Coming Home to Girdwood
by Andrea Anderson
Longtime Alaskan resident, Andrea, shares her family’s seasonal lifestyle and her love for coming home to Girdwood.
It’s often said that there are just two seasons up here – summer with its endless days, and winter with its 3:41 pm solstice sunset. We charge hard in summer and winter, give it all we’ve got, and enjoy the great outdoors until we are seriously tuckered out. Fall and spring are fleeting, quieter times, when we often rest and recharge for what’s to come.
For some of us, the seasonal change is part and parcel of bigger changes, like job transitions and even where we call home. This is a place where many of us are, in part, defined by what we do in summer and what we do in winter. Girdwood, a mountain town with a ski resort, is particularly seasonal as people often pour in for the ski season and then disperse to other parts of the state for their summer gigs.
Whenever someone asks, “What do you do?,” I give the somewhat complicated answer, “We fish in the summer and ski in the winter.” That’s us in a nutshell. More questions always follow. My usual responses include: no, we don’t do the same thing year-round, and yes, we live in one place during the summer and another place during the winter. It’s not easy moving twice a year, but we have it nearly down to a science, and for us, it’s worth it. Alaskans typically get it, but outsiders are baffled. Their reaction often causes me to reflect on how fortunate we are to have been able to carve out this life. It’s non-traditional, but it’s uniquely ours, and I love it.
In summer, the 120-ish days between late May and the end of September, we own and operate Silvertip Lodge and Cabins in Soldotna, and this is where we call home during fishing season. We have six cabins on eight acres of old-growth forest, where guests stay while they fish and sightsee on the Kenai Peninsula. Jeremy operates his guided fishing business, Alaska Drift Away Fishing, out of the lodge, and I work with our partner outfitters and organize our guests’ itineraries. I work as the conductor, making sure our guests are where they are supposed to be each day. On a typical summer day, we have about 25 people moving in different directions. Needless to say, life is busy.
Amidst all the busyness, we carve out time to play too. That is why we live here. Alaska in the summer is one big playground for those of us who love to hike, camp, and fish. Or bike, climb, or paddle. The long days give us the time we need to work hard and play hard. And after all, we can sleep in the fall, right?
Then fall rolls around. With a new chill in the air, the leaves start changing and we start our transition to make the move back home to Girdwood for winter. As our young kids put it, “It’s time to move to the blue house.” We reconnect with old friends and adjust to the tempo of the quieter new season, and it’s like we never left. We anxiously await snowfall with the rest of the community. If you’ve ever experienced Girdwood the morning after the first snow of the season, you know it’s like watching kids on Christmas morning. There’s a collective excitement as everyone hopes it’s the first of many storms to come.
The storms keep rolling in and when the valley is blanketed in white, winter begins in earnest. The collective excitement of a town full of skiers and snowboarders is almost tangible. Your friends will keep their snow machines loaded up and ready to go at all times. Moose Meadows will be filled with Nordic skiers exercising their dogs. Backcountry skiers will summit Ragged Top and Max’s or head out to Turnagain Pass. And if you head up to Alyeska, you’ll see parents teaching their young kids to ski on the magic carpet, knowing that soon enough they’ll be skiing together as a family on the upper mountain. For this town and its people, including us, this is all part of living the dream.
At first, we didn’t realize that coming to Girdwood to ski for the winter was the start of our seasonal lifestyle. The town, the people, and the mountains brought us back year after year, but most importantly, this place called Challenge Alaska. Challenge is an adaptive ski school specialized in teaching people with disabilities, and Jeremy has worked there during the winter for the last 15 years.
The coolest thing about Challenge is that the whole place thrives on the idea that everyone should be able to enjoy sliding on the snow. What we’ve learned in all these years at Challenge is that anything is possible, so long as you have the right attitude and a good community of people around you. That lesson has guided us in so many other aspects of our lives, and more importantly, now our young kids are surrounded by this philosophy on a daily basis. Skiing, Challenge, and Girdwood are at the heart of who we are, and that is why we move back here every year.
As winter rolls into spring, we enjoy the strong afternoon sun and longer days. Eventually we must hang up our skis and begin to transition again, but this time down to the lodge to prepare for the busy summer to come. And while we are sad to say goodbye to Girdwood for a few months, we are excited to start fishing, and we know we’ll be back again, soon enough.
We met in July 2004 and began our adventure here in South Central. We’ve spent our entire adult lives sharing our love for the great Alaskan outdoors with visitors from around the world. In our 18 years of guiding and working in the tourism industry, we’ve developed relationships with a network of quality outfitters and accommodations, and we recommend trips that we enjoy, ourselves.