I’ll start by saying, people seem very impressed when I say that I lived in Alaska. They are surprised, fascinated, and intrigued. Some people say they have been there on a cruise, and some say it is their dream to visit someday. I lived in a place that many only dream of visiting; I lived in Girdwood, Alaska – a place that changed my life, helped me grow and evolve, appreciate nature so much more, and took up space in my heart forever.
I was born and raised in South Georgia, so it was quite a leap when I decided to join my friends (who had to coax me just a little) for an adventure up to Alaska, just for a summer in 2002. We weren’t even sure where we were going within the massive state, only that we were headed for the Kenai Peninsula. Well, just before the Kenai Peninsula, lies a tiny, ski resort town by the name of Girdwood. We stopped in to visit our traveling partner’s cousin, who is a resident there, just for a few days. We all found jobs and a place to live within a week of arriving. We knew we were there to stay, just for the summer.
Speaking of summer, what an amazing time in Southcentral Alaska. So many wildflowers, lots of wildlife, lots of sunshine, lots of rain, and so many happy people, make Girdwood a magical place to be. Everything blooms into life so quickly, like it knows it only has a short window of warmth and endless daylight. Summer is a busy, prosperous, and touristy time of the year in Girdwood. It is a time for hiking, biking, Frisbee golf, and anything else one can think of to do outside. By the end of my first summer, I realized four months wasn’t nearly enough time to spend in Alaska, especially since it is a 6,000-mile drive from Georgia! It only made sense to want to see what a winter would be like. I decided it was time to invest in some winter sports gear and see what a snowy winter was like, for the first time in my life.
There are serious variations of winter in Southcentral Alaska. Since Girdwood is coastal, winters can be quite mild, and sometimes a bit rainy. There are also those cold snaps where it hovers around 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below. The beauty of Alyeska, Girdwood’s ski mountain, is that it receives an average of 800 inches of precipitation per season – usually in the form of snow. What a paradise for snow lovers. Mt. Alyeska makes for great skiers and snowboarders, who can adapt to just about any conditions and varying textures of snow. Some days it can be raining down at the sea-level base of the mountain and snowing heavily up top. Other days, our favorite days, it is snowing like crazy from top to bottom – deep powder all the way down.
Besides my snow sports of choice, snowboarding and cross-country skiing, winter was also a time to spend with friends in warm houses – eating, drinking, and being merry. Girdwood is a tiny, close-knit community of people, like family, spending time together and looking out for one another. It is a town of characters, sweet, funny, and quirky. I made so many friends – true, close friends – in Girdwood. I will always have those friends, no matter how far away I move, or how far apart we are all scattered.
I moved away from Girdwood over five years ago, and I now live in Asheville, NC, where I am closer to my family in Georgia. While I love it here, I will always think about my years in Girdwood with nostalgic fondness. I miss the landscape, the jagged mountains, the sunshine, the rain, and the snow. I really miss having a moose or a bear surprise me in my yard as I’m getting out of the car with groceries or sitting outside repotting a plant (and it sure happened). And of course, I miss my many, dear friends.
I lived in Alaska, a place with a rugged reputation, and of breathtaking beauty. I went with the intention of staying the length of one summer and ended up living there for seven years. I hiked, camped, explored, and collected so many memories, and these few paragraphs and photographs barely scratch the surface of my life there. My Girdwood friends, I take comfort in knowing when I finally get back for a visit, I will always have a place to stay.
Former resident and friend always,