Snowmachines are fascinating contraptions. Part belt, part motor and part ski, these machines are the best way to reach a fair amount of Alaska’s backcountry.
But if you’re not quite ready to do the Iron Dog, Alaska Wild Guides can take you on a fun daytrip from Alyeska Resort up to a glacier. Owner Derek Ruckel, a lifetime Alaskan, really enjoys the multi-day trips out in to Alaska’s wild country. But since COVID-19 put the brakes on the back-country adventures, Alaska Wild Guides has offered more day trips. Ruckel’s location in Girdwood offers easy access to Spencer Glacier, which is inaccessible by road. In the summer, travelers can take the train from Portage. But it’s not running in the winter.
After pickup at the Hotel Alyeska, it’s a short ride to Alaska Wild Guides’ office, where you are outfitted from head-to-toe with top of the line gear. You’ll stay warm and dry in all kinds of weather!
Once at the trail head, our guides helped everyone with their helmets and gave a comprehensive safety briefing for operating the powerful snowmachines. We learned how to stop and start the machines and how to shift our weight to aid in turning…much like a motorcycle or a jet-ski. These state-of-the-art machines almost drive themselves. Like motorcycles, they can accelerate very quickly. Our guides took the lead and had a comprehensive mix of rescue equipment, shovels and radios in case someone veered off the trail and got stuck.
All of our machines were “Skidoo” brand. I was on a 550F Expedition, while the others in our group had the “900” models (much faster).
As we were getting situated on the machines, it was interesting that the snow was blowing sideways across the Placer River Valley, but our guides, Josh and Stephen, showed no trepidation at all. We were going!
Leading up to the departure, Alaska Wild Guides offers suggestions on what to wear. Specifically, wear long underwear and bring some warm gloves (fingers…no mittens).
We left the parking lot and headed up the Placer River Valley, following the route of the Alaska Railroad. We stayed on or near the river bed, though. It’s much smoother. The easy grade helps novice riders become more familiar with guiding the machines up and down creekbeds and through the trees. Alaska Wild Guides grooms and maintains the trails for smoother riding.
Once we saw the railroad bridge over the Placer River, I knew Spencer Glacier was right around the corner.
Although I’ve seen the glacier in the summer, this was the first time I’d seen it in winter—complete with a bunch of huge icebergs frozen in the lake.
Josh, our guide, stopped at one big iceberg so we could walk around and touch it. Thankfully, the weather was pretty warm (mid-20s), so we had a good time exploring.
Next, we headed up to another group of ice caves. It’s fascinating to go inside the caves—but the landscape changes every day and it’s not always safe if ice keeps falling down!
Tip: listen to your guides. They watch the ice every day—and it changes all the time.
After exploring the more dramative caves, we came back to Josh’s sled for lunch. Then, we made one more loop for some more photos before heading back.
One note: the trip back was much faster than the outbound leg. That’s because everyone was more confident with their machines. We even stopped in an open meadow so we could go more than 30 or 40 miles per hour. Those machines are powerful!
Day trips with Alaska Wild Guides are $250 per person. That includes all your gear and lunch. There’s an optional insurance policy for $25.
Derek and his crew love snowmachines. But when the snow melts, they move over to Whittier and lead day tours on jet skis out in to Prince William Sound. But that’s another story.
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