If you mention the name Alaska to most people, they will shiver with the thought of huge icebergs, wild snow cape mountain ranges and ridiculously cold temperatures.
In terms of terrain for snowboarding, most believe that the only people who can snowboard in Alaska are expert riders who know how to ride high altitude, steep, extreme back- country areas. While much of this is true with some 90% of the ridable terrain only accessible via a helicopter or by long hikes form barren and remote out-posts, Alaska is infact not just for a select few of big headed sponsored riders doing a video shoot, its a place that welcomes all riders no matter what you’re ability, and although this is a very cold state with recorded low temperatures of -70°C, don’t be put of. Alaska has all the modern resort facilities found in any other US snowboard/ski resort.
The only difference is that what Alaska offering are a lot more limited with infact only one major developed resort, Alyeska which is a fully developed resort with some 62 runs and many purpose built facilities at the base of the slopes (see next page).
As well as Alyeska, there are a number of smaller ridable areas, but the remainder are very basic and are not resorts as we know them. They are more or less for locals and run by clubs and private companies. One thing to put a big smile on your face is the 20 metres of snow most of the resorts get on average.
Where you won’t get any of the standard resort set up style of services is in Valdez, which lies some 300 miles east of Anchorage. Valdez, which is actually a busy oil port, is the snowboarders heaven and for the place for purist only. This is where backcountry, means ‘Backcountry’. There are no lifts with lines of skiers in sad clothing and headbands moaning about snowboarders, no groups of ski classes getting in the way all over the place, no ski patrols, no marked runs, no pisted runs. Nothing other than pure virgin terrain that should only be ridden if one, you can ride, and two, you only ride in a group and with a local guide and are properly equipped with backcountry clothing and safety equipment.
Lots of companies run trips out of Valdez with day trips to week long holidays on offer.
Blade Runner Adventures www.heliskiworld.com have some great prices with lower end accommodation keeping the cost down. 7 night and 5 days with the helicopter start at $3300 with 6 drops /day. A day with 6000 metres of vertical decent is $600.
www.valdezhelicamps.com offer day trips at around $700, up to $4900 for a 6 day, 7 night package, with 80,000 vertical feet per six-day package guaranteed. It’s lots of cash but it’s not actually that expensive in the grand scheme of things. If cash is short you can mix the helicopter in with some snowcat boarding at $200/day and if the weather is bad at least there are snowcats to get you up the hill.
If you’re in the UK you can book similar deals through www.eaheliskiing.com ensuring you can talk to someone on the phone who knows their stuff before departure. Trips run from Feb to April.
As for local amenities, accommodation and restaurants, Valdez is a hard town that is home to oil workers who can drink stupid amounts of alcohol and who don’t give a shit what snowboard you ride. The town has a number of lodges and bed and breakfast homes with affordable rates. The Totem Inn is one of the main places to hang out in the evenings, where you can get a decent meal, shoot some pool or drink yourself stupid well into the night trying to keep up with the locals.