Located 38 miles southeast of Anchorage, approximately a 45 minute drive from downtown Anchorage, Girdwood lies in a valley in the Chugach Mountains near the end of the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet. Originally named Glacier City, Girdwood was founded as a gold mining town at the turn of the century with several gold claims being staked on Crow Creek and the Virgin and California Creek drainages. As the number of miners increased, a supply camp arose that also supplied a trail stop on the route between Seward and Ship Creek which is now Anchorage. James Girdwood was an Irish immigrant and linen merchant with four gold claims on Crow Creek. He later became the namesake for our mountain community.
Though founded as a mining town, the development of Girdwood was spurred by railroad construction begun by the Federal Government in 1915. The little town boomed with new businesses. Mining in the upper Crow Creek area continued into the late 1930's when mine closures by a World War II presidential order made Girdwood a near ghost town. In 1949, Girdwood again flourished as construction began on the Seward Highway connecting the seaport of Seward to Anchorage. In 1954, eleven local men formed the Alyeska Ski Corporation along with the beginnings of the hard-earned dream of a first-class ski resort. In 1960, the first chair lift and a day lodge was built. Francoise de Gunzburg, a Frenchman and a member of the Rothechild Banking family managed to secure a used chair lift from France that was dismantled, shipped to Alaska and rebuilt at Alyeska.
Then, tragedy struck. On Good Friday in 1964, an earthquake with the magnitude of 9.2 dropped the coastal edges along the Turnagain Arm 8 to 10 feet! Consequently, the townsite of Girdwood moved two and 1/2 miles up the valley to the present location. Three years later, the resort was sold to Alaska Airlines and the General Manager, Chris von Imhof, then the Director of Tourism for the State of Alaska, was hired to run the resort. The Nugget Inn, the original hotel, was built and a second chair lift was constructed on the upper mountain.
Finally, in October 1980, Seibu Corporation purchased Alyeska Resort and invested heavily in its development. Seibu built a new high-speed quad chair, a fixed quad and a 60 passenger aerial tramway. In addition, The Westin Alyeska Prince Hotel, a luxurious 307-room hotel, was opened in August of 1994, a mountaintop facility with a fine dining restaurant and skier's cafeteria was also included.
Present day Girdwood consists of a diverse population of outdoor enthusiasts, local businesses, services and Anchorage commuters. Girdwood has much to offer the Alaskan visitor all year-round. Complete with a mercantile, a post office, a variety of B&B's, restaurants and bars, boutiques and shops, Girdwood can supply any need any time of the year.
Information courtesy of Girdwood Chamber of Commerce.