Hatcher Pass near Palmer, in the Talkeetna Mountains, play host to numerous trails, and those most frequented by skiers are located near Independence Mine State Park with ample parking and spectacular views during the course of the drive or the skiing. Checking on road conditions before attempting to access the park is always a good idea.
Other cross-country opportunities include trails in and around the UAA and APU campuses. The Bicentennial Park Trails and Hillside Park Trail, with a combined distance of 27.5 miles, can be found adjacent to Hilltop Ski Area. And, no list would be complete without mentioning backcountry skiing at Arctic Valley, to the north of Anchorage off Glenn Highway and Arctic Valley Road. To the south are suitable sites in Girdwood such as Moose Meadows near Alyeska Ski Resort.
Or continue on the Seward Highway to Turnagain Pass, a wide, snowy expanse with parking on either side of the highway and a week’s worth of trails or open snow to explore. Just remember, when heading south toward Seward, skiing takes place on the left side of the highway and snowmachining on the right. Also, be super safety conscious, as avalanches in this area are frequent and have been known to take lives.
Season primer: Hatcher Pass is where you’ll find the early season’s deepest powder. Hatcher Pass is excellent for a day of free skiing and snowboarding, but that also means there are very few facilities. Lifts and tows are nowhere to be found, but locals have an answer to that dilemma. Anyone driving uphill with a pickup truck is likely open for business to cart skiers farther into the pass. One thing to keep in mind about Hatcher, especially early on when snow hasn’t been packed into place or following a storm, there is always the potential for avalanches. Be sure to do a brief beacon practice run and steer clear of steep, loose snow all together.
A larger than life experience: Chugach National Forest is home to 40 percent of the world’s glaciers and millions of acres of coastal mountains, powder magnets for the continuous blast of ocean moisture that freezes in the arctic winds. That equates to an unlimited supply of new slopes -- as long as you can reach them. Fortunately, adventurous entrepreneurs provide heli-skiing and snowcat service to those who want a Chugach backcountry experience that can’t be beat.
Finding the perfect powder and never-ending descent is what heli-skiing in the Chugach Mountains is all about. Multiple guides in Girdwood, Valdez and Cordova provide guided helicopter service to up to 2.6 million acres of potential powder, carrying thrill seekers and even casual, advanced skiers to the heights of world renowned - and otherwise unreachable - mountain slopes. Awareness, equipment and accessibility have made heli-skiing a growing attraction for the last decade.
Snowcat service or using a snowmachine are also great ways to reach the backcountry while keeping the cost down. Be sure to know and practice all your safety knowledge when traveling in the backcountry.