What's the weather like in Girdwood?
Although Girdwood is just 37 miles south of Anchorage, the weather can be dramatically different, in part because the tiny community is nearly ringed by the Chugach Mountains. Girdwood also borders the northernmost rainforest in the world, and all those huge trees along the Winner Creek trail (you're planning to hike it, right?) require lots of moisture to sustain them.
So in the summer, when Anchorage is overcast, Girdwood is often cool and rainy. Sometimes, much to the chagrin of the locals, it's clear and sunny at the turnoff on the highway from Anchorage, just three miles from Girdwood.
But Girdwood's ski-addicted residents don't complain much about summertime rain. After all, they know that in the winter, the community is often snowier and warmer than Anchorage. In fact, it's not uncommon to get three feet of snow from one storm. Locals love all that fresh powder for skiing, and many people from Anchorage come down to enjoy the fun.
That said, Girdwood does see its share of summertime sun, and when it does, there's nowhere better. On a beautiful day, you'll find locals lounging outside The Bake Shop and Java Haus or traipsing up Alyeska Mountain enjoying spectacular views, the occasional moose, a trio of tame horses that forage on the mountainside, and lots of wildflowers. That's also a great time to go paragliding or take a tram ride from The Hotel Alyeska up the mountain -- and be sure to bring your camera.
What should I wear?
Girdwood locals, both male and female, wear tie-dyed t-shirts and Carhartt overalls -- you know, those brown jeans that construction workers wear. People don't get dressed up here, unless they're tourists, politicians, or locals heading to a desk job in Anchorage. So if you've always wanted to wear tie-dye clothing, now's your chance.
If tie-dye isn't your thing, from June through September come prepared with sneakers, jeans, a good raincoat and warm sweater, and a pair of shorts and a summer shirt. Rain pants and a warm pair of sweats or fleece pants might also be cozy after rafting or jetboating. The ladies might like one casual skirt for a night out at the Double Musky or Seven Glaciers, though dressing up certainly isn't expected or required.
Who will I meet?
Judges, senators, radical environmentalists, dreadlocked ski bums, businessmen, foresters, gold miners, and developers -- Girdwood attracts people of all persuasions who like the outdoors. Although Girdwood is considered by many in Anchorage to be a hotbed of environmentalism, many of the homes here are actually owned by Anchorage residents who come down for the weekend to escape the city.
If you happen to meet an older man from Girdwood soaking his sore knees in The Hotel Alyeska's huge saltwater hot tub, chances are good he's run up Mt. Alyeska sometime recently. John might need a cane to walk, but he doesn't lack for motivation to climb over 2,000 feet to the summit. A former forester, he's a great source of information on Girdwood and Alaska.
What kind of resort is this, anyway?
You'll find that in a few cases, "Alaska resort" is almost an oxymoron -- this isn't like any resort town you'll find in the Lower 48. For one thing, there are very few stores (get whatever you need in Anchorage) and no shopping malls. In places, Girdwood is a bit run down and could use some repairs. The rainforest is sometimes a hard place to run a business. But hopefully you didn't come to Alaska for its paint job.
In fact, part of Girdwood's charm is that it's so obviously itself -- it does try to make a good impression and wants to please, but at some point the town seems to say, "Either love me or leave me." Most people love it. Some folks do run for cover (see below).
For many, Girdwood is the best place to live in Alaska -- it's within commuting distance to the state's largest city (Anchorage), but it still retains small-town character. You can barbecue with senators, have coffee with judges, and ski deep powder with lawyers. Most Girdwoodians either commute to Anchorage or work for the resort, which is the largest employer in town. Glacier City, as Girdwood is known, also is home to artists, writers, and extreme athletes, including former Olympians skier Tommy Moe and snowboarder Rosey Fletcher.
When should I visit?
Well, that depends on how much of an "Alaska experience" you want. If you show up in Girdwood in time for Forest Fair, you'll find that all the long hairs in the state convene in one place for this three-day festival in early July of music and arts and crafts. And yes, quite a few in attendance look like escaped convicts.
But they aren't. Forest Fair is the apex of everything good about Girdwood -- sure, it's touchy-feely, but the community really comes together to host the entire state (it seems like it, anyway) for a huge party. It's one of those events that gets even the cynics among us to believe that humans are basically good. Besides, where else can you go that has a big sign at the entrance saying "No Dogs ~ No Politicians ~ No Religious Orders ~ No Beer Outside the Garden"?
Most of the summertime tours and activities, like the tandem paragliding, raft trips [listings page], jet boating, and helicopter dog mushing, operate from June until September.
Ski season starts when the snow flies, which is often in October, and continues well until it melts. Some years, that's never. In fact, each summer there's a training camp for snowboarders on Mount Alyeska .
Speaking of dogs
Sure, bring along your pooch -- it will have plenty of company. Separating dogs from Girdwood is sort of like separating ice cream from its cone -- it's possible, but why? Despite a leash law, dogs roam rather freely here, though it's definitely possible to avoid them. There's a local business offering dog washes (ask at Crow Creek Mercantile) and other dog-care products.