Just 75 days after purchasing the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, Alaska, new owner John Byrne III announced a major expansion of the property. Situated in a glacier valley 40 miles south of Anchorage, in the Chugach Mountain Range, the ski resort is Alaska's largest, with 1,400 skiable acres of terrain; nine ski lifts, including a high-speed aerial tram; and 68 runs.

The resort's Alyeska Hotel, a chateau-style, 307-room property, has several bars and restaurants and a spa.

Byrne heads Salt Lake City-based Cirque Property, which acquired the resort in December from Seibu Alaska. The deal included Alyeska Resort, all its real estate holdings and the management contract for Anchorage Golf Course. The transaction price was not disclosed.

Byrne said the intended expansion would include an upgrade to the existing Alyeska Resort plant and an expansion into nearby Winner Creek.

"This will help transition Girdwood into the four-season resort we all envision it to be," said Byrne.

Alyeska is rarely mentioned among the top U.S. ski areas, but Byrne said he intended to change that.

His strategy, in part, consists of bringing in a management team from top ski destinations from the lower 48 states to work with the existing staff at Alyeska, most of whom will stay on to help move the resort "into the 21st century."

Going forward, the resort will emphasize its unique location. 

"We want to put the 'Alaska' back in 'Alyeska' and provide the guest with a genuine Alaska experience," said Don McLean, vice president and director of real estate for the resort. McLean comes to Alyeska with two decades of real estate and construction experience in Telluride, Colo.

The resort plans to create a village setting; expand the beginner and intermediate ski slopes; upgrade chair lifts; create a downhill racing area; expand a Nordic trail system; add family- and kid-friendly programs; and add programs for the disabled.

Byrne also wants to build lifts that will take skiers to the higher ridgelines, and to increase the vertical rise at Alyeska from 2,500 to more than 3,000 feet.

The hotel is getting what Alyeska officials call "much-needed upgrades" to guest rooms, common areas, the fitness center, conference areas and the business center. 

The rooms will have new pillow-top beds, native Alaska artwork, new lamps and new carpeting.

Byrne said he hoped to have a conceptual master plan about the expansion into Winner Creek on the desk of the town's mayor, Mark Begich, no later than early September. Expansion would provide skiers with access to Winner Creek's backcountry terrain, which is adjacent to the resort.

"Having lived and skied for many years in Alta and Snowbird [in Utah], I am a firm believer in an open backcountry policy," Byrne said. "We do intend to open Alyeska's boundaries when conditions permit."

For summertime activities in Winner Creek, Byrne plans to pursue the development of summer mountain biking, a summer music venue and summer ski camps.

Byrne also said that this would be done while maintaining "environmental values" of sustainability and community responsibilities in Girdwood.

This year, during a winter when many resorts reported their lowest snowfalls in years, Alyeska said it was the first ski resort in the U.S. to get 500 inches of snow.

The amount of snowfall prompted McLean to comment that after spending 33 years in Colorado, he is "convinced that Alaska is the future of skiing in North America."

For more information, visit www.alyeskaresort.com.

To contact reporter Johanna Jainchill, send e-mail to [email protected].

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