snow days

Some have already announced extended seasons
A snowboarder cruises down the slopes at Alyeska on March 31, 2021.
A snowboarder cruises down the slopes at Alyeska on March 31, 2021.(KTUU)
Published: Mar. 31, 2021 at 10:42 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Skiers and snowboarders looking for snowy fun within designated ski areas in Alaska are in luck this year, as several spots have already announced extensions to their seasons.

Alyeska Resort in Girdwood is among them, with its snow total having already reached about 670 inches — surpassing its 10-year average of 669 inches, well before the mountain’s close — and boasting a base of some 150 inches. Measurement begins on October 1 of the year prior.

“It’s been really a bright shiny spot in 2020, 2021,” said Ben Napolitano, who’s in charge of Alyeska’s mountain communications. “The snow quality right now is absolutely fantastic; it’s one of the best winters we’ve had in quite some time here at Alyeska Resort. And we’re sitting at over 150- to 160-inch base up here.”

Alyeska will continue in April with daily operations, up until April 25, Napolitano said. Then, there will also be several weekends in May that the mountain will stay open for skiers and snowboarders.

“It’s been great,” said Mike Wirz, a snowboarder who was just arriving to Alyeska to hit the slopes. “A chance to get out of town, get a taste of normality, some snow, hoping for some sun — we’ll see if it pops today — but it’s been good so far.”

Sibling skiers Charlotte and Chloé Lapointe have also been frequenting Alyeska throughout the season.

“It’s really nice today,” Chloé Lapointe said. “I like how (the snow) is not too hard, so you’re sinking, but it’s not too icy that you’re slipping. It’s just a nice mix.”

Her sister said the pair plan on returning very soon.

“We are really planning on coming back to Alyeska,” Charlotte Lapointe said, “Because this place is amazing and we’re really enjoying our stay here. Some parts are challenging, like the avalanche terrain, but it’s really fun.”

Like Alyeska, Arctic Valley Ski Area is seeing a stellar end to its season as well. The group has already announced an extension to both its downhill ski area as well as its tubing, which has sold out most days since opening for the winter.

“We’ve had a great season this year,” said Arctic Valley General Manager John Robinson-Wilson, who referred to the ski area as a “small, laid-back” destination. “The weather, the snow has really cooperated, and we had an early start to the year, earlier than at least in the past 10 or 11 years.”

This season, and for the first time in a long time, Robinson-Wilson said, Arctic Valley opened up for more weekday access. The response from the public has been “fantastic,” he added, with great season pass sales to boot.

“Snow totals have been great, and visitor numbers have been way up this year as well,” he said.

Arctic Valley will be open through at least April 18, Robinson-Wilson said. Its original early closing date was April 4.

“As we get closer to that we’ll evaluate the snow pack and guest numbers to see if we can stay open,” he said.

“We play it by ear,” Robinson-Wilson continued. “You know, we’re all skiers and snowboarders, and we’re doing this because we really love the sport and being out there. So we’ll stay open just as long as we reasonably can.”

Out in the Mat-Su, Skeetawk operators are still considering whether or not they’ll keep the area open for an extended season.

“As someone in the ski industry, it seems like there’s never enough snow; I always want more,” said Scott Patridge, Skeetawk general manager and ski school director. “But, that being said, we were the first to open this season in Alaska, so we had cold temperatures and good enough snow early on to get people started out back in November.

“We’ve been getting good snow for the last month now, good refreshers during the week,” he said, noting the area is only open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. “I think what we’ve gotten in the last month will help us stay open.”

Right now, Patridge said, Skeetawk’s closing date is April 18. There’s a chance that could stretch a week or two longer if the weather continues to cooperate and if staffing is available.

Hilltop Ski Area in Anchorage has yet to announce any close date for the season just yet, according to General Manager Trevor Bird.

“The season has gone much better that expected,” Bird said via email, referring to the many challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. “There seemed to be a major uptick in peoples’ interest in skiing and snowboarding.”

Bird added that the snow Hilltop had, especially throughout March, is “some of the best that we have had in years.”

“We are still sitting on a great base of snow,” he said. “We plan to go as long as there is still interest, and the snow levels to safely operate are there.

“We were apprehensive with all the changes that COVID brought about,” he continued, “but everybody seemed to roll with all the changes very well. I hope that with everything people have endured this year, Hilltop was a bright spot in those memories.”

Eaglecrest Ski Area in Juneau will be open through at least April 11, according to its operating calendar, though organizers there said this week that they may be able extend the season there, depending on staffing.

“For the last few weeks, we’ve been trying coordinate schedules,” said Eaglecrest Ski Area Marketing Manager Charlie Herrington via email, noting that most of the ski area’s essential staff members will be moving on to their next adventures right away.

“It might not work out; we need certified ski patrollers to operate within insurance and state requirements,” he said.

However, with ample snowfall — and only nine operating days without 48-hour snowfall since opening on December 19, according to him — now is as good a time as ever to hit the slopes there.

“This will be Eaglecrest’s second-snowiest winter in history,” Herrington said. “We’ve had a lot of regional visits from Seattle and Anchorage, but our closest neighbors in Ketchikan have been coming a lot and using our boarding pass deal.

“We’re not your average ski hill,” he added. “The mountain is big, there’s challenging terrain, and also an affordable learning center. [...] Eaglecrest and Juneau really are special places to spend the winter months.”

At its summit, snowfall has totaled approximately 472 inches to date, with a 170-inch base, according to the Eaglecrest Ski Area website.

Ben Erickson, who was hitting the slopes at Alyeska on Wednesday, said he’s a fan of Alaska’s snow in general, calling it some of the best he’s been on.

“We get tons of snow,” he said, “And if you come at the right time, it can be the best ever.”

Copyright 2021 KTUU. All rights reserved.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include more quotes and information from state ski areas.