A skier takes the plunge into Christmas Chute at Alyeska. PHOTO: Ralph Kristopher
For at least 2,000 years, people in India have played a board game in which two or more players navigate their way up the board, sometimes climbing upward on ladders (symbolizing good), or sliding downward on snakes (symbolizing evil). In the 1860s, British colonizers brought the game back to England, and in 1943, Milton Bradley Co. released it in the United States, replacing the snakes with chutes.
Although sliding on a chute seems simpler, metaphorically, than sliding on a snake, the more time you spend thinking about it, the less Milton Bradley's swap makes sense. The line at the playground is to go down the slide, not just to go up the ladder. And think about the appeal of roller coasters, skydiving, and especially skiing, a sport predicated entirely on the fun of sliding in the downhill direction. Renamed this way, Chutes and Ladders becomes a board game built upside-down.
So ponder this muddled moral message, please, next time you are at the top of the tram at Alyeska, in Girdwood, Alaska, trying to decide where to point your downhill-sliding apparatus. There's nothing inherently sinful about choosing to simply take a main run down. But consider also the chutes: Christmas, New Year’s, and the Monies. It is fitting—right, even—that these runs are among the mountain's hardest to reach, and its most rewarding.
To get to Christmas Chute from the tram, bomb down to the lift line at Chair 6 (recently renamed, Milton-Bradley-style, to the "Glacier Bowl Express"), then make a left off the top. Through the marked gate, you will find yourself in a 1,500-foot-vertical, 45-degree-plus chute, about 40 feet wide with rock walls on either side. The chute narrows to just 15 feet, and then opens. Here, says Ben Napolitano, Alyeska's mountain marketing manager, skiers can go either left or right, hitting what he calls "little cliffy areas" before riding it out through the shrunken krummholtz forest on the bottom half of the mountain's north face. Catch the Autobahn run (less fast than it sounds) and ride that figurative chute all the way back to the tram.
And then ladder your way back up and hit New Year’s. The gate is a few minutes' hike past the Christmas Chute gate. It's a chute's chute, says Shannon Markley, a local who does marketing and engagement for the resort—similar to Christmas but much longer, more challenging, and with beveled edges instead of sheer rock walls. "If you're looking for super technical," says Markley, "it would be the New Year’s Chute for sure."
Finally, there are the Monies (that's Money 1 and Money 2). These are past Christmas and New Years, Zug's Slide, and up a steep hillside where you will have to remove your sliders and hike. The Monies are the steepest runs on the whole mountain, Markley says, more than a thousand vertical feet in a 15-foot-wide chute, opening into Chump Change, which she describes as "a sea of powder." From there, skiers cross the Blue Lagoon run (there's a little lake is why), Voluptuous Rolls, and Barnyard, which on-ramps to the Autobahn.
But wait—sorry. Life is a roll of the dice, and the chutes are not always yours to choose. Christmas Chute is called that because it was usually open by Christmas, Markley says; New Year’s follows the same schema. The Monies… Markley isn't sure about that one, but it seems likely that it has to do with how money serves as stand-in for all that is sweet, good, and gracious. Anyway, New Year’s and the Monies haven't been open for the last few years, she says. It's not a problem of snow quantity, but quality—they're avalanche chutes, so snowpack conditions have to be just right for the resort to open them. When the chutes are open, members of ski patrol hang out by the gates and make sure people keep enough space between them and that each skier is equipped with a beacon (required on the Monies). Take a minute to consider, too, that this is basically the job of a carney, standing around in the weather and watching while all y'all have an awesome time. It's not easy. So don't be an ass. Or a snake, or a chute, or whatever.