©2010 Randy Brandon
A February full “Wolf” moon rises over Mt. Alyeska.
By Chris von Imhof
Special to the Turnagain Times
In the summer of 1973, our Alyeska Construction crew rebuilt Chairlift 2. The base terminal was moved up the hill by about 250 yards to make sure it never would get hit by another avalanche.
The following year in 1974 our lift crew built Chairlift 3 near the Alyeska Nugget Inn and Sitzmark. This was the first beginner chairlift for Alyeska, which was badly needed. Alyeska has the reputation as an expert ski mountain and in order to be successful and develop more skiers we needed a lift that served the beginners and the ski school.
Another historic event took place in 1975, when the Municipality of Anchorage annexed Girdwood and our little first class city of Girdwood, became part of Anchorage. There were many old time residents of Girdwood who were not happy with that decision as Girdwood owned a lot of valuable land for future development.
Anchorage Mayor George Sullivan was sensitive to these concerns and under the new Government there would be five Girdwood Board of Supervisors that would act in advisory capacity to the MOA. Mayor Sullivan appointed me to the Girdwood Board and asked me what Girdwood needed the most for its growing community.
Well, there was no question in my mind: The most critical problem our community had was the the sewage problem with the many home sceptic leach fields that were leaking with the poor peat soil conditions. So we told the Mayor we needed a sewage treatment plant and sewer distribution lines for our community. Mayor Sullivan instructed the AWWU to get the design, engineering and financing for the Girdwood Sewage treatment plant and sewerlines.
AWUU was able to get 87.5 percent Federal and State grants for such a system and the property owners only had to pay 12.5 percent of the cost at a low interest rate. The residents of Girdwood voted on this proposed sewer system and it was approved by a great majority, except the lower end of Girdwood. The MOA/AWUU built us the most modern sewer system in Alaska with a tertiary treatmant plant in the following years. Personally, I feel this was one of the most important improvements for our Girdwood community and saved us from pollution and health problems.
It also made it possile to get bank financing for the growing home market. The prices of our subdivision lots went up over the years and more people built their primary residences in Girdwood and commuted to Anchorage.
In 1975 Girdwood also hosted its first Forrest Fair and even though it started out small it was a very popular community event with music, Nina's dancers, food and a beergarden.
You know the rest of the history and I hope we can continue this wonderful community event with proper guidelines.
In 1976 the Alyeska team built Chairlift # 4 next to the Daylodge with a vertical rise of 1,346 feet and a total length of 4,564 feet. This lift allowed skiers to connect with Chairlift 2 on the upper half of the mountain. Alyeska also spent over one Million Dollars on other capital improvements including remodel of the Alyeska Nugget Inn.
Also Bruce Ficke and other Real Estate developers built more condominiums and townhouses and most new homes were built much bigger and better than the old shacks, which we called Chalets.
The economy in Alaska was booming with the Alaska Pipeline under construction. This presented us at Alyeska with big challenges as many of our employees including liftcrew, mechanics and cooks decided to take jobs on the pipeline, that paid a lot more than we could afford. In 1977 the first oil flowed through the 800-mile Trans-Alaska oil pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez.
On April 1 and 2, of 1978 Alyeska hosted its first Spring Carnival and Slushcup. We had perfect sunshine and warm weather and the event was a smashing success.
However, that night the big robbery was staged, my entire family was held hostage and the robbers cracked open our Resort Safe in the office and held up our night manager at the Nugget Inn.
But that is another story. In 1979 Alyeska Resort finally replaced our 20-year-old French Pomagalski chairlift. That lift had served Alyeska well, survived the 1964 earthquake and was also used in the summers for all the sightseeing tours.
However, the most visible and exciting new improvement that year was the installation of our 6000-foot night lighting on the entire mountain from the Roundhouse down midway and the racing trail to the base area. It also included Chairlift 3 and 4 served ski terrain.
When we turned on the night lights at the beginning of that ski season, everybody in the community and all the skiers were delighted with this great lighting of our mountain (except one old gumpy guy who complained about that he could not see the stars...) This allowed us to extend our skiing for the dayskiers even during the short daylight hours and of course to add night skiing on weekend and holiday period until 9.30 pm.
I requested Alaska Airlines pilots on their evening flights over Girdwood and Turnagain Arm to announce that the brightly lit mountain below was Alyeska Resort. And most of them did so.
Personally, I also faced some other close calls in the 70s, besides the robbery:
Our house burned down on Jan.15, 1970, and I was just barely able to save my 10 month old son Rudi, before the house burnt down to the ground.
In April of 1973, I was involved in a helicopter crash at Turnagain Pass with US Forest Service ranger Chuck O'Leary and Ivan Safar, ski patroler at Alyeska. The pilot at take off was blinded by the afternoon sun and did not see the electric power lines and hit one with his rotor blade before we hit the ground. We luckily survived, thank God. One main cable was severed and the power in Girdwood and the entire Kenai Peninsula was out for a long time. Chugach Electric Company added the red rubber balls on the powerlines, and I am glad that those are not mine.