Lifts & Terrain

Our Terrain Ratings

Powderhound rating = advanced/expert terrain + powder + freshies + uncrowded

Our Terrain Ratings

Powderhound rating = advanced/expert terrain + powder + freshies + uncrowded

  • Vertical (ft)
    250 – 9,022 (2,500)
  • Average Snow Fall
    669 inches
  • Lifts (7)
    1 tram
    2 high speed quads
  • Ski Season
    mid Dec - mid April
  • Terrain Summary
    Runs – 76
    Longest run – 1 mi
    Beginner - 11%
    Intermediate - 52%
    Adv/Expert- 37%

Alyeska Skiing And Snowboarding Review

Alyeska (pronounced al-eee-es-ka) in Alaska is a medium sized ski resort statistically speaking, with 651 hectares (1,610 acres) of skiable terrain and 76 named runs. However one statistic that isn’t available for Alyeska skiing and snowboarding is the average proportion of terrain that’s actually open. When conditions are on at Alyeska Resort, it would be phenomenal for powder hounds, but very often a large amount of expert terrain is closed due to inadequate snow or too much snow. Then Alyeska Resort feels rather small.

Alyeska Resort is very proud of their claim to fame of having the longest ungroomed run in North America, the North Face, where once you’re committed there are no groomers or cat tracks to bail out to. The problem is that if sections of the North Face are sketchy, then the area may be closed or untenable, which is one whole side of the ski resort. The true amount of skiable terrain (for experts and other ability levels) could be extended greatly at Alyeska Resort if they put a few groomed runs into the North Face instead of being proud of the lack of them.

Due to the lack of lifts, a huge degree of traversing or skate-stepping is required to get to many of the good lines, so it’s no great surprise that Alyeska is more popular with skiers than snowboarders.

The Light at Alyeska Ski Resort

The average daylight hours are 6 in December and 5.5 in January, so you need to utilise the hours effectively or go “night skiing” during the day. And because many of the slopes are west facing to north facing, even in March the light can be really flat until late in the afternoon. Frequent foggy days don’t aid visibility either. Twilight skiing and night skiing is thankfully pretty impressive at Alyeska and the lights cover a decent amount of terrain.

Lifts

Alyeska Resort doesn’t have a lot of lifts, but thankfully the mainstay for non-beginners are two fast quad chair lifts where you can get in a lot of vertical very quickly. Beginners get two fixed grip chairs at the base of the resort. The Alyeska tram provides access from Hotel Alyeska and those returning from the North Face, so you may find that you don’t ride the tram very often. You can leave the tram to the many pedestrians who like to head up to look at the views (even on a foggy day!) and have lunch.

The chairs have a name and a number, and some of the old chairs are no longer operational – just in case you’re wondering why the numbers are higher than the amount of chair lifts.

Check lift opening times (and sleep in!) because the lifts don’t open until really late in the morning or even the afternoon in spring (when the slopes may be icy in the morning).

Lift Tickets

Lift tickets are reasonably priced, inexpensive on weekdays, and very inexpensive for beginners. For mid-week hotel guests, the lift tickets may even be free.

Crowds

Alyeska Resort is rather uncrowded relative to the high profile ski resorts in the lower 48, however Alyeska is part of the “last frontier” on weekdays only, when there’s a distinct lack of lift lines, and powder hounds are generally rewarded with lots of freshies.

Weekends are a different matter when lots of Anchorage folks come to their winter playground. Anchorage isn’t a huge city, but with a population of 300,000 to draw from, it’s no surprise that fresh powder is much harder to come by on weekends, especially if large portions of the terrain are closed.

If you want lots of fresh tracks then you may need to go heli skiing with Chugach Powder Guides or go backcountry touring.

Alyeksa Snow and Weather

Alaska is renowned for its fickle weather so anything’s possible. The Chugach scores lots of snowfall, but along with that can come a lack of fine weather.

Alyeska Resort receives an average of 669” of snow per year at the summit (3,939 feet) and the mid-mountain average is 512 inches (13 metres). This is very impressive but don’t be totally impressed because at the base the annual snowfall is only 208”, and some seasons the cover in the lower sections can be iffy. Thankfully there is snowmaking capacity on 113 acres on the lower zones.

As to be expected, the snow quality varies significantly between the summit and the base. Generally the snow quality is good, although often wettish and a long way from blower powder. And the snow isn’t as good as that found out heli skiing, where the upper elevations are often twice as high as the top lift at Alyeska.

Snow quality is best on the North Face where the lines face north to northwest. Much of the main part of the Alyeska skiing terrain faces west, and considering the sun remains rather low, the powder tends to stay in good condition. It also means that once a melt-freeze cycle sets in, that the morning icy conditions can stay that way for a while.

Alyeska Skiing for the Beginner

The main beginner area is in front of the Sitzmark Bar, so it’s a good spot for parents to watch the little ones learning, or adult beginners can retreat to the bar when they need a rest. The slopes here are serviced by a couple of magic carpets and a slow quad chair, but the gradients are not that mellow for novices so it’s not the most ideal spot to learn to ski or snowboard.

When we visited there was no fencing or corralling to get skiers and snowboarders to completely slow down before they got to the lift, so the Sitzmark became a good vantage point to watch the carnage that ensued. A better run for novices is off Chair 7 near the Hotel Alyeska. Other than a very short pitchy section, this run is incredibly mellow.

Ski Alyeska - for the Intermediate

The progression from beginner to intermediate skiing or snowboarding at Alyeska can be a somewhat daunting one. There are a few short and easy blue runs in the beginners’ area; otherwise the blue runs are rather pitchy.

The statistic that 52% of the slopes are intermediate seems incorrect because there aren’t a huge number of blue runs. The quality of them is pretty good though, with some long groomers that are likely to get the thighs burning. One inadequacy is an intersection near the bottom of Chair 6 (Glacier Bowl Express) that’s a major accident waiting to happen.

At times there may be a couple of groomed black runs for some really speedy turns.

Terrain Parks & Pipes

Much of the terrain park action is off Chair 7 above the hotel, and you’ll get plenty of attention from those sitting on the chair as you set out to risk life and limb. Generally there is a range of jumps, other hits and a half pipe set up. A mini pipe may be cut in the area at the top of the beginners’ chair.

Advanced Skiing Alyeska - On-Piste

There isn’t that much single black diamond terrain. There are a few runs off the top of Glacier Bowl Express chair and some moderately pitched lines off the high traverse (which requires a little side stepping) or low traverse, which may become rather tiresome for snowboarders.

The North Face zone needs a serious rethink. The North Face includes some single black diamond rated terrain further down, but the many entrances to get there are double diamond and/or they are sketchy and require closure. Some summer grooming to cut a trail or two into this region would improve its utility significantly.

Expert Ski and Snowboard Terrain

The Alyeska skiing and snowboarding terrain for experts is phenomenal and ranges from appropriately rated double black diamond runs to extreme lines.

The lift serviced expert terrain is significant, although often there are times when some or much of it is closed. The whole zone under the tram provides a range of above and below tree line fun, but there needs to be good snow quantity and quality for it to be tenable. The epic tree skiing terrain to far skiers’ left of the resort requires a massive traverse to get there, and it’s very rarely open.

The highly renowned expert lines at Alyeska Resort are hike-to. The summit of Alyeska Peak is 1,189 feet above the top lift so there is a fair bit of vertical gain to be hiked as well as lateral navigation. The lines range from “very achievable” to “pro-rider only”, so utilise ski patrol to assist with line selection. The Headwall runs aren’t open that often due to excessive avalanche risk, the slopes being too bony, or limited visibility.

All the hike-to areas off the top require a beacon, along with Moneys on the far skiers’ right of the resort.