Valdez, Alaska

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Valdez (pronounced /vælˈdiːz/) is a city in Valdez-Cordova Census Area in the U.S. state of Alaska. According to 2005 Census Bureau estimates, the population of the city is 4,020.[1] The city is one of the most important ports in Alaska. The port of Valdez was named in 1790 after the Spanish naval officer Antonio Valdés y Fernandez Bazán.



Valdez is a fishing port, both for commercial and sport fishing. Freight moves through Valdez bound for the interior of Alaska. Sightseeing of the marine life and glaciers, together with both deep-sea fishing, and heli skiing support a tourist industry in Valdez. The oil from the Trans-Alaska pipeline is loaded onto ships at the Valdez oil terminal. It is sometimes called the Switzerland of Alaska.[2]

Alyeska Pipeline Service Company is one of the biggest employers in town but it started to move several positions to its headquarters in Anchorage since the town council passed a resolution charging a tax to all the tankers coming into the port to be loaded with oil. This has had an impact in the population size and the economy.

Valdez is connected to the interior of Alaska by the Richardson Highway, and is a port of call in the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system. Just north of Valdez on the highway is Thompson Pass, which has spectacular waterfalls and glaciers next to the highway. Thompson Pass is also known for treacherous driving conditions during the winter.

Valdez is also known as the "North Shore" of heli-skiing and is home to no fewer than five heli-ski operations.

Valdez hosted the World Extreme Skiing Champions (WESC) in the early 90's. In 1993, WESC champion Doug Coombs, along with his wife Emily, went on to found Valdez Heli-Ski Guides at the historic Tsaina Lodge on Thompson Pass. This was the first guided heli skiing in Valdez, Alaska. Soon afterwards, another WESC champion, Dean Cummings, founded H2O Guides. Both continue to operate to this day. Today there are five heli-ski outfits based in the greater Valdez area.


The port of Valdez was named in 1790 by the Spanish explorer Salvador Fidalgo after the Spanish naval officer Antonio Valdés y Fernandez Bazán. Because of a scam to lure prospectors off the Klondike Gold Rush trail, a town developed there in 1898. Some steamship companies promoted the Valdez Glacier Trail as a better way to reach the Klondike gold fields and discover new ones in the Copper River country of interior Alaska. This was a better route, they said, than from Skagway. The prospectors who believed the promotion found that they had been deceived. The glacier trail was twice as long and steep as reported and many died attempting the crossing and by contracting scurvy during the long cold winter. It wasn't gold that caused the town to flourish, but rather the building of the Richardson Highway in 1899 that connected Valdez and Fairbanks. With a new road and its ice-free port, Valdez became permanently established as the first overland supply route into the interior of Alaska. The highway was a summer-only highway until 1950, when it became a year-round route.[3]

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