Alyeska Resort is located just 44 kilometers north of Anchorage and offers visitors the chance to live an unforgettable experience in any season they prefer. Located in the world’s northernmost temperate rainforest, the abundance of snow contributes to some of the world’s best skiing in the winter and a lush, vibrant landscape in the summer. Eric Fullerton, the resort’s vice president, accompanied Gov. Bill Walker on the Opportunity Alaska trade mission to China and explains what the resort can offer to Chinese visitors and how Alaskan enterprises are joining forces to make Alaska’s beauty and products more accessible to the world’s most populous country
What should visitors expect when they stay at Alyeska Resort?
Alyeska Resort is the only year-round destination ski and summer resort in Alaska. We are the largest ski resort and home to world-class heli-skiing. It is one of the nicest properties that visitors can see when they come to experience Alaska. Our visitors get wined and dined at one of our seven restaurants and can use our spa or pool after a long day of hiking or mountain biking. We are a base camp for a lot of the adventures you can experience in Alaska. As a year-round resort, there are great activities no matter what time of year you come. The winter is one of my favorite seasons because of the great skiing opportunities. We get an average of almost 17 meters of snow per year. We are also in the northernmost temperate rainforest in the world, which allows Alaska to get the precipitation it needs for heavy snow. In the summer, once the snow melts, it becomes very lush. We do have some rain and cloud cover in the summer, but that brings out a variety of flowers and natural vegetation that can be harvested like berries that you can eat when you’re hiking on the trails, which attracts the wildlife as well. It is a beautiful and bountiful place, like a rain forest of the north because of its lush and overgrown beauty. Sometimes when you’re hiking through the forest, you can see leaves that are bigger than you. It’s phenomenal.
Our hotel has 300 rooms and we host groups and individual travelers. It’s like a ski hotel in the winter in terms of vibe and energy. Our more high-end customers come to heli-ski in the winter and enjoy our high-end restaurants. We also have a nightclub where we host concerts every weekend. There are so many ways to relax after a day of powder skiing in the 750,000 acres of heli-skiing terrain in the glaciers that surround us. What’s fascinating is that any time of year you come, the glaciers always look different. In the spring and summer they get marbled, while in the fall they get white again as it starts snowing at the top of the glaciers. It’s a beautiful contrast. In the fall, winter and early spring we have opportunities to see the northern lights when the sky is clear. Because we’re located on the coast, we get a fresh ocean breeze that is refreshing and actually makes it easier to hike, even for less experienced hikers. One of the misnomers is that it’s too cold in Alaska. I moved here from Colorado where it averages between -1 and -6°C. It’s pretty temperate here in Alaska.
When President Xi Jinping visited Alaska, he called it mythical, mystical and compared it to Shangri-La. What makes Alaska and Alyeska Resort appealing to Chinese visitors?
When I visited major Chinese cities, I noticed that they experience some of the pollution and traffic issues that are associated with congested metropolises. Here in Alaska, cities are more spread out. There is room to breathe and see beautiful things. I would liken it to my visit to the Great Wall of China, where I was able to hike and breathe in the fresh air and mountain views at this stunning ancient and celebrated piece of history. The Chinese relate to that. It’s a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities both spiritually and mentally. The Chinese, and even other Americans, might have certain preconceived notions, but when they arrive in Alaska they are in awe of not only the beauty but also that it is an approachable place. It is not as distant, cold and inaccessible as people may think and we certainly don’t live in igloos.
Additionally, China is currently putting a big emphasis on winter sports with the upcoming 2022 Olympic games in Beijing. On the trade mission, I was able to meet some people who explained to me the resurgence of interest in downhill and cross-country skiing in China. They are building a multitude of new resorts with chairlifts, and are projected to have over 800 open by the time the Olympic games begin. The general population is embracing winter sports and skiing like at no other time in China’s history. It’s an exciting uptick in interest. There seems to be a perceived association with an increase in disposable income, with the growing middle and upper-middle classes embracing these outdoor winter experiences. The winter and shoulder seasons are very appealing to the Chinese and other Asian visitors as experiences that aren’t readily available in China.
What do you feel is the best way for Alyeska Resort to engage with the Chinese market?
We were able to make contacts with hundreds of tour operators and travel agents during the trade mission trip who specialize in travel to the U.S., and in some cases to Alaska specifically. We are partnering with other companies here in Alaska to create unique experiences for people when they do come out. They just want to see something different and new to them and their friends, and do things that they otherwise couldn’t, like taking a picture next to a moose or a glacier. When a direct flight is established from China to Alaska, it will open up this world much more readily to a new sector of the Chinese market. The flight, which is only around 6.5 hours, will make it more accessible and more affordable to travel to Alaska.
Alyeska Resort accompanied Gov. Bill Walker on the Opportunity Alaska trade mission to China. Can you tell us more about the experience?
I feel that the mission was successful on a number of fronts. There are so many facets to this trip that it is hard to talk about in one sitting. The impact will be felt in many different ways. I am already seeing this potential translated into success in terms of business interest from partnerships we developed in China and people that we met, from Chinese sports teams interested in training at our world-class Nordic training facility to having tour groups coming in the fall when we have the most availability, as it is a traditionally low-volume period, but a time that provides some of the best opportunities to see the northern lights.
The Opportunity Alaska trade mission also helped bring us together as business leaders in our community and showed us the value of working together to embrace these business opportunities and creatively work to create a unique experience for visitors. Beyond tourism, I saw how companies from the seafood sector were also able to forge partnerships and increase the outflow of Alaskan products to China. This is a win-win relationship for both Alaska and China.
As an Alaskan transplant, what makes you so passionate about Alaska?
I am a big outdoorsman, and the natural resources are unparalleled anywhere else in the U.S. It is difficult to match the scale, quantity and overall beauty of what Alaska has to offer. You can go on a hunting trip or hike through the woods and be in a place where no one has ever stood before, and it will be like that for the foreseeable future because the nature is so well preserved here and the state is so large. It is a great place for adventurers and people who want to try something different and experience something you won’t find anywhere else. It’s called a bucket list item for a reason.