View Full Version : utahn buys alyeska ski area

02-18-2007, 09:53 AM
alyeska's a cool spot winter or summer ... base elevation 250'!! it's small but vertical, with magnificent views and an arm of the ocean which reaches up to the base of the canyon in which it sits. i can't see any terrain new since i skied there last, perhaps they're referring to their new terrain park, but i am curous where they would expand. the base of this area of alaska has one of the northern most temperate rainforests of the same trees which sit in the subalpine zone in california. and if you find yourself in this area in july, go check out the forest fair in girdwood.

i am very conservative when it comes to ski area expansions. i just hope this area doesn't take a turn for the worst.

Alyeska Resort's new 'family-friendly' policy stirs up locals

GIRDWOOD -- Girdwood kids learn to swim at the Alyeska Resort hotel pool. People recovering from injuries use the fitness center for physical therapy. Residents who live in cabins with no running water take showers there.

At least, that's how it used to be.

New ownership has brought new policies to the resort that is the economic heart of this earthy mountain town, including one that has angered and disappointed many of the 2,000 residents.

No longer can $5 buy you a one-day pass to swim, shower, lift weights or run on a treadmill at the only pool and fitness center in town.

To do any of that now, locals must buy six-month memberships that go for $400 for a single adult ($300 if you've already bought a season ski pass), $600 for two adults and $50 for each child.

As you'd expect in a place known for the outspokenness and eccentricities of its residents, the change is creating some heartburn.

Skyler Kline said his 8-year-old son, Kaija, learned to swim at Alyeska's pool, as did many of Kaija's friends. "You wouldn't even be able to print what he called the man who shut it down,'' Kline said.

The man in question is Utah millionaire John Byrne III, who bought the resort late last year. Most of the town is thrilled that Byrne is a skier with big plans for the mountain -- not just the hotel, mind you, but the mountain. Already, new terrain has been opened, and more good things are expected.

But some of the locals think they're no longer welcome at the hotel. What's more, some of them think they aren't welcome because they don't live and look the way people in typical ski-resort towns are supposed to live and look.

Not so, said Jason Lott, a spokesman for Alyeska.

"That really is not the case whatsoever,'' he said. "We eliminated the daily use just so we can make it more of a family-friendly atmosphere.

"It has nothing to do with looks or appearances or anything.''

Even if it did, would that be so bad?

Alyeska Gets New Snow, Owners
By jd on December 26, 2006 (Alyeska News)
Not only has Alaska

08-31-2007, 02:48 PM
Shaping Alyeska into a mountain of money
by Rhonda McBride

GIRDWOOD, Alaska -- Last year, Alyeska was the white elephant of ski resorts. Seibu Corporation unloaded it at a loss to a real estate investor and ski enthusiast with big ambitions.

What a difference nine months and $10 million makes -- that's what the new owner has invested so far in improvements.

John Byrne III is a millionaire from Alta, Utah, and spreads money around like its fertilizer.

As Byrne's plans take root, Girdwood watches and wonders.

Jim Janssen, owner of Girdwood Ski and Cyclery, said Byrne likely has a vision for Girdwood.

"I'm a lowly bike shop. I don't really expect him to come here and kiss my butt. He doesn't need to do that. He's a businessman. He's got a huge investment and I assume that he's got some sort of plan," Janssen said.

Byrne's got a plan, alright. It's a plan with wheels and gears, and it's already in motion.

That plan means a new journey for Girdwood, and as news trickles down the mountain about the new owner, folks here remain cautiously optimistic.

"He's going to do more in the first year or two for the actual skiing terrain than Seibu was able to do in the last 10 years. He's a skier and he knows fun skiing. This guy rocks, from what I hear," Janssen said.

Byrne hears the same. The guy who rocks is, indeed, ready to rock.

One might say Byrne has prepared for this challenge most of his adult life. He's skied at resorts all over the world and hiked the Alps too.

But his vision of heaven is not on the trail. It's somewhere beyond the ridges encasing Girdwood and Mount Alyeska.

"If we can lift up to that tooth, you see that rock feature at the top there," Byrne said.

Byrne wants put in another tram that would open the door to more wilderness skiing.

"It would also allow us to have a backcountry gate there, where we could provide lift-served access to the forest service land, known as Virgin Creek," Byrne said.

This winter, Byrne logged more than 70 days heli-skiing around Southcentral. He was in Valdez and amongst the glaciers surrounding Girdwood and Prince William Sound. He said he sees Alyeska as the ideal gateway for heli-skiing tours.

"To me, there's a lot of joy turning people on to backcountry skiing. And just being in the field and feeling their energy and excitement," Byrne said.

Moving beyond resort skiing isn't for every recreational skier. Opening up the backcountry to skiing would require a whole new set of survival skills for skiers to learn as well as a keen awareness of avalanche danger.

Another challenge: the land belongs to the U.S. Forest Service.

The service granted Byrne permission to ski the area so he could understand the terrain. As Byrne begins to understand the backcountry of the Chugach and Sound, he also begins to understand the resort must transform itself into an all-seasons destination.

He believes opening up more the mountain to bikers will help achieve that.

"There haven't been mountain bike or hiking trails to speak of on the mountain. I'm an avid biker. I bicycled across the country in 1986," Byrne said.

As is often the case, Byrne draws inspiration from his own experience with the outdoors.

"I think people want to come out here and mountain bike from the tram, bring their bikes onto the tram. They'll buy a lift ticket. They'll be able to do laps down the mountain. Come back around. Do it again," Byrne said.

Lift-assisted access to new terrain would bring revenue to others in Girdwood besides just Hotel Alyeska.

"I think that would be really good for the area, and possibly for me. Because those guys break a lot of stuff," Janssen said.

Part of the problem grasping Byrne's vision is that it has so many moving parts.

"I hike the mountain usually. This mountain I hiked twice. When I'm at home, I hike snowbird twice a day," Byrne said.

He wants to put in more hiking trails to connect with the U.S. Forest Service's Winner Creek Trail.

"Trails make all kinds of sense. It enables people to get out and enjoy the back country. Specifically people that aren't capable of bush whacking through the woods, you know that just want to go out for a run with their dogs in the afternoon," Byrne said.

The direction Hotel Alyeska is headed will require investing millions more on top of the millions Byrne's already plugged into it since purchasing the property from Seibu less than a year ago.

Worries mount in Girdwood about the possible trade-off his plans could bring.

"It'd be nice to see Girdwood remain a groovy little town, but still have a financially viable ski resort. And that's a difficult balance," Janssen said.

Byrne said the development will change ticket prices, raising them a dollar or two.

Byrne hasn't had any meetings to share his plans with the locals. He said he's not a "meetings kind of guy," but more of a one-on-one communicator. But give him time, he said, he's a good listener.