Snow, then melt. Freeze, then thaw – then rain? As winter conditions in Alaska’s largest city become increasingly unpredictable, there’s one place Anchorageites can head for some fun in the snow: Valdez.
Located at the northeastern tip of Prince William Sound, a half-day drive from Anchorage, Valdez is still home to Alaska’s most spectacular snowfall, making it an ideal weekend getaway for skiers, snowshoers, bikers with big tires, snowmobiles, climbers or lovers of the great outdoors who simply want to curl up by the fire and enjoy a beautiful winter view.
Woven along a network of hiking, cycling and ski trails, the town itself is a pleasant destination at any time of the year. But it’s in winter that Valdez really shines, as the snow and ice make the surrounding slopes a playground for adventurers of all ages.
“There is a kind of prehistoric feeling intact above the alpine,” said Ken Lares, president of the Valdez Snowmachine Club. “I lived in tropical places (which) had beautiful coral reefs and blue water, and it’s really cool, but the mountains always attracted me.”
“Pass” all access to large spaces
Alpine or Nordic, snowshoes or snowboarding, if there is a way to explore Alaska in the great outdoors, you can do it from Valdez. Adventurers can enter the backcountry by snowmobile or helicopter with local outfitters. A guide service is also an easy way to explore the backcountry by snowmobile – no need to have or bring your own sleds! If you prefer to explore independently, Thompson Pass and Keystone Canyon are tailor-made for easy access to the outdoors. As the Richardson Highway winds its way to Valdez, you’ll find plenty of places where you can simply step off the road to put on skis or unload snowmobiles.
The variety, accessibility, and expanse of terrain around Valdez make the area a great playground for motorsports, according to Lares, and you can’t drive more than a block into town without walking past. a van with a snow machine in the bed, ready for adventure.
“Once winter sets in you can meander trails through the brush or over, you can jump benches or run ridges, just above the alpine,” he said. declared. “You don’t have to just stay in your area and use your trail. You don’t have to use any trail. In a good snow year, you can go just about anywhere. It is truly a tobogganer’s paradise.
As well as having room to explore, he added, Valdez has a friendly community of outdoor enthusiasts who coexist well.
“Everything is open to everyone, there is mutual respect and we all get along,” Lares said. “I think it’s something special.”
With this freedom comes a caveat:
“It’s a very wild and natural environment, and with that comes an added responsibility,” Lares said. “There are no lift tickets – and there is no ski patrol looking for you all the time.”
This is where this sense of community becomes even more important. Safety is a major goal for the Valdez Snowmachine Club, an all-volunteer group that conducts annual maintenance and safety courses in the backcountry and plays a key role in supporting search and rescue efforts. in the rare event that someone wanders into the backcountry.
“If something isn’t right, we’ve got you covered,” Lares said.
Motorsports are popular all winter long in the Valdez area, but they really shine in late winter and early spring when the club hosts its Mayor’s Cup. This winter’s event, scheduled for March 19, 2022, is expected to draw hundreds of visitors who come for the opportunity to see Iron Dog’s top competitors run up close and personal. Unlike the Iron Dog cross-country trek, the Mayor’s Cup is based just a few miles from Valdez, with stretches of the course easily accessible for spectators.
“You can see the faster guys come in and compete,” Lares said. “It’s really cool because it brings out that level of talent and showcases it.”
But the pros aren’t the only ones who shine. The club has also added lessons for young people from 9 years old and is having a snocross event the same weekend. Lares said a welcoming environment is important to the organization at all of its major events, including its Mountain Man Hill Climbs, which will be held April 15-17 at Thompson Pass.
“It’s definitely a family event,” Lares said. “In addition to the pro classes, we have races for children, we have 120 races, we have junior classes for hill climbs. It is a very important and very fun extreme event.
The weekend, which features some of the state’s top hill climbers, also offers trophy classes for new adult runners, he added.
“There are big mountains, there are safer places to take the kids, there are tree walks, there are rivers and lakes,” Lares said. “There is always snow somewhere to ride. It’s a great place to test your limits and be respectful of other recreationists and the earth.
And, he repeated, the community is unbeatable. With as much space as there is to play, anyone is able to be courteous to other outdoor enthusiasts, regardless of the equipment they use.
“If you meet a skier in the backcountry here in Valdez, they are more likely to offer you a beer and ask for a bump on the slope than to be angry that someone is in their territory,” said declared Lares.
Ice climbing for everyone
You don’t have to be a wanderer or an adrenaline junkie to enjoy Valdez. Along with the downhill adventure and vast tracts of land with no crowds to explore, you’ll find miles of well-traveled hiking and biking trails, many of which run through town, connecting restaurants, businesses, and some of the lodges. , local hotels and rooms. and breakfasts open to visitors all year round.
“I would definitely be riding my fat bike all around the trails,” said Michelle LeBlanc, chief financial officer and vice president of marketing for the Valdez Adventure Alliance. “Especially the Shoup Bay Trail inside town.”
Valdez is also a great destination if you want to take your winter activities in a new direction: upwards. Keystone Canyon offers easy access to ice climbing, and you don’t have to be an expert climber to try it.
“All of Alaska is so mountainous, but we have these natural icefalls,” LeBlanc said. “These are just made for that. “
Think of an ice climber and you might conjure up an image of a flexible, muscular man with Nordic features. But there is an effort underway in the climbing community to diversify, and the Valdez Ice Climbing Fest is doing its part to ensure that its 2022 event is welcoming and accessible to all kinds of climbers.
“I’m really excited about this,” said LeBlanc, whose organization hosts the annual event, as well as the April Valdez Fat Bike Bash. “We have a great range of instructors. I mean, the resumes of these people are just huge. They are so inspiring.
The alliance interviewed 2022 festival instructors, as well as leaders like President Marcus Garcia and security chief Devin Wilson, in its weekly LoTech Tuesdays podcast. Among the teachers at this winter’s festival: Dawn Glanc, a professional climber who made a short film, “Mixtress”, on women who compete in mixed climbing (on rock, ice and all types of terrain); world speed climbing champion Kendra Stritch; and other experienced, award-winning and professional climbers from around the world, as well as from Alaska.
While the festival will be run by seasoned professionals, climbers of all experience levels are encouraged to attend, and there are beginner classes on the schedule (booking your rental equipment in advance is recommended) . Combined with a registration discount for Alaskan residents, the festival provides a great opportunity for rock climbers to explore the sport, or for more experienced recreational climbers to hone their alpine skills. Early registration is open now; full registration begins December 1 and the event is scheduled for February 18-20, 2022.
In addition to emphasizing respect for the land and creating a welcoming environment, Valdez Adventure Alliance is exploring the possibility of clinics specifically for LGBTQ + and BIPOC climbers. The festival will also include a specialized program focused on adaptive rock climbing, designed by Alaska Rock Gym’s director of operations, Erick Wickenheiser, and Dave Egan, founder of Perpetual Motion NW and a “legend” in the outdoor recreation community. air, according to LeBlanc.
“We try to provide something for everyone,” said LeBlanc.
And whether your itinerary for a day in the snow involves cruising fresh powder in the mountains or sipping hot chocolate in town, Valdez offers a winter bonus that anyone can enjoy: the seaside town of Prince William Sound is small enough. to offer many opportunities to see the Northern Lights.
“It’s just a really beautiful place to ride,” said LeBlanc.
Brought to you by the town of Valdez – walk here to experience the thrills of a winter in Alaska! Plan your trip today at ValdezAlaska.org, and find community events, recreation schedules and more at ValdezAK.gov.
This story was produced by the Anchorage Daily News Sponsored Content Department in conjunction with the Sponsor. DNA writing was not involved in its production.