International Hostel opens its doors in Old Girdwood
Eco-friendly backpackers inn can accommodate up to 30 people
By Ken Smith
Girdwood is an ever-growing year-round destination for independent travelers from around the world. There are countless B&B’s, and, of course, The Hotel Alyeska at the ski resort. However, one thing truly lacking in the community has been a spacious and affordable accommodation for budget minded travelers, particularly backpackers.
Now, Girdwood has one. After nearly six months of major renovations and reconstruction, the Girdwood Alaska Backpackers Inn opened its doors on July 4. What was once a dilapidated building is now an appealing and quaint two-story inn, with a green metal roof, freshly painted red exterior and eggshell trim, and wrap-around porches on each floor.
The inn is located in the Old Girdwood Town Site behind the Tesoro Mall at the end of Gold Street adjacent to Glacier Creek. It is a very private location with plenty of space, something neighbors will appreciate during days when the maximum capacity of 30 occupants is reached.
“We started gutting the building in January 2009,” said Jamie Boring, co-owner of the inn. “We’ll never be completely finished. The goal is to educate and promote sustainable construction and energy efficiency.”
Boring, 40, along with his business partner Armand Nyborg, also own the Alaska Backpackers Inn in downtown Anchorage, which opened in May 2007 and has 109 beds.
Ultimately, Boring expects to have five hostels across the state: in Anchorage, Girdwood, Seward, Talkeetna and Homer.
But right now his focus is Girdwood.
“I have children, and they’re going to start traveling, and this is a great way to see the world economically and meet other people,” he said.
The Girdwood Alaska Backpackers Inn is affiliated with Hostelling International USA and must meet strict guidelines to operate.
“If you don’t know how to run a business then the Hostelling International is great because they teach you how to run a safe and clean, secure hostel,” Boring said.
Three-and-a-half percent of gross revenues is paid back to Hostelling International USA as a fee for affiliation.
Boring is a self-taught builder and developer and he’s chosen the eco-friendly route for designing the Girdwood hostel for both economic and educational reasons. He’s also chosen to build and run hostels because they’re a good businesses to own in a state like Alaska.
“The Anchorage hostel has seen a 100 percent increase in revenue every year,” he said. “It can be a profitable business. I hope what happens because of the H.I. affiliation is that travelers will come to Alaska because they’re good hostels.”
Boring also anticipates that the Girdwood hostel will generate revenue for local businesses.
The room rates in Girdwood are reasonably priced at $25 per person per night for dorm rooms and private rooms start at $50 per night. The rates will stay the same year-round with a seven day maximum stay.
Boring believes the low rates for rooms leaves occupants with more disposable money that they’ll spend at local businesses like Coast Pizza and the Ice Cream Shop, both located in the Tesoro Mall and a few minutes walking distant from the hostel.
Boring estimates that his Anchorage hostel guests have spent an average of $2 million at downtown businesses based on the number of beds and an average spending of $65 per person per day. And he expects the same results in Girdwood.
Aside from the business end of things, Boring is striving to create a hostel that is eco-friendly.
He started by using recycled material for the rugs and used recycled paints. Energy efficiency is also being stressed in the use of appliances, plumbing and lighting.
“We’re in the process of submitting an application for LEED, a natural standard for eco-energy efficiency building,” Boring said as we toured the inn.
Hot water base board heating was used in the building for 95 percent efficiency, and he used soy-based foam insulation. He also used a system of lighting that allows for both LED lighting and traditional light bulbs.
“The idea is that if we ever want to switch to solar or wind, we can use the majority of the lights on that system,” he said.
And not to be overlooked are the eco-friendly toilets, which utilize a two-button flushing system, allowing for selecting flushing to save water.
As of now there is no television in the building, but when one is added it will be operated by a hand crank or pedal crank, so when the TV is on, get ready to earn every program viewed with some cardiovascular activity.
“Our goal is to set it up the hostel like a school, so people can see how things work,” said Boring.
Even the sink will be an educational piece. Under it, water will be caught and measured to gauge the amount of water being used. And there will be measuring systems set up on all non-essential appliances and lights to monitor electrical usage.
The educational theme is geared towards all the occupants, ages 12-60.
The rooms are also designed for various age groups and budgets with two dormitory rooms designated for females and male occupants and seven private rooms. Dormitory rooms have eight beds, geared mainly towards teenagers or school groups.
The walls, floors and carpets are all artistically presented with flowing lines and abstract designs. Guests of the dorms are encouraged to create their own art on the walls.
The downstairs is a spacious room with a large spruce carved bar big enough to seat ten people, and the wrap around porches provide large open-air space for socializing and eating.
The building is quite the contrast from what stood there before. What was once a dark and dreary duplex, is now a warm, aesthetically pleasing addition to the neighborhood.
“We’ve provided a hostel with clean, comfortable, creative space,” said Amy Johnson, who co-manages the hostel with her companion Brandon Follett, both 33 years old, who live in an adjacent apartment at the inn. “Basically we don’t have a TV. We thought that cooking is creative, so we provided a full kitchen. We have provided an educational learning center. We have aquaponics to provide food fertilizer for plants, and we grow spinach, basil and broccoli.”
The concept is to not only design a building that is compatible with the grandeur and beauty of its surroundings, but also reflect the community itself.
“Girdwood is a very creative town,” Follet said. “Part of the goal is to compliment the community. This is a creative valley, there’s a lot of art, the community garden, outdoor music with the Forest Fair. We want to have open mic and music at the hostel as part of the long-term plan, and educational workshops and speakers.”
Johnson and Follet started working at the hostel July 1, but with the summer winding down, they would now like to meet members of the community and introduce them to the inn. An open house is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 27 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. For more information call 727-4678. The hostel’s web site is: www.hostelgirdwood.com.