Story and photos by Lisa Maloney
One simply does not dispute Valdez’s place in the pantheon of Alaskan adventure cities. Sure, only about 4,000 people live here, and it’s at the literal end of the road. But that drive – about a six-hour drive northeast from Anchorage, or southeast from Fairbanks, to the shores of Prince William Sound – is one of the most spectacular in the state, and it takes you through some of the features that define big adventure in Alaska.
In particular, 2,678-foot-high Thompson Pass – located just a few miles outside Valdez, just on the far side of the craggy-walled Keystone Canyon – is the snowiest location in Alaska and home to several extreme winter sports festivals including the Fat (Tire) Bike Bash, the Alaska Kite Festival (for paragliders, speed gliders and snow-kiters) and the Mountain Man Hill Climb snowmachine race.
The Chugach Mountains near Valdez are also ground zero for some of the best heli-skiing and heli-boarding in the state. But winter isn’t the only adventure season here. During the summer Valdez is home base for unparalleled fishing, hiking, glacier-viewing and wildlife-watching opportunities.
You never know what you’ll see in the lush green hills and mountains around Valdez, or in the waters of Prince William Sound: It could be a riotously active tidewater glacier, gleefully heaving chunks of itself into the water; a family of brown bears fishing pink salmon out of a coastal creek; or a family of humans shrieking with joy as they ride a whitewater raft through Keystone Canyon.