Could Alaska be getting another ski resort? The city of Valdez, which grew in size thanks to the fishing and oil industries, has become known as a great heli-skiing destination, and it’s growing in popularity as a port for cruise lines. A ski resort could change Valdez from an oil hub to a skiing community.
The Anchorage Daily News reports that the State of Alaska gave preliminary approval to a proposed new ski resort called East Peak. Located in the Chugach Mountains, East Peak Resort is located six miles away from the town of Valdez. In terms of skiing, the terrain is stunning above tree-line bowl terrain. If fully built out, the skiable acreage could become larger than Alyeska, which is currently the largest ski resort in the state. The potential lift would be a three-mile-long chondola, which is a mix of chairlift and gondola cabins.
The summer attractions could include mountain biking, hiking trails, a mountain coaster, gold-panning, sightseeing, and more. The base area will have commercial lots and a real estate development.
The investors for the project include Ryan McCune, who is a former competitive snowboarder, Nate Smith, who runs a backcountry snowcat skiing company on the property, and Brandon Reese, who’s a strategic advisor for Alaska Backcountry Guides. They’ve spent $1 million so far to prepare for the project to happen. Here’s what McCune had to say about the need for a destination like East Peak Resort in Valdez:
“People can see the oil industry isn’t going to be here forever, and that’s pretty much the only thing going on here, other than a small amount of fishing. To support these cruise ships coming, you need an attraction like that.”
Most people in the community support the plans, but they want to have input on the specific details. Some in the local community are thrilled because they are developing real estate, which is needed in an area that’s dealing with a housing shortage. One concern comes from Zach Sheldon, who runs owns Alaska Guide Company in Valdez. He doesn’t like how they closed off public access to the land while the proposal goes through. Since the city land was sold to the developers, it has been closed off from the public.
In terms of the timeline, they’ve got some work to do now. There’s currently a public comment session for the preliminary decision. If no one puts in a competing bid, which is unlikely, the state expects to approve the plan by May 26th. Once the state approval happens, the developers will start clearing out the access road and ski trails, and build a warming hut around the mid-mountain. The developers will also have to go through the planning and zoning process with the City of Valdez. They also need to get a lease from the state for some of the land for the new chairlift. Once they get these approvals, it’s likely that they’ll be able to gain more investors.
Here’s what Nate Smith had to say about the buildout timeline:
“We’re trying to do pretty big-league stuff, but we’ve done a lot of research on resorts. And a lot of resorts, the big ones, they didn’t happen in 10 years… [it can take decades] to get many of them up and rolling and for communities to develop around them. ”
A good example of a buildout is Skeetawk, which is Alaska’s newest ski area. After years of development, they opened in December 2020 with a triple chairlift. Over the past couple of years, they’ve fined tune the small ski area before they begin the next two phases of their development. They are currently figuring out how to get the mid-mountain lift.
Another hurdle for East Peak Resort will be its accessibility. The ski resort is located a modest 300 miles by car from Anchorage, so some will likely prefer to get there by plane or by boat. The airport that Valdez currently has only services small planes with capacities of 30 or fewer passengers. For obvious reasons, cruise ships don’t travel to Valdez during the winter. This means that they’re going to have to expand the airport to attract tourists in the wintertime.
You can read Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources Division of Mining Land and Water’s preliminary decision here. They are accepting comments on the project until May 26th. You can email your thoughts on the project to Todd Derks at email@example.com.
Will this ambitious plan come to fruition? Who knows. Sometimes future ski resorts actually happen, and other times, they remain in limbo.