By Chris von Imhof
Special to the Turnagain Times
Ernie Baumann was a veteran of World War II, served in the 10th Mountain Division, and a member of the National Ski Patrol.
After the war, like so many others, he dreamed of finding a perfect mountain to develop a ski area.
In the early ‘50s he flew in his Piper PA-14 all around Alaska over hundreds of Mountain peaks from Mount Mckinley south to Seward looking for the right combination of ski terrain, snow cover, north and south exposure and accessibility.
He liked what he saw in the upper valley of Girdwood 40 miles south of Anchorage.
Baumann lobbied for support from a small group of local residents who lived in Glacier Valley and the small town of Girdwood.
In those early days there was not much business in Girdwood and the idea of developing a ski area was popular.
Baumann filed the application to purchase 160 acres of land at the base of the mountain under the terms of the Alaska Homestead Act. A public auction was held on June 4, 1956, and it was Alyeska Ski Corporation that submitted the winning bid of $ 3,325.
Unfortunately Baumann was killed in an airplane crash in northwest Alaska a few years later.
The group of 11 Girdwood families who formed Alyeska Ski Corporation and shared the dream to build a local ski area had passed the hat for their winning bid to buy the land. The upper half of the mountain was on US Forest Service land and could be leased from the USFS for a small fee for a long-term period.
They chose the mountain name, “Alyeska,” an Aleut word meaning “the great white land to the east.”
Nestled on the surrounding mountainsides are the remnants of the last Glacier period: Crow, Goat, Milk, Clear, Alyeska, Raven and Eagle Glaciers. The melting glaciers formed the main streams flowing into the valley including Glacier Creek, Crow Creek and Winner and California Creek.
Well, the 11 families including the Bursiels, the Hibbs and the Daniches had the dream to develop the ski area, but no money to build lifts and clear the ski trails on the mountain.
So they needed to look for an investor with deeper pockets. After a lengthy national search by a local lady, Ms. Frances Clark, they found a French Baron, Francois de Gunzburg, who was active in the oil business in Colorado and a passionate skier originally from the French ski town of Chamonix.
He came to Alaska, checked out the mountain, and decided it had the potential for a great ski area.
Francois raised enough money to clear some trails and in 1960 installed a mile long French Pomagalski—Chairlift # 1. At that time it was the longest chairlift in the USA with a vertical rise of 2,000 feet.
Next chapter, I'll cover the early years of operating Alyeska ski area in the ‘60s.
Two primary reference books are used for the this column: “Alaska's Perfect Mountain” and “True Tales of the Top of Mt. Alyeska” and its authors Lana Johnson and Loverne Bercee and photographer Randy Brandon.