By Matt Hickman
The streets of Anchorage may be bone-dry with no sizeable snowfall in the forecast, but out in Girdwood, home to the world-class ski resort Alyeska, the story is considerably different.
While opening day was pushed back from its typical Thanksgiving-time start, Alyeska’s director of marketing Ben Napolitano said last weekend’s season-opener was a hit, even outperforming last season’s opening weekend in many regards.
“It’s very similar to last year in terms of uploads and downloads on the tram,” Napolitano said. “You can ski to the base, which is nice — it makes the Sitzmark a ski-in, ski-out bar.”
Napolitano said that while things remained dry and relatively warm in recent weeks, the story in Girdwood has been considerably different.
“We had a really strong opening weekend despite really stormy weather — the weather in Anchorage has been totally different than here in Girdwood,” he said. “It’s like a rainy-snowy mix at the base area, dumping snow at the top. It’s also been very windy.”
Despite a reasonable amount of snow in Girdwood, Alyeska continues to make its own snow.
“We make snow every year,” Napolitano said. “When you make snow you’re essentially putting down a base and then when Mother Nature delivers you’re building on that base. We’ve made snow here for a while.”
With a week to go until Christmas — one of the most popular days at the resort when skiers and their families leave the cooking to the resort and spend the day on the slopes — there is a chance of a powdery dumping from the skies, which Napolitano said would be in keeping with recent seasons.
“Last year, on Christmas or a couple of days before we got 14 inches in just an insanely short period of time,” Napolitano said.
Napolitano said the early part of the ski season features a number of popular events, including Santa Skis Free on Dec. 19, where anyone who dresses up as Santa or Mrs. Claus gets a free lift ticket and is invited to a themed party in the hotel in the evening, which includes an appearance by the real Santa Claus who gets his picture taken with kids.
New Year’s Eve is another big event at the resort, with the torchlight parade before the fireworks.
“It’s about 400 skiers, skiing down in zig-zag pattern with red road flares,” Napolitano said. “After there’s fireworks and concert at the Sitzmark.”
New Year’s Eve also happens to be the birthday of Pomeroy Lodging CEO Ryan Pomeroy, whose Canadian-based company bought the resort over a year ago and is heading into its first ski season as operators of the mountain.
Alyeska is the 21st property acquired by the company, which began with the modest Igloo Inn in Grand Prairie, Alberta, which is also home to corporate headquarters. The Pomeroys then moved into developing Super 8 motels around Canada and made their foray into ski resorts with the Kananaskis Ski Resort outside of Calgary.
“It’s a similar size to Alyeska, but it doesn’t have the mountain operation,” Pomeroy said during a press conference at the resort in October. “We undertook a $40 million renovation there. It was in pretty rough shape, so we gutted, basically the whole resort and built it back up into one of Alberta’s and Canada’s finest resorts.”
Pomeroy said the condition or ‘the bones’ of Alyeska that he’s inherited are in fine shape, so his company’s first investments in the property are focused on adding attractions that will help make Alyeska a better 4-season draw for Alaskans and tourists alike.
Kananaskis’ success, Pomeroy said, is its Nordic Spa, a feature which the company expects to duplicate at Alyeska in 2020, hopefully opening in time for the next ski season.
“The concept of a nordic spa is really wellness-based; it’s not pampering or an aesthetic-based facility, it’s really relaxation based on the hydrotherapy concept of hot-to-cold-to-relax,” Pomeroy said. “You can hit each of those stations a number of ways — hot tub, steam room or sauna, then cold can be one unpleasant plunge pool or shower or waterfall and then there’s many ways to take relaxation in a temperature pool, a hammock or an indoor solarium. The idea is you get through one cycle in 45 minutes.”