With a new groomer and snow gun, Arctic Valley aims to lure more Alaska skiers and snowboarders

Long a distant second or third choice among Southcentral skiers and boarders, Arctic Valley is taking steps this season to ramp up its popularity.

Most significant, perhaps, is the purchase of a used winch-cat groomer for about $40,000 that Arctic Valley marketing director Eric Pedersen says "creates a vastly improved groomed surface and the possibility for holding future ski and snowboard races at Arctic Valley, which hasn't happened in many years."

[Winch cats are ultimate off-road vehicles]

The groomer can operate efficiently due to four anchor points planted this month at the top of the mountain — from the top of the T-bar to the top of Chair 1. They allow the operator to pull the device uphill quickly and better control its downhill return runs.

"We've had very limited grooming capability," said John Robinson-Wilson, Arctic Valley's manager. "And the lack of grooming has kept people from giving us a try."

Making snow

That isn't the hill's only upgrade.

A $30,000 snow gun will deliver powder to Arctic Valley's tubing park, which Robinson-Wilson contends "has been super successful when we're able to open it." That's been rare during the last couple of snow-parched winters. "The snow gun is the first we've ever had at Arctic Valley," Robinson-Wilson said.


The tubing park is "a huge revenue driver for us," he added. "It gets people up there who don't ski or snowboard."

A beginner rope tow is also expected to begin operating this season

While it's just a 15-mile drive from downtown Anchorage, Arctic Valley's proximity doesn't necessarily make it easy to reach. A 6-mile uphill drive on Arctic Valley Road is best tackled with studded tires and four-wheel drive once snow flies. The chalet sits at an elevation of about 2,500 feet, and surrounding mountains rise to about 4,000 feet.

Chair 1 at Arctic Valley, known as the Thompson Lift, offers a four-minute ride up 813 vertical feet for a run that's 2,216 feet long.

Chair 2, called Little Teton, was installed in 1979 and offers a longer downhill run of 4,544 feet, or about 3/4 mile.

Arctic Valley's T-bar, installed in 1962, got its electronics upgraded, thanks in part to a $16,000 Rasmuson Foundation grant.

Clientele tends to be a mix of intermediate to expert skiers and boarders, including a number of telemark and backcountry skiers who want to ride the lifts for a day instead of huffing uphill.

Lower lift prices

Price has long been a key advantage for the weekend-only area. An all-day adult lift ticket costs $35, or $25 for members of the Anchorage Ski Club, which runs Arctic Valley. By contrast, Alyeska charges adults $60 midweek, $80 for a full day on weekends and holidays.

John Koltun of the Anchorage Ski Club calls Arctic Valley's lift ticket prices "extremely low. Operating a ski area is very expensive, and this is reflected in the ticket prices at major resorts. As a result, many families find it difficult to afford a day at a major resort and cost is a deterrent to those that want to learn to ski or snowboard."

Long a shoestring operation limping along on the backs of volunteers from the 500-member Anchorage Ski Club, Arctic Valley has "done really well the last few years," raising money by renting out the lodge for weddings and collecting parking fees from hikers and other visitors during the warmer months, Robinson-Wilson said. "We've really been able to make it into a two- or three-season operation."

Summers have proven increasingly popular with couples getting married, with a three-day rental costing $3,900 on weekends, $3,400 weekdays.

"I had my wedding and reception here, and it was incredible," DeAnn Pype wrote on Arctic Valley's Facebook page. "The view is stunning, the chairlift ride was a unique experience for many of our guests, and the cost was affordable."

Money raised off-season has also enabled Anchorage Ski Club officials to pour $90,000 into the three lifts, with new electronics, new motors and other fixes.

Whether it pays off may depend on the whims of Mother Nature and whether she delivers enough snow for a solid early season base, allowing Arctic Valley to open in December. Success to Robinson-Wilson will mean 300 to 350 skiers on weekend days — a decent crowd for his ski hill but a number that pales against what Alyeska attracts on its best days.

"On a super busy Saturday, 3,000 skiers and riders fill this place up," said Ben Napolitano, the mountain marketing manager at Alyeska.

Contact Mike Campbell at mcampbell@alaskadispatch.com.

Mike Campbell

Mike Campbell was a longtime editor for Alaska Dispatch News, and before that, the Anchorage Daily News.