Today we drove south to Girdwood, the home of the Alyeska Resort. Alyeska is Alaska’s only formal ski resort. It’s primary feature is a tram. Theirs lifts travelers just over 2000 vertical feet, which is short for most trams. But it shoots up a near-vertical face that contains no ski trails. Skiers go over the top and ski down the other side. A couple other skiing notes… Alyeska draws skiers from Anchorage and the surrounding valleys, but ski clubs from Texas and the East also come up regularly. Most ski areas in The States close at sunset, Alyeska has to artificially light their slopes due to the short sunlight hours. Their high temperature in midWinter averages 20 degrees, F. And finally, a perk of coming here for skiing is a very good opportunity to see the Northern Lights.
i don’t have any photos to show you from the Tram. Either the background lighting or the glass panes messed up the pics with reflections. I will tell you that the restaurant at the top was called Seven Glaciers. It was the poshest, best food, and most expensive restaurant on the whole trip. A general food impression: When here about eight years ago, Alaskan food seemed to be kind of like the Talkeetna Roadhouse of a few blogs ago: Simple, hearty, fresh, and lots of it. This trip seems to have included a group of eateries that focused on gourmet, allergy awareness, and wine combinations. Much more gentrified, or as my wife says, “Fru fu.”
By the way, I counted five visible glaciers from the restaurant.
To avoid showing my wife up on her hike, I went off with the Bear cubs and grand cubs to an animal rescue center, and then on to a glacier viewing. The center was a natural zoo, except all the animals had been rescued. It was kind of a downer after seeing animals in the wild, but the porcupine (above) stole the show. He never stopped circling his enclosure and climbed up branches and fencing within a couple feet of us. I’d never seen one of these up close and personal, so it was a treat. The other cool thing about the Center was their exhibits of Wood Bison and Elk. The Bison were prevalent in Alaska but almost hunted into extinction. And the Elk are native to only one small island near Sitka. Both species are being studied with the plan on introducing them to greater areas of natural environment.
We then discovered that we were only a few miles from Portage Glacier. There are 100,000 glaciers in Alaska. As one can guess, they are endangered. One of our naturalists told us that a normal recession for glaciers is about five feet per year. Portage Glacier has receded 50 feet this year !! The weather this year in Alaska has been very weird, even in global warming. The whole state is in its most severe drought in a century. The wildfires that we have dodged so far reminded me of a California summer. The temps reached 90 in Anchorage and Seward last month.
All in all, this was a great precursor to the cruise we are doing tomorrow of the Kenai Fjords National Park, which also includes sightings of various sea mammals and bird rookeries. Now it’s back to hear Mrs Bear talk about the ice cream she just had to eat to maintain an appropriate caloric intake for her next hike!!!