Originally published in The Northern Light
Located in the Municipality of Anchorage, Girdwood is about 30 miles south of Alaska’s largest city.
Following the scenic Seward Highway south from Anchorage, Girdwood is home to 1,975 people, as of 2014 census. However, the population doubles in the winter season due to seasonal work and winter recreational opportunities. According to the Alaska OCS Socioeconomic Studies Program the population in the winter months 1,700 and in the summer months is 700. The small town is home to Alaska’s largest ski area, with over a thousand miles of ski-able terrain, located at Alyeska Resort. Many locals will work for the resort in the wintertime.
A ski instructor for Alyeska Resort in the wintertime, Jean Larson-Irin, has lived in Girdwood for 17 years and works in the roundhouse museum atop Mt. Alyeska in the summertime.
“My favorite part of living in Girdwood is the ski hill, I’m a ski instructor in the winter,” Larson-Irin said.
In its infancy, Girdwood was known as the Glacier City, due to the seven glaciers that can be seen in the area. In the nineteenth century, Glacier City was established as a supply camp, set up to distribute supplies to gold mines in the near by area. In 1896, the camp was named in honor of Colonel James Girdwood, a linen merchant who had the four first gold claims in Crow Creek. The original town site of Girdwood was near the shores of Turnagain Arm, but was moved almost three miles back into the valley after the 1964 earthquake displaced the land where the original town site was residing. Girdwood became an official city in 1961, and joined the Municipality of Anchorage in 1975.
The small town boasts a multitude of recreational opportunities throughout the year. From heli-skiing to gold panning, Girdwood has an activity for everyone. Girdwood sits within the Chugach National Forest, with trails and outdoor opportunities galore.
Davin Doran, who has been living in Girdwood her whole life takes advantage of Girdwood’s access to nature.
“My favorite part about Girdwood is having it be super outdoorsy. Hanging out with everyone, you know everyone. I would take someone to Alyeska or just some of the trails around,” Doran said.
To really get a feel for the town, hop on the tram. The tram runs daily from 9:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. May 19 to Oct. 12, and then again daily from Nov. 24 to April 10.
The glacier city is home to a handful of restaurants. Some local favorites include the Bake Shop and Chair 5. The Ice Cream Shop at the local Tesoro station is a popular favorite among tourists and locals alike. With a wide selection of flavors, the shop hosts Alaska Supreme ice cream. Alaska Supreme ice cream is ice cream made in Alaska and influenced by local flavors and tastes.
Amanda Gilbert, who calls Girdwood home, is all about the charm and seclusion the Glacier City has to offer.
“It’s the atmosphere I guess. It’s peaceful, I don’t have to lock my doors, it’s not Anchorage,” Gilbert said.
Girdwood hosts many festivals throughout the year. From Slush Cup in the spring to Forest Fair in July, Girdwood festivals celebrate the culture of the town, a culture uniquely their own. The Girdwood forest fair, taking place the first weekend of July, is a gathering of Alaskan artists of all kinds, local food and local Alaskan vendors from around the state.
Venture to Girdwood, Alaska to get a taste of an Alaskan small town; chock full of history, excellent food and plenty to do.