Apr. 17—Ski areas across Southcentral Alaska had to adapt to a series of pandemic challenges to operate this winter, and they were rewarded with a deep snowpack and a wave of support from local skiers and snowboarders.
But like all good things, this year's ski season must come to an end.
Hilltop Ski Area in Anchorage will close out its season Sunday. Hilltop will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will offer discounted lift tickets for guests who bring two canned food items as a donation for the Food Bank of Alaska.
The $11 lift ticket is a throwback to the price offered in 1987, said Hilltop's general manager, Trevor Bird. In addition to the throwback pricing, there will also be a race course set up on the hill.
"We're usually happy if we make it to, like, the first weekend in April, and so we're just psyched that we can still be opened this late," Bird said. Visitor numbers have decreased this past week as temperatures have increased. That, along with seasonal employees starting their summer work, led to the decision to close Sunday.
"We had probably the busiest season that we've seen as far as customer usage in years," Bird said from the outdoor patio Friday. He estimates the ski numbers doubled this season compared to previous years, and hopes the trend continues.
Children munched on bright orange carrot sticks Friday as people sitting on benches outside peeled off some layers.
Shelbee Davis, an employee at Hilltop, ditched the snow pants and T-shirt spring attire for something a bit more celebratory — her graduation gown and cap.
After attending her Wayland Baptist University graduation ceremony on Friday, she hit the slopes with friends.
Davis graduated in 2020 but the ceremony was postponed until this year due to the pandemic.
Her sparkly green mask glistened in the bright sun as her movements down the slope sent the tassel on her cap trailing behind her.
Hilltop is already looking ahead to summer, when a new lift-assisted downhill mountain bike park will be developed. Construction on the park will start as soon as the snow melts, with initial plans to be open by Aug. 1, Bird said.
"We're trying to improve what we have here ... to make it better and to be a better community asset," he said. "The snow's changing, weather's changing up here and that's part of why we're thinking bikes. .... We're trying to make ourselves secure for the future."
At Hatcher Pass, Skeetawk's inaugural season comes to a close this month. This weekend, Saturday and Sunday will be the last days for ski and snowboard-only access of full-speed lift service from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Skeetawk will open for one last weekend April 24 and 25 with limited terrain open and a slower lift speed to accommodate riders in the Skeetawk First Annual Downhill Fat Bike Race.
Back in Anchorage, Arctic Valley Ski Area will determine its closing day depending on the conditions, but it hopes to remain open until May 2. The last day for tubing is Sunday.
"We've been really happy with the response from the community, their desire to come out and ski and do tubing with us," general manager John Robinson-Wilson said.
Daily operations at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood will end April 25. Alyeska's snowpack earlier this week was recorded at 702 inches — 58.5 feet — which will allow weekend openings through May (May 8-9, May 15-16 and May 22-23). Alyeska's annual end-of-season Slush Cup was canceled due to COVID-19, and in its place is a spring carnival being held this weekend.