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Where's the best skiing? This past winter, the place to be was Alyeska

Katie Medred
Courtesy Alyeska Resort

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Remember that time Anchorage broke a 60-year-old seasonal snow record? Oh, right, that was this past winter. 2011-12 saw over 133 inches of snow fall, which surpassed the old record set in the winter of 1954-55. For some residents, having that much snow around was a total nightmare, but for others, there could be no greater gift. Let’s focus on the latter.

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Starting in September with the somewhat premature Termination Dust, the flurries were on in Southcentral Alaska, and there was no stopping them. If you’re a friend of winter there’s nothing more exciting than the sight of a freshly-frosted Chugach Range, and cohorts down the Turnagain Arm were no different. In October, Alyeska was happy to announce that the upper mountain had gathered an early 88 inches, suggesting opening day (usually around Thanksgiving) would be right on schedule, and it was.

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Over the course of the winter the mountain collected a season total of 373 inches at the base, just five inches away from the record, and 962 total. Although no overall records were broken, the last time Aly saw this much snow was during the 2000-2001 season when the total reached 940 inches.

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In the end, 962 inches of snowfall has earned Alaska’s own Alyeska Resort -- drum roll, please -- the title of snowiest resort in North America, according to the ski and snowboarding website Unofficial Networks, for the 2011-2012 season. Not a bad rebound from 2010-2011’s meager 515 inches and quite a head above the projected average annual number of 643 inches. In the month of May alone Alyeska saw an estimated 96 inches -- impressive.

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Alaskans, of course, were not alone in our good fortune this season. In fact, the whole Pacific Northwest did well. Washington State’s Mt. Baker received a total of 800 inches with 260 of their accumulated total falling in March. Crystal Mountain and White Pass (both in Washington State) saw an accrual of 575 and 564 inches, respectively. Crystal plans to keep it going into June, saying they’ll keep operations open on Saturdays and Sundays as long as the snow sticks around. Not to call anyone out, but Alyeska's snowfall did beat Crystal by some 387 inches. It’s too bad we can’t have a longer season.

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Which brings us to the bad news: despite a mountain full of snow, Memorial Day weekend will be the final week of operation for the beloved winter wonderland. Alyeska will be closing up shop for the season. Starting Tuesday, May 29, it will be back to hiking for lines, if you weren’t already.

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If you do plan to go, make sure to check the resort's website, hotline or Facebook page for any weather or closure updates. As last weekend exhibited, with warmer weather and a lot of snow comes elevated risk for avalanches.

Contact Katie Medred at katie(at)alaskadispatch.com