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East Peak Resort Gains Initial Approval for 800-Acre Land Lease

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SAM Magazine—Valdez, Alaska, May 17, 2023—Alaska’s Southcentral Regional Land Office (SCRO) has given preliminary approval to East Peak Resort (EPR) for a 20-year, 800-acre state land lease that may signify a small step forward for what company officials say could one day be a four-season resort.Valdez A final decision is expected by the end of June. 

The 800-acres EPR aims to lease lies adjacent to 200 acres of lower mountain property that EPR purchased from the City of Valdez in two separate transactions in 2007 and 2019 for a total of about $1 million. EPR co-owner Nate Smith has been running a snowcat operation on East Peak near Valdez since 2007, using the acquired land as the staging area for the operation. Otherwise, no public access, including uphill travel or backcountry skiing or riding, are allowed at the mountain.

In an interview with SAM, Ryan McCune, also a co-owner of EPR and a guide for Smith’s company, 907 Snowcat, said the land lease will enable his team to build a service road, cut new trails, build a 10-foot by 16-foot mid-mountain warming hut, and ultimately expand its winter operating season by about six months. McCune said his company's intent is to resell the 200 acres EPR owns as commercial or residential lots at the base of the proposed ski area. 

On average, the snowcat operation, which has a permit to access East Peak, currently runs less than 30 days a season and serves less than 300 guests. McCune said trips are typically only available from March to mid-April, or when there is enough snow on the lower portion of the mountain so as not to disturb the underlying soil and vegetation. 

With the service road, he said the snowcat will be able to access the upper portion of the mountain on just 18 inches of snow. He estimates the service road could help them run the operation from November through May.

However, while adding six months of business would be a great boon for revenues, McCune concedes that on its own, it won’t be enough to build his dream: a boutique four-season resort overlooking the Prince William Sound just a short drive from Valdez.

Building EPR’s full vision for East Peak will require major investors, but McCune said he sees the potential.

“Building out summer is what will ultimately finance the winter operation,” he said. 

Valdez has a population of about 4,000 people and sees roughly 50,000 cruise ship visitors each summer. Overnight visitors can choose from about 500 hotel rooms and 500 RV sites. McCune said he sees a market that is ripe for hiking, biking, and zip lines, with the potential for an adventure park and other summer attractions at the mountain. 

“There is a lot of local excitement, and we’re definitely having more conversations, more interest in our plan for East Peak,” McCune said. He hired planning and design firm SE Group, based in Burlington, Vt., to do a feasibility study for East Peak about 8 years ago. 

“Our unique area is the launch pad for the next most sought-after four-season destination in North America,” states a message on the EPR website ( “Skiing and boarding are just the beginning of your adventure, we’re building something special and hope you’ll join us.”

If the land lease is approved, McCune said the build out of the winter operation will include installing a mid-mountain lift. The upper mountain features more advanced and expert terrain while the lower mountain terrain is suitable for beginner and intermediate skiers and riders. 

McCune said initially all skiing and riding guests would load a bus from the base area to the mid-mountain lift load station. More advanced and expert skiers and riders could then lap the upper mountain via the chairlift, while beginner and intermediate skiers and riders would ski down from the mid-mountain point and take the bus back up the mountain. 

In the meantime, SCRO has issued a public notice and is holding a public comment period. If the lease is approved by late June, McCune said there would be ample time to build the road for the coming winter season.