Valdez ski resort proposal moving forward

The state of Alaska issued a preliminary decision that if finalized will advance the land lease for a proposed ski area in Valdez.

The ski resort, called East Peak Resort, would overlook Prince William Sound and be 6 miles east of downtown Valdez. The ski resort would boast a 3-mile-long, 4,700 vertical foot chairlift interchangeable for chairs and gondolas, called a “chondola,” that would provide access for over 5,500 acres of terrain.

The deadline for public comment on the lease agreement preliminary decision is May 26. Comments can be made by email to [email protected] or by mail to Department of Natural Resources Division of Mining, Land and Water Southcentral Regional Land Office, ATTN: Todd Derks, at 550 W. Seventh Ave., Suite 900C, Anchorage, AK 99501-3577.

The state’s decision, issued in April, preliminarily approves a lease for 800 acres for 20 years, with the first three years having a $2,000 lease fee. This could change, however, with completed appraisal of the land.

Ryan McCune, of Valdez, originally started this project in 1997 after having his childhood hopes for a Valdez ski area dashed in the early 80s, following a community vote that gave preference to funding grain silos. McCune and his partners, including Nate Smith, operate a snowcat guiding service. They privately own acres around the resort area purchased from the city of Valdez in 2007 and 2019.

McCune said East Peak would be open for year-round activities for skiers, riders, bikes, hikers, day-trippers, and tourists looking to enjoy the vistas.

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McCune said for a resort like this it’s important to attract summer tourists, and not rely just on the winter ski season. He said the gondola option on the lift could help attract tourists like cruise ship passengers.

McCune said moving forward with the resort would require an investor to come in. He said their last bid on building the lift itself was in 2016 and 2017, and based on that he estimates they would require $20 million for the lift and midway station lodge facilities, which would include a restaurant and deck.

If built, McCune said East Peak could be one of the largest ski resorts by acreage and vertical rise in the nation, despite being basically two lifts.

McCune said they’ve had some investor interest, but nothing has been the right match. He said for a project like this the right investor is important, so they’ve been cautious about moving forward.

Unlike Alaska’s current largest ski resort, Alyeska in Girdwood, McCune is not amenable to the idea of having the resort on a mountain pass sharing program like the Ikon or Epic pass, which allows skiers and riders to visit multiple resorts on the same ticket. Alyeska announced earlier this spring that it would join Ikon, which has some locals worried about crowding and changing ticket prices. However, McCune concedes that a potential investor could sway his mind.

Valdez is already considered a sought-after destination for big mountain skiers and riders, with extreme winter sports enthusiasts flocking to one of the snowiest places in the U.S.

“You say ‘Valdez’ and everybody knows what you’re talking about in the skiing world,” McCune said. “It’s top of the pinnacle as far as skiing and snowboarding, it’s what everybody strives to get to.”

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