Alyeska, Alaska

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From precious metals to glaciers, Girdwood’s roots are anchored in its natural assets. The city was founded as a gold-mining town at the turn of the 20th century and the mining economy buoyed the town through the ’30s. The downturn triggered by the mine’s closing didn’t right itself until the Seward Highway was built connecting the small town to Anchorage in the late 1940s. In 1960, with the opening of the Alyeska Resort at Mount Alyeska, Girdwood took off as the top ski destination in Alaska. Alyeska’s 16½-meter (54-foot) average annual snowfall at the summit makes it a surefire choice for those seeking deep snow on steep terrain. Surrounded by the mountains of Chugach State Park, the third-largest state park in the country, Girdwood was named after Irish immigrant James Girdwood, a local linen merchant who had four gold claims on Crow Creek. In 1964 a devastating earthquake levelled the town, which later relocated four kilometers (two and a half miles) up the valley. Today it serves as a base for those visiting the mountain, as well as a destination in its own right with colorful boutiques, shops, bed-and-breakfasts, bars and restaurants; it also attracts writers, artists and extreme-sports athletes who participate in local activities from skiing to paragliding.