©1988 Randy Brandon
Above: Chugach Powder Guides in Girdwood and co-founder Dave Hamre, started operating heli ski tours in the Chugach Mountains in 1996. They have expanded into snowcat skiing with trips offered out of Alyeska Resort and their local office in Girdwood.
Below: The Roundhouse at Alyeska before the tram was built. The Roundhouse is now a museum depicting the history of Girdwood and Turnagain Arm area.
By Chris von Imhof
Special to the Turnagain Times
The new Alyeska Prince Hotel opened in August of 1994 with a Grand Opening Party.
In Japan during the booming economic era, the philosophy was “If you build it, they will come.”
However, Alyeska Resort in Alaska is far away from the major population centers of the USA and unfortunately the marketing and sales effort was limited, so there was little business on the books. So the first season the business for the hotel was slow and consisted primarily of guests from Southcentral Alaska at discounted local rates.
The new Japanese general manager, Joe Saito, called me on several occasions in Hawaii and was hoping that I would request that I return back to Alyeska Resort.
Since I originally convinced Seibu and Prince Hotels to purchase Alyeska, I felt a sense of obligation to return to Alaska. I presented to our head office in Tokyo, Japan, a business and marketing plan for Alyeska Resort and requested after 10 years in Hawaii to return back (in Hawaii my friends and staff thought I was crazy to request to go back to cold Alaska).
So in April of 1995 I left the Prince Hotels in Hawaii and restarted my position as general manager of Alyeska Resort.
By that time the economy in Japan had reached a recession and I was informed by our head office that no more money would be coming from Japan to support the Alaska operation.
Photo courtesy of Steve McCutcheon Collection
Well, with little business on the books, I knew I had a big challenge to successfully operate the resort. My main effort was directed to market and sell the beautiful Alyeska Prince Hotel and Resort in Alaska and the Lower 48 states.
It took a couple of years and a lot of negotiations with US tour companies, meeting planners and local businesses to build a summer and winter market for the Hotel and Resort.
Dave Hamre, a friend of mine, had plans to start up a Heli Ski operation in the Chugach Mountains and in 1996 he formed Chugach Powder Guides with several partners, and I promised Alyeska Resort would support their marketing effort.
Over the years CPG has made a lot of progress to develop a US and European ski clientele and offers not only a superb Heli Ski product, but also Snowcat skiing. However, CPG only had an annual operating permit from the US Forest Service, which made it very difficult to sell the Heli Ski tours in advance and attract investors.
A group of local skiers including Per Bjorn Roli and I decided we needed to have a Girdwood and Alyeska organization to support such worthwhile business enterprises. So, in the year 2000 we formed Girdwood 2020 with about 12 charter members. Over the years Girdwood 2020 has developed into a very positive advocacy group that has raised funds for various Girdwood projects including the Alyeska Roundhouse Museum.
When I returned from Hawaii, Larry Daniels informed me that the owner Mr. Tsutsumi had given orders when the new tram terminal on top of Alyeska was completed to tear down the original Roundhouse. However, since I had been at Alyeska from the early days, when the Roundhouse at the top of Chairlift #1 was the first and only mountain building, I wanted to save it.
I contacted Ms. Judy Bittner, director of the Alaska State Historic office, and requested if possible to get the Roundhouse listed on the National Historic Register so it could be saved and protected from destruction.
We got the process started when Mr. Y. Tsutsumi came for his first visit to see the new Alyeska Prince Hotel in 1997. We took the tram up to the top to have dinner at our elegant Seven Glacier Restaurant. Well, he saw of course the Roundhouse still standing and asked me why it was still there? Of course, I expected this question and informed him in a very official manner, “The Roundhouse is now planned to be listed on the US National Historic Register and therefor protected by the United States of America.”
He looked at me kind of funny then smiled when I told him we were planning to make a museum out of the top portion of the building and renovate the lower portion and make it the ski patrol headquarters.
He told me OK, but we could not spend any Alyeska company funds for this project.
I am proud to say after almost 10 years of fundraising with the great support of Girdwood 2020, Girdwood, Inc. and organizations including the Rasmuson Foundation, the Atwood Foundation, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and many others, we raised over $2 million to restore the building from the new foundation to the roof.
We opened it officially as the Roundhouse Museum in 2007, and it depicts the history of Girdwood and Alyeska and surrounding Chugach mountains and Turnagain arm area.