If you blink while driving along Turnagain Arm on your way out of Anchorage on the Seward Highway, you might miss Girdwood. At first glance, the turn-o to the resort town looks like no more than a truck stop and tiny strip mall. In reality, Girdwood offers a skiers’ haven a mere 40 miles or so from downtown Anchorage. Though the town originated as a supply camp for gold miners, it reinvented itself after its decimation in the 1964 earthquake and the subsequent opening of Alyeska Ski Resort. Now the town exists as a year-round hub for adventure in the Chugach Mountains, a perch for one of the highest views of the area, and home to one of the best restaurants in the region. Our advice: Don’t blink. Open your eyes to the unexpected attractions in Girdwood.
1. Seven Glaciers Restaurant: Ride the gondola to the top of Alyeska ski resort and experience an unrivaled culinary feast at this AAA Four Diamond-rated luxury restaurant. Window-side, white-linen covered tables offer views of the seven surrounding glaciers, the ski runs, and the inlet. Exceptional Alaskan entrees are complemented by a wine list that has earned a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. Save room for dessert: a classic baked Alyeska brought flaming to your table. alyeskaresort.com
2. Cross-country skiing: Want to ski beneath the northern lights? Go Nordic on the Moose Meadows Trails, a groomed, multi-use path o ering skate and classic tracks (as well as snowshoeing, fat biking, and skijoring). If you want to extend your kick-and-glide excursion, begin on the new 5K ski-only system from The Hotel Alyeska and connect to the meadow-trail system for a tour that starts with rolling hills and opens up to a fl at expanse surrounded by towering peaks. alyeskaresort.com
3. Winner Creek Trail: Bridges, canyons, gorges, and dense, verdant forests treat visitors along this easy 3-mile hike on a well-maintained path stretching from Alyeska’s tram to the CrowCreek Mine. A heart-pounding, but safe hand tram allows hikers to climb into a metal cage and pull themselves across Glacier Creek running 100- feet below. tinyurl.com/winnercreektrl
4. Jack Sprat: With a slogan of “Fat & Lean World Cuisine,” this Girdwood eatery provides something for carnivores and vegans alike with one of the best weekend brunches in the Anchorage area. Presenting a globally themed menu, Jack Sprat serves up everything from huevos rancheros to chia muesli for Sunday morning fare. They offer creative dishes with unique flavors prepared with fresh ingredients and locally sourced game and fish. In the summer, enjoy the views of the surrounding slopes from their outdoor beer garden and deck. jacksprat.net
5. Crow Creek Gold Mine: Become a prospector for a day at a mine claim that’s still producing gold—though not at its peak rates of 700 ounces per month in the late 1800s. If you’re an experienced gold miner, you can bring some of your own equipment to the site; otherwise, the staff at the mine will teach you to pan and sluice in the creek flowing through the Chugach National Forest. You can even rent metal detectors, sluice boxes, and dredging access. Tours of this national historic site, featuring original buildings and mining artifacts, are available, as well as hiking, photography, and camping. crowcreekmine.com
A local’s ski destination in the heart of the Chugach mountains, Alyeska Resort began in 1954 with donations from Girdwood residents who purchased the land to create a major ski area. But Alyeska has become more than that. It offers year-round activities, a chateau-style hotel with 304 luxury guest rooms, spa, 60-passenger scenic aerial tram, and worldclass dining. Still, skiers know and revere it as the “steep and deep” terrain that winter dreams are made of.
- The resort’s North Face features North America’s longest continuous double black run.
- Vertical rise: 2,500 feet
- Summit altitude: 3,939 feet
- 1,610 skiable acres
- Seven lifts and 76 runs
- 89 percent of the resort’s runs are rated intermediate to advanced.
- More than 669” of snow annually (last season was 824”)
- Night skiing is offered from January through March, Thursday through Saturday.