A skier’s paradise and a fine stay at the Alyeska Resort in one of Alaska’s top destinations
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I confess that I’m among the miles-and points-obsessed contingent that work at TPG. For my family, it’s often confounding and hard to understand. One of the best ways to explain it is by taking family members on trips paid for, in total or in part, with points.
I have now recruited both my father and brother into my points universe. I’ve made them authorized users on my cards, and I’m rewarding them with trips. As I’ve reported, I took my dad on a trip on the Alaska Railroad for Father’s Day. For my brother, it was also a trip to Alaska earlier this year where we explored Anchorage, Denali, Seward and Talkeetna. Our favorite spot, though, was Girdwood and we had a great off-season visit to the famous Alyeska Resort. Read on for the full review.
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I booked this stay via the American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts program. I was hoping that I’d get upgraded to a suite by booking via American Express, but despite the hotel being fairly quiet for my off-season stay, I was only “upgraded” to a room with a view.
I got a pretty good rate of $223 a night.
Unfortunately, I also missed that an annoying “resort fee” of $20 per night would be added; evidently, it is disclosed at the end of the booking process on the Amex website, though I didn’t remember it.
A search for a booking in May of 2022 yields a base rate of $259 a night for a room like my brother and I shared. That doesn’t include the resort fee of $20 per night and a 12% tax surcharge. For two nights, you are looking at $659. You could book that via American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts for a better rate of $244 per night, or $626 with fees and taxes for two nights. You could also use your American Express Membership Rewards points for 34,857 points a night, but that would be a terrible value at less than a cent per point.
Because I booked via American Express, I got five times points for my stay earning about 2,230 Membership Rewards points which TPG values at $44.60.
Just be aware that if you book via Amex, you most likely won’t get elite stay credits or points in your hotel loyalty program. In this case, because Alyeska isn’t part of a chain, it didn’t matter to me.
One word for the setting of the resort: Spectacular.
It really doesn’t get better as a location for a hotel (well, unless you love the beach). Mount Alyeska is the mountain the resort was named after, so as you can imagine it’s a perfect ski-in, ski-out hotel.
The resort is surrounded by massive mountains and glaciers. A gondola ride brings you to the top of the mountain where you can even see the far-off waters of the Cook Inlet.
The best thing is that it’s just over 41 miles from Ted Stevens International Airport (ANC) in Anchorage, less than an hour’s drive (in good weather).
The resort is on the edge of the charming resort town of Girdwood surrounded by the Chugach Mountains. It’s definitely one of the nicest towns in Alaska with a fascinating Gold Rush history. Back in 1964, a massive earthquake pretty much destroyed the town. Girdwood was moved to higher ground, but you can still find evidence of the quake if you look hard enough.
Check-in and lobby
The entrance to the hotel is dramatic with the chateau-style resort built in 1994 looming above the driveway.
There is a hotel shuttle available for guests, and fire pits welcome visitors into the lobby.
This lobby had everything: a diorama featuring polar bears, Alaska landscape paintings, 1990s American Airline’s lounge-vibe furnishings, potted plants and a front desk that was a bit understaffed.
Related: Points and miles guide to Alaska
I loved all the cozy seating options in the lobby areas and all around this massive resort.
Check-in was fine. The front-desk worker seemed overwhelmed even though there was only one other person in line in front of me. Instead of welcoming me next, she took a phone call and helped a customer on the phone rebook his trip to get a better rate. I guess she was probably doing phone bookings as well as checking people in, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. Add to that a general unfriendliness and I wouldn’t describe it as much of a welcome.
As I mentioned above, the front desk didn’t seem too impressed with my Amex booking, and while they did offer an “upgraded room,” it wasn’t exactly what I thought might be possible since the hotel was mostly empty.
The Alyeska Resort has 301 guest rooms, but our “deluxe room” was not impressive. Our upgraded room had a nice view of the back of the resort and the looming Mount Alyeska.
That said, the room was cramped and the furnishings, rugs, and finishings were dated and beat up. The beds were small, only full-sized, but very comfortable. I did appreciate that each bed had four pillows.
There was a small seating area with two armchairs, but there wasn’t enough room in general and the space felt very tight.
There was also a small desk and another bench against one wall.
There was a Keurig machine with just two Kaladi Brothers coffee pods and some plastic-wrapped sugars and powdered creamers. I did ask for more pods, and they were brought up by housekeeping eventually.
There was also room service available. You can see the menu in the gallery above. Daily housekeeping is by request.
I appreciated the extra pillow and blanket in the closet.
Speaking of which, the closet wasn’t exactly generous, which could present a problem when you are loaded down with ski equipment and heavy winter clothing.
A couple of fluffy robes were in the closet.
The good news for skiers is that each room has a storage bench outside the room with some storage for wet boots and clothes.
Check out those 90s-era call buttons.
There was also an in-room safe, hairdryer, iron, ironing board and a mini-fridge.
The bathroom was also small. That’s some unique tile work.
The one feature of the bathroom I did love was the heated towel rack. My brother asked “What is that?” LOL.
The Alyeska Resort has some amazing amenities. First and foremost is Mount Alyeska with world-class skiing literally in the backyard of the hotel.
We missed the skiing by just a few days much to my brother’s disappointment. We did, however, get in some amazing hikes around the property and the nearby town. There are miles of hiking trails in and around the resort.
Just remember to always be bear aware!
Ski season for 2021/2022 starts up again on Dec. 10 and will probably last through at least May thanks to the long Alaska winters.
The hotel offers what they say is, “1,610 skiable acres, 76 named trails and over 669″ of snow annually… seven total lifts, which take you to a vertical rise of 2,500 feet.”
The area has a reputation as “steep and deep.”
And don’t forget the 60-passenger Aerial Tram which takes you to the top of the mountain for skiing (or sightseeing). It was a highlight for my brother and I. And note the tram is open longer than the slopes.
Just be aware it is not cheap. The round-trip ticket costs $35 each and that is even if you are a guest of the hotel. Still, the views from the top were well worth it.
Note most of the restaurants at the top of the mountain are only open during ski season. You may be able to get a free ride on the gondola if you make reservations at Seven Glaciers or Stizmark Bark and Grill. Both have “ride and dine” deals.
There’s also the Bore Tide Bar which is open whenever the tram is running.
My other favorite amenity was the massive saltwater indoor swimming pool. It was heavenly. Do note, though, there are currently strict capacity limits in place, and you will need reservations to swim or sauna. There is also a large (and hot) whirlpool.
A large space used as a gym offers lots of workout equipment.
There was also space for a spa on the second floor, but it was closed during my stay.
Note also that there is a massive new spa being built. Here’s how the hotel describes the coming space:
“We are excited to launch the first Nordic Spa in Alaska, set within the jaw-dropping scenery of Alyeska Resort. Featuring a 50,000 square foot indoor-outdoor experience, the Alyeska Nordic Spa invites you to join our community of wellness in the Last Frontier. Opening 2021.”
Food and Beverage
There are several restaurants and bars at this giant resort. While we were there, many were still closed due to the season and to COVID-19. We ended up having a decent sit-down meal at the Pond Cafe where the food was fine and the service was well-meaning. They seemed a little understaffed, which is a common theme in the hospitality space these days.
The hotel told me their sushi restaurant, Sakura, just reopened, but it’s only open on the weekends. I wish I’d been able to try it.
There are also a few spots for grab-and-go food including the Tramway Café. Again, the food was just okay.
As I’ve mentioned a few times, service was just okay at Alyeska. Neither my brother nor myself felt very welcomed or well taken care of. I’m worried that if the service was as meh as it was when I was there and the hotel was empty, it might be weak in high season when the hotel is crowded.
A few more employees would help the service level. I also think the management needs to talk to employees about being more welcoming and friendly to guests.
The Alyeska Resort has a total of seven rooms that are ADA-compliant. The front desk told me that doesn’t include any suites.
There were wide hallways and elevators, and I did notice that there were lifts for those with mobility issues. There was a grab bar in the bathroom, but our room didn’t otherwise feel very ADA-friendly.
There were no lifts for the pool, and I didn’t see a lot of Braille signage.
Lackluster service, dated and cramped rooms and limited food options keep me from giving Alyeska Resort the highest marks. Still, the setting and amenities more than make up for the other issues at the property. And in season, this resort is a skier’s dream destination.
The icing on the cake was treating my brother to Alaska. It was a great bonding trip for us and has him drooling over coming back to Alaska to ski and to fish. That means he’ll keep putting all his spending on my Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card and giving me the miles.
I loved all the hiking trails around the Alyeska Resort, the charm of Girdwood and the awesome tram ride to the top of Mount Alyeska. I would recommend anyone who loves the mountains and dreams of Alaska add this property to their bucket list. A renovation and service overhaul would have me even more excited to recommend it in the future.
Featured image by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy.
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