By Allison Sayer for Seward City News –
Before the lifts opened on Wednesday, December 21, a small crowd of mostly Girdwood locals were waiting on line at the base of Alyeska Resort. The skiers waiting for the lifts to open were chatty and friendly. Many had not seen each other since last season. People exchanged news and hugs while waiting for the chair.
The Alyeska Resort Information Hotline reported on Tuesday that the Glacier Bowl Express would open Wednesday morning for the first time this season. The Glacier Bowl Express is known to most people as Chair 6.
Chair 6 is the only access to the upper bowl at Alyeska Resort. Skiers and riders have looked longingly at the untouched bowl all winter. Up until Wednesday, only groomed trails had been open at Alyeska. The trails were kept in excellent condition for racing, learning to ski, and blazing around at top speed. However, they did not provide the powder skiing experience many skiers and riders seek.
The snow depth at the summit was only 32 inches when the upper bowl was opened. This is the lowest depth at which the upper mountain has opened within recent memory. There were quite a few trees and rocks sticking out of the snow, and some gravel on the cat track between the bowl and the lift.
While Alyeska has not received a great quantity of snow yet this season, the quality of the snow it has received is excellent. Cold storms have produced fine, light, fast powder. This snow is a clear contrast to the wet, heavy “mashed potato” snow common in typical years. The early morning conditions in the upper bowl gave skiers a chance to fly through light, fluffy snow.
Great skiers were out in force riding smoothly at high speed and getting big air. Positive energy prevailed, with people shouting encouragement from the chair when someone below them charged hard.
Of course, not everyone knows how to ski powder. Yard sales of lost skis and poles, turtled snowboarders, and other biffs could be seen all over the bowl.
Wednesday’s weather was relatively mild with highs in the 20’s. There was no wind, and skies were clear. The nice day added to the festive atmosphere. Visibility was great, which was extremely helpful for negotiating the relatively crowded terrain.
The area that was open at the top of the mountain Wednesday was fairly small. The upper bowl itself was open, and of course the cat track back to the chairlift. Most of the ungroomed terrain below the tram station was closed until Thursday December 22.
The powder feast at the top of the mountain was brief on Wednesday. With powder lovers taking non stop laps, the terrain soon became skied out. Latecomers did not have nearly the same conditions as those who arrived early. By noon, the gullies feeding into the main cat track were chunky from all of the tracks. There were no fresh turns left by 12:30. The crowds dissipated by the early afternoon. Some went for runs on the relatively empty lower mountain before calling it a day.
The entire North Face of the mountain will remain closed until it there is more snow. When the snow does come, stable avalanche conditions must be maintained before it will be open to the pubic.
Ungroomed terrain on the mid and lower mountain have extremely thin cover, and a lot of vegetation showing. These areas need at least one or two storms before they have sufficient coverage to open.
The Alyeska season has been slowly building despite low snowfall. Mountain staff is creating the best possible experience for riders with what they have available. Snow making continues. As long as the temperatures do not become warm enough for rain, the season should keep getting better as it goes on.
Light snow is in the forecast for this week. Several past storms have just barely missed the resort. Hopefully this storm will hit it dead on!