My First Time Snowboarding at Alyeska Resort and How I Almost Got Careened by a Backflipping Skier

Taking the Glacier Bowl Express to the top of Mount Alyeska. Photo by Clay Duda.
Taking the Glacier Bowl Express to the top of Mount Alyeska.

On my first trip ever to Alyeska Resort it was dumping snow the night we pulled into town. And when I say dumping, I mean DUMPING snow. Big fat flakes fell in sheets as we sat inside Girdwood Brewing and amped ourselves up about our the next day on the mountain.

I was a little nervous, I’ll admit. It was my first time at Alyeska — a mountain known for being “steep and deep” — and also my first time EVER snowboarding at a real ski resort. I was still leaning to snowboard, and the steepest hills I had seen thus far were the mostly kid-friendly slopes at the Homer Rope Tow. Even then, I was shying away from the toughest runs, which are smaller than Alyeska’s bunny hills.

When we woke up the next morning, there was nearly 3 feet of fresh snow at the top of Mount Alyeska. You could hear avalanche bombs exploding in the distance as the sun made a slow ascent above the peaks, and we were stoked.

Out of our group of 8 friends, my wife and I were the noobs. Most of the crew headed straight for Ted’s Express and disappeared up up and away into the high reaches of the mountain behemoth. A couple of friends hopped a lower lift to the bunny hills with me, and I spent the first couple of hours getting my feet under me.

Skiers on the groomed trails at Alyeska. Photo by Clay Duda.
Skiers on the groomed trails at Alyeska.

But around lunch time, after a burger and a beer at the Sitz Mark, it was time to test my nerves. My wife went back to the rental house, and somehow I ended up separated from my would-be chaperones. It was a packed resort on a bluebird day, and it took nearly an hour to get up the lift to the top top of the mountain.

For someone new to snowboarding, even navigating the sections between the lifts on the mid-mountain (you have to transfer from the Ted’s Express to the Glacier Bowl Express half way up to reach the top) proved to be quite a challenge. I ended up on the lift with a local, and he gave a me pro-tip to hang a left at the top of Ted’s to get to shorter lines at the next lift.

“Cool” I thought, and I hopped off to the left. What he didn’t tell me is how much steeper that route was than the main way, and I ended up sliding on my butt down a near-vertical section to reach the next lift.

At the very top, same deal. There’s a wide and steep section to reach the Upper Tram Terminal where I was supposed to meet my friend. Little did I know at the time, the whole freakin’ mountain is that steep or steeper, and I was sitting at the apex just hoping to make it down alive.

The view from the top of the Glacier Bowl Express. Photo by Clay Duda.
The view from the top of the Glacier Bowl Express.

So there I was, rethinking my life decisions on this mountaintop when my crew of friends came sliding past. “HEY!” I yelled, trying to get everyones attention. They slid to a stop. “I’m just trying to get off this mountain. Can y’all please show me an easy and safe way down?” I said, my nerves noticeable.

“Ah yeah sure, it’s easy. We’ll go down with you come on,” Jordan said. So I hoped in line and away we went. It didn’t take long before we left the groomers behind. “LET’S GO DOWN HERE!” he screamed and jumped nose first over the side disappearing from view.

What choice did I have? At least the powder was soft, so I dove down behind the rest of them. I sank and slid down the steep mountain face, mostly riding my ass but trying to keep my feet under me before we came out on the next groomed trail a short ways down. It was mostly flat, and I had no speed and no bearing on an unfamiliar mountain.

I slowly slid to a stop in front of a ski patrol booth and started trying to hop hop hop my way to the next lip and next powdery descent. Just then ZZZOOOOOOOMMMMM! A skier zipped by the tip of my nose by inches. He was flying. I looked to my right and FOOOOOOOOOOO he hits the lip of a massive jump and backflips out of view.

“What the fuuu–” I thought to myself, but that thought was interrupted as a group of a dozen or more people burst into cheers just up the mountain. “YEEEAAAHHHHH!!!!” the screams echoed through the valley.

Skiers on a lift at Alyeska Resort. Photo by Clay Duda.
Skiers on a lift at Alyeska Resort.

I was stalled out in front of the biggest jump on the mountain. That dude could have clobbered me, or more accurately I almost got him clobbered. I was standing there with a dumb look on my face having made yet another novice mistake on my first day at Alyeska. I ate my pride and dug in my knuckles to make it the last couple of feet to our next drop, then disappeared into the deep snow and then to the bottom of the mountain and our airbnb with a hot tub.

I was embarrassed, but not defeated. I made it to the top of the mountain and back, and luckily me and the backflipping skier both lived to tell about it. Although I’m sure his story goes a little different than mine.

The bartender pouring a little liquid courage at the top of Alyeska. Photo by Clay Duda.
The bartender pouring a little liquid courage at the top of Alyeska.



Clay Duda is a mariner, photographer, and writer living in Homer, Alaska.