Here at Snow Life, we strive to write interesting and informative articles with an overwhelmingly positive vibe. That is why it is with a heavy heart and a burdened soul that we publish this sad tale about a ski resort that is so near and dear to our hearts, Alyeska, Alaska.
Perched at between 250 - 2,500 vertical feet overlooking the Turnagain Arm, nestled deep within the legendary Chugach Range is a ski area like nowhere else on earth: Alyeska Resort. At an average of 669 inches of annual snowfall, Alyeska is the second snowiest ski resort in North America, just behind Washington's Mt. Baker. After opening their first chairlift and day lodge back in 1959, Alyeska has gone through many stages and changes, but none have been so ground shaking and drastic as what will unfold on the 2017-18 ski and ride season.
Alyeska Resort has chosen to alter their opening and closing dates for the 2017-18 ski and ride season and potentially cut an entire 4 weeks of lift served skiing and snowboarding from the mountain.
Prior to 2017-18, Alyeska has historically opened for the season in late November, in time for the first big ski holiday of Thanksgiving, and they have stayed open long into April, usually going a full 4 weeks into the month before closing the lifts. This season, Alyeska has made the unprecedented decision to move back their opening date a full 3 weeks to December 15th, and move up their projected closing date to April 22nd.
Walking the dog up to Alyeska Resort on a Winter's day. Photo: Snow Life
You have to dig deep into Alyeska's website to find the proof, because they're certainly not advertising it.
Please let this article in no way be construed as a condemnation of the hardworking employees at Alyeska Resort. This article was written by a former Girdwood resident and long time Alaskan who has since returned to the lower 48. Alyeska holds a very dear place in my heart, and in the annals of my skiing career, and it is truly sad to see them taking these kind of steps, no matter the reason. Thanks for reading, and I promise we'll get back to our usual positive content asap!
Sincerely, Z. Phelan
Sunset night skiing at Alyeska Resort, Alaska. Photo: Snow Life
takes a drastic step by shortening the their
lift served ski and ride season by up to 1 month!
Now the question is WHY?
Here's what we know. Up to and including the famed "season of dreams" in 2011-12 in which Alyeska received it's personal record of 978 inches of snow, the resort would stay open as late as they could, including weekends into the month of May as long as the snow pack was stable. From 2012-13 to the present, May skiing has been discontinued for undisclosed reasons, and now Alyeska is seeking to remove weeks from the month of April as well.
Unfortunately despite numerous attempts to contact representatives at Alyeska through email, and through their website, none have bothered to respond to our attempts at information gathering regarding the altered dates except for a brief statement issued by one of their social media administrators saying: "We are working towards operating the resort more dynamically based on the weather."
Sadly, when people/businesses dodge questions about decisions they are making, it would lead us to believe that it is a decision that they are not proud of, and perhaps has not been made for the right reasons.
So, allow us to speculate some possible reasons for removing an entire month from a ski season.
1) Climate Change: With a base elevation of only 250 feet, Alyeska is in an especially fragile position for freezing levels on storm systems during the fringe seasons (Fall and Spring). During the El Nino season of 2015-16, despite having great overall snowfall numbers at the summit (824"), Alyeska struggled to maintain a solid base due to increased temperatures, and many systems being rain/snow mix. The 2017-18 season is not forecast to be an El Nino year, and all indications are that it will be a normal, if not harsher than normal Winter. If climate change is truly to blame for a decreased season at Alyeska, they would be the first American resort (to our knowledge) that is essentially throwing in the towel and succumbing to the whims of Mother Nature instead of investing in snow making technology and other mitigating measures.
2) Financial Troubles: Tight on money, what do you do? Cut your losses and consolidate your assets until a more reasonable avenue for income generation can be implemented. As both a world class ski and snowboard destination, and the premier mountain resort in the state of Alaska, we have no reason to believe that Alyeska is in financial trouble. They have virtually no competition, except for a handful of small ski areas, for thousands of miles in any direction. They have constantly received positive publicity from major ski news media sources, and have been featured in many ski movies over the last decade. If they are in a bind, and making a "smart business decision", then so be it. Hopefully they can get things turned around.
3) Corporate Greed: Most North American ski resorts (unless their special use permit prohibits it) scramble to get open each season as soon as they can, and will start making snow as soon as the night time temperatures will allow. Why do most resorts open as early as they can? So they can start making money! After a long hot Summer, most snow loving types cannot wait to get back onto the snow! We know, it's November. Will the conditions be perfect? No! Will the snow be great? Probably not! Is there a chance I could ski in rain/sleet? Yup, so what!
The months of November and April aren't for the tourists, they're for the locals, they're for the season pass holders and the die hards who just can't wait to get back on the slopes, and the folks who just can't let go at the end of the season. No doubt November and April do not supply the best conditions for skiing and riding, and no doubt have the least amount of tourists and people paying for day tickets. So I ask you, is this the reason Alyeska has decided to cut these months from the calendar? What most folks don't consider, and what we would be remiss not to bring up, is that cutting 4 weeks out of the ski season will do far more than just affect the bottom line of Alyeska Resort. As the anchor business of the tiny town of Girdwood, Alyeska not spinning the lifts for an entire month will affect the jobs and businesses of the entire area surrounding them. Nearby Anchorage locals will no longer have a Thanksgiving ski destination to look forward to, and those looking to eek the last few days out of the season will have to turn to the backcountry, as Alyeska will have closed their doors in favor of saving a buck or too.
Is this the real reason Alyeska has chosen to shorten their season? Because their profits are not maximized during these weeks at the beginning and end of the season? Because a little early season snow making, and late season avy control are just too much to bear. Is it right that they have forsaken the locals and local businesses? Why aren't they talking about it?
We realize that this article has more questions than answers, and once again, we are truly sorry to bring you such negative content. Please know it pains us to write this article and we did so with much hesitation. This news was given to us directly from some Alaska locals who are none too happy about the situation. We hope this article and the questions it raises will encourage others to seek answers, and allow Alyeska to break their silence as to what has lead to this monumental decision. If some of the questions raised here today are eating at you as much as they are with us, please try to pick up where we have left off and contact Alyeska directly! Even if they choose to ignore us, it would be foolish to ignore you, the consumer.