Owner, Chugach Adventures
Ari Stiassny is always plotting his next trip. The Chugach mountains near his Girdwood home provide the perfect backdrop for each new adventure. When he’s not taking guests out rafting or kayaking in glacial waters, he’s trying to catch up with his young family. They push him to run faster, climb higher and play harder on long summer days.
Ari grew up in Alaska and collected a ton of stories from life as a commercial fisherman, fish biologist, remote fly-fishing guide, rafting guide, ski guide, and sailor. Each gave a different perspective of Alaska and taught him more about its natural wonders.
Today, Ari and his wife Melanee want people of all ages and abilities to experience Alaska’s outdoors. And they focus on staying local. As Ari and his family know well: some of the best adventures begin right in your own backyard.
Q. What do you do? What’s unique about what you’ve created? What life experiences led you to where you are today?
I am a family first adventurer, with my kids most often in tow and quickly passing me up. I am a skier (Nordic, alpine & telemark). I am a skijorer (I want to be with a fast dog), biker (fat & skinny trail), hiker & part time mountain runner (when chasing after my girls), enthusiastic camper (nights in the wilderness are the purest), sailor (my old boat Ikpiq lives on), rock climber (sport hack), hunter (Denali caribou & the unlucky moose), fisherman (by net mostly as that is the easiest), and beachcomber (Alaska’s beaches are empty and endless).
I am also the owner/operator of Chugach Adventures. It’s based in Girdwood, Alaska's best mountain town and highly recommended adventure basecamp and amazing trail town. I am proud and honored to hire local, stay local, and keep the adventure local.
Q. What makes Alaska special for you?
Endless mountains and more adventures to fill many lifetimes.
Q. What are your favorite places and/or experiences in Alaska?
There are few places in Alaska that merge coastal Alaska with access into the mountains. You can find that in the Chugach Mountain range with Prince William Sound, and the Kenai Mountains, with Kenai Fjords National Park and the Kachemak outer coast.
I have been lucky to get to the Kachemak outer coast by sailboat a few times, departing from Homer. The wildflowers, tangled driftwood beaches knotted with ocean debris, mountain goats, tidewater glaciers, granite rocks, and empty endless beaches are all great memories.
Q. What have you learned from those experiences?
Be patient and grounded when exploring and you will be amazed to find nature's secrets.
Q. Tell us a favorite story from an Alaska trip.
Unlike most Alaska summers, 2019 was especially hot, and Alaskans were able to go swimming in many alpine lakes. My family and I hiked seven miles and 2,200 feet up into the Chugach alpine. We overnighted in a tent next to Comet Glacier.
My kids danced around the alpine tundra, swam naked in tarn lakes, and played in the mud. We spotted a family of wolverines about us and watched as they scaled the cliffs and mountainside, wishing we had brought our binoculars. (We had left them behind to save weight, since we backpacked our 4-year-old Taz half the way.)
We played underneath the midnight sun and jumped into a helicopter the next morning for the trip home. My kids were angry that we didn't get to spend another day and night. I agreed, but we hadn’t brought more food, and I needed to get to work to plan adventures for others – my mistake!
Taz was scared of the helicopter, and I held his hand on the flight home, looking for black bear and staring out at the endless Chugach mountains.
Q. How does the Alaskan wilderness make you feel?
At ease and happy.
Q. What inspired you to go into the Alaska tourism industry?
I was lucky to be born and raised in Alaska. So much of what this great state has offered me – independence, wilderness, fortitude, endless curiosity for adventure opportunities and dreams – has led me to build a company that stays true to those intrinsic values of Alaska.
These values have directed my business goals and adventure aspirations that I have for my family and my kids. Melanee and I have pioneered many new trips in the Chugach, and the dream continues on!
Q. What feeling or memory or change would you like your visitors to leave with?
I hope our adventures leave guests with a lifelong appreciation of wilderness, and broaden their imagination of the endless scale and preciousness of wild places.
Many visitors come with the idea that if you see one glacier, you’ve seen them all. Upon leaving Alaska, most will understand that each glacier and each wild place is unique.
Q. Alaska.org’s mission is to show visitors a more authentic Alaska experience. What are those qualities? How does it change an Alaska vacation?
If you want a real Alaskan adventure, go local. Stay local, hire local, eat at local restaurants, go to the local coffee shop, meet a local, ask a local about a favorite trail, hire a local guide service, and book direct with companies.
Each person will know when they have an “authentic” Alaska experience and when they have met an Alaskan. Each Alaskan character is unique and the amazing locations are vastly different.
I personally hate the word “authentic.” It sounds like a fancy cuisine in a far away destination. Alaska isn't fancy. It’s pure. I just know if you stay local and seek local, you will find your Alaska.
Q. What are 3 words that sum up what Alaska means to you?
Wild. Vast. Joyful.