The sun sinks behind craggy mountains of southcentral Alaska around 4 p.m. these days, leaving a legion of locals more determined than ever to get outdoors among fresh air, frosty fog, and gorgeous vistas, our family included. As winter’s reach creeps closer and closer, many Anchorage residents are finding accessible family respite in the small town of Girdwood, just south of town.
Located about 45 minutes from Anchorage along the scenic Seward Highway, Girdwood’s history lies in gold mining, but its current fame relies upon steep and deep powder dropped along the Glacier Valley and on top of Mount Alyeska, where a ski resort bearing the same name generates thousands of dollars in local income. While summertime tourism is indeed hot under the Midnight Sun, winter also shines brightly in Girdwood, and kids of all ages find more than enough activity to satisfy both adventure and sociability.
An easy day trip and splendid overnight destination, Girdwood provides ski town funk combined with Alaskan hospitality, and our family loves to spend a few days exploring, skiing, and snowshoeing, then cozying up with a hot beverage and crackling fireplace before either settling down for the night or returning home. It’s easy, it’s beautiful, and it’s the perfect place to take out-of-town guests. Here are a few ideas to get the most from your time in the Glacier City.
Skiing. Whether it’s Nordic or alpine, Alyeska Resort can be a great base camp for schussing or gliding Girdwood’s great trails. Alyeska Resort offers alpine lessons for all abilities and most ages, and the Girdwood Nordic Ski Clubhas a fantastic network of trails all around the community. Rent on the mountain (alpine), or at REI in Anchorage (Nordic).
Staying. We do love Hotel Alyeska. With family specials almost year-round, the hotel is a grand idea for a getaway, especially with the enormous swimming pool, spa, and delicious food available. With the holidays approaching, the Hotel is all decked out in red, white, and green, and soaking up the atmosphere of cheer is easy.
Exploring. Past Girdwood, along the Seward Highway near the community of Portage, lies the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, dedicated to the preservation and protection of Alaska’s most popular critters. See elk, moose, musk ox, a toothsome porcupine, and a herd of wood bison, among other animals. Open year-round, the center is best approached via your own two feet for maximum enjoyment. Bundle up, bring a backpack or jogger for small kids, and add hand warmers and hot chocolate to your day bag. But it’s worth it.
Even if you don’t ski, you’ll want to take the Alyeska Tramup to the top of the mountain, where a view of seven glaciers, Turnagain Arm, and a hill full of skiers make for some pretty exciting stuff. Swing into the mountain museum, too; the history and photographs are amazing in the tiny roundhouse location at the top.
Snowshoes can be rented at Hotel Alyeska for those staying overnight, and at REI in Anchorage for those who wish to take a snowy adventure over the river and through the woods. The resort can provide trail maps and even a guided trip.
Eating. I had a veggie-grilled cheese-sandwich today at The Bake Shop, located off Olympic Mountain Loop at the bottom of the ski hill, and I’m still full. Maybe it was the dessert of a gianormous cinnamon roll that did me in, however. The Bake Shop has soup, sandwiches, and baked goods that will provide enough carbs for an entire day of outdoor fun.
Be sure and prepare for your journey with proper outdoor gear and a vehicle ready for winter driving. Allow between 45-60 minutes to get to Girdwood from Anchorage, depending upon the weather. Take your time, and be safe.