World-class vacation destinations make world-class “staycation” destinations, and in Juneau, Alaska, many locals go on a permanent staycation.
And I don’t just mean during summer… although, obviously, most of us drop everything the minute the salmon start running. Juneau is always in season, no matter the season. Some may call this time of year “off-peak,” but I don’t know… once the snow flies, it seems like Juneau’s nothing but peaks.
Simply put, there’s no winter like an Alaska winter, even in Southeast Alaska. Diverse terrain, abundant snowfall, and breathtaking scenery make Juneau one of the best-kept secrets in snow sports. That’s the reason many of us live here (also, the wild local seafood and the extremely casual dress code).
Imagine pristine wilderness—Juneau sits within the Tongass National Forest, on the Alaska Panhandle, with no roads leading into or out of town. Imagine glinting, blue glaciers; mountains rising up from the ocean; spruce and cedar forests encrusted in ice time; evening skies full of stars and, if you’re lucky, the Northern Lights. Now imagine no crowds and zero traffic (and, again, the wild local seafood and the extremely casual dress code).
This is my reality. Let me walk you through a typical day.
If the chairlifts are spinning, I’m downhill skiing. So Thursday through Monday, December through April, you’ll find me at community-owned and operated Eaglecrest Ski Area (www.skieaglecrest.com). With 1620 feet of vertical drop and more than 640 acres of groomed trails, in-bounds off-piste and impressive backcountry access, Eaglecrest offers a big mountain experience with a small mountain feel.
What do I mean by “big mountain experience”? Steeps, chutes, glades, and gullies; massive bowls; rolling alpine meadows; wide open treeless faces and incredible views in every direction, especially from Pittman’s Ridge, with panoramas up and down the Inside Passage. And because lifts run from 9 am to 3 pm (4 pm in March and April), it’s possible to ski sunrise to sunset. Honestly, nothing jump starts your morning like daybreak in the Alaska Coast Range or coaxes your tired legs into that one extra lap like the pinks, purples, and oranges of afternoon alpenglow.
On the flipside, “small mountain feel” applies to several aspects. For starters, the most expensive lift ticket costs only $58 for adults, with senior, teen and youth discounts. Plus, at Eaglecrest, you spend all your time on the mountain, not waiting in lift lines. Often, you can glide right onto the chair without even coming to a full stop. For beginners, Eaglecrest’s award-winning Snowsports School and Porcupine Learning Area cater to children (and grownups) of all ages. Not only did both my kids learn to ski here, starting at age 3, but so did I—and I was 35! But the absolute best “small” thing about Eaglecrest: it’s a 15-minute drive from Downtown Juneau, and no traffic.
Not extreme enough? Serious thrill-seekers will find untouched powder and countless “faceshots” on a heli-skiing excursion in the southern Chilkats, the Coast Range or the mountains surrounding the Juneau Icefield. Full disclosure: that’s currently beyond my skill set, but I’m sure I’ll try it one of these years… while I still have all my original joints.
Now, sometimes I crave mellower adventure. Whenever I hear the “call of mild,” I head out snowshoeing or cross-country skiing on Juneau’s extensive hiking trail system, with dozens of miles regularly groomed for both classic and skate. Or I’ll blaze my own path, for example, across the frozen, iceberg-studded Mendenhall Lake to come face-to-face with Mendenhall Glacier, a favorite local winter pastime.
The activities don’t stop there. Juneau also boasts ice-skating (both pond and rink), ice fishing (pond only, please), ice climbing, snow biking and snow-machining (that’s what Alaskans call snowmobiles). Do you have any idea how much space all my family’s gear takes up? Marie Kondo never spent a winter in Juneau, I’ll tell you that.
Of course, even the hardiest soul comes in from the cold eventually. Here, again, the choices abound: restaurants (from high-end contemporary cuisine to food trucks), bars, coffee shops, micro-breweries, artisan distilleries, and a vibrant nightlife scene pretty much every night of the week. It’s a long winter; Juneau enjoys it.
Experience the full splendor of an Alaska winter in a part of Alaska that’s closer, warmer and lighter than you think: a quick two-and-a-half-hour flight from Seattle, with average temperatures in the 20s and 30s, and even at its darkest, six-and-half hours of daylight; by March, the days grow twice as long.
I’ll see you out there.
Start your winter adventure at www.traveljuneau.com.