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4th Avenue / Downtown Anchorage Ski Racing Trails

1917 to 1950's

Name of Ski Area: 4th Avenue, Fourth Avenue
Location: Anchorage, downtown and Ship Creek area
Type of Area: Ski Trails
Dates of Operation: 1917  to 1950's
Who Built It?: City of Anchorage


Facilities: The City of Anchorage (which in 1917 was not a whole lot).
History: The first ski races in Anchorage, in 1917, were held on 5 mile loops that started and ended on Forth (4th) Avenue in downtown Anchorage.  Skiing was good on the streets in those days.  Plowing of streets was minimal due to the lack of vehicles.  Snow trails on the street were often the result of dogsled, foot and horse travel.  And of course - skis.  For the first ski races in Anchorage, the start and finish was in front of the Recreation Bowling Alley.  The exact route of the race course is not known.

Cross country ski races were often held as part of the Fur Rendezvous winter carnival in February.  As late as 1950 Fur Rendezvous cross country ski races finished on 4th Avenue.  For these later day downtown ski races it is likely that snow was dumped back on the streets to allow races to occur.

  This picture is of the start of the FIRST cross country ski race held in Anchorage, Alaska.  You can see part of the sign of the "Recreation Bowling Alley" on 4th Avenue, where the race started and finished 10 miles later.  Look at all of the spectators and the two folks watching the excitement from the roof-top.  Emil Gustafson, Bib #3 (third from left), was leading after the first 5 mile lap.  But John Aho, Bib #5 (second from left) went on to win in 1 hour 8 1/2 minutes, beating Gustafson by 30 seconds.  Read the account of this race below.

(Click on this image to expand it to full size)

[Photo credit: Special Collections Division, FM-25, University of Washington Libraries, Seattle, Wa. 98195 Neg. No. uw17771]

  Following are early Anchorage Daily Times article excerpts, spanning from November 1916 to March 1917, that mention skiing and ski racing.  This information was researched from microfiche by Dave Brann (note: spelling below is "as is" in the original articles):

Nov. 1, 1916:  Young Viking announces that he is planning on organizing a skii club and if enough enthusiasm is manifested will later give a series of skii jumping contests.

[Tim Kelley note:  Yes - "Young Viking" was apparently the name of a real person.  This name is mentioned in later articles.]

(Ad by A. A. Shonbeck, General Merchandise, Anchorage-Matanuska, "Cut Hickory Lumber for making Sleds and Skis.")

Feb. 16 1917: The Scandinavian Society is contemplating forming a skiing club with the view of pulling off a skiing contest in the near future.

Feb. 20, 1917: Dr. K. A. Kyvig and Young Viking, representing the Scandinavian Society, have made arrangements to pull off a ten-mile skee race one wee from next Sunday.  Appropriate prizes will be given to the winners, three in all, and a silver cup will go to the first man to cross the finish line.  The course will be laid out so the contestants will race through Fourth Avenue three times during the race and the finish will also be located at some central place on the avenue.  All persons expecting to enter the race are cautioned to start practicing as there are several noted athletes in this line who have signified their intentions of competing for the prizes.

Feb. 24, 1917:  Young Viking reports that so far ten contestants have entered into the skiing race and are practicing for the big event that is dated for next Sunday.

Feb. 27, 1917 (Tuesday): The enthusiasm in Sunday's skiing race is growing and the contestants are practicing daily and will be in good physical shape for the big race.

Mar. 3, 1917 (Saturday): "Ski Race Comes Off in Afternoon Tomorrow" 

Weather conditions-mild and start of spring thaw with continued warm weather tomorrow.  Chief Nicholi forecasts a clear and favorable day for the ten-mile skii race.

Two sporting bills are scheduled for tomorrow.  A skii race starting at 2 o'clock in the afternoon under the auspices of the Scandinavian Club, and a double-header basketball game at the Labor Temple.  Games called at 3:30 o'clock.

Mar. 5, 1917 (Monday): "John Aho Wins the Ten-Mile Skii Race"

John Aho won the ten-mile race pulled off by the Scandinavian Society yesterday afternoon, in 1 hour, 8 1/2 minutes.  Emil Gustafason was second in 1 hour and 9 minutes, and H. Lind and K. Hang tied for third place in 1 hour and 12 minutes.

This is the first skii race in the city's history and was successful from every standpoint.  Forth Avenue was lined with spectators for two blocks and presented a typical Copenhagen picture.  Young Viking acted as starter wih H. Callstrop and W. Mastrom judges and H. Evans timekeeper.  The race was intensely exciting with John Aho who drew No. 5 for place, the favorite in betting.  A. Gustafason, starting third in the race, was the first contestant to make the five-mile lap in the record time of 34 minutes and 30 seconds.  Mr. Kaiser, the moving picture operator, took several pictures of the start in front of the Recreation Alley and the large crowd who gather to witness the race stayed until the finish.  Another race has been arranged for the near future and it is possible that the Scandinavian Society will also arrange for a skii jumping contest.  The finish of yesterday's race was close and Aho, the winner, was carried into the Recreation on the shoulders of his many admirers.

Mar. 7, 1917:  E. Hansen badly fractured his right leg above the ankle yesterday afternoon and was taken to the government hospital for attention.  Hansen and a party of associates were practicing skii jumping off the hill near the water tank at the time of the accident that was caused by a defective strap breaking when he landed after taking the offset.

Mar. 8, 1917:  With Young Viking as the prime mover, a bunch of local sports have made arrangements for another 10 mile skii race Sunday.  In addition to the race a force of men are preparing the skii jumping slide near the city water tank and a skii jumping contest will be pulled off prior to the race.  Three cash prizes will be awarded to the winners of each event and a number of contestants have entered the lists.

Mar. 9, 1917 (Friday):  Several bets have been placed on the contestants in the skii race that is scheduled for Sunday afternoon.  The race will follow the skii jumping contest that takes place on the hill near the water tank.

Mar 10, 1917 (Saturday):  "Another Skii Race is Schedled [sic] for Tomorrow"

Arrangements have about been completed for the skii race, which is to be pulled off Sunday afternoon under the auspices of the Scandinavian Society of Anchorage.  The race will start on Forth Avenue in front of the Recreation Bowling Alley and the source will be the same as that followed last Sunday.  The race will start at 2 o'clock providing the snow is not too soft; if too wet the start will be made at 4p.m.  A canvas among the business men and others interested in seeing the sport of skiing promoted in this city resulted in a goodly sum being subscribed, which will be hung up in cash prizes.  Four prizes are offered and as they are large enough to be worth while, the rivalry to be inside the money will make and interesting contest.  Up to the time of going to press eight entries had been made, as follows:  L. E. Sundell, Homer Lind, Wider Larson, Emil Gustafason, John Aho, Knute Hangs, S. Olson and Nels Abrahamson.

Anyone desiring to enter the race must give in their name before 10 o'clock at the Recreation poll hall as the entries will close at that hour.  As the prizes will be good it is hoped a large number of contestants will enter and make the race as interesting and exciting as possible.

The committee in charge of the race is as follows: Harry Challstrop, chairman;  Young Viking, Swan Swanson, W. Nastrom, Otto Fahle, Tom R---ing and John Malsom.

Mar 12, 1917 (Monday):  "Aho Wins in the Skii Race"

One of the most interesting sporting events of the winter was the skii race, pulled off by a number of adherents of the sport in Anchorage yesterday afternoon.  The race was closely contested from the start wand the winner of last Sunday's contest, John Aho, again came in ahead by the narrow margin of 24 seconds.  The time made for the distance, 10 miles, under existing conditions, was remarkably good.

A purse of $100, divided into four prizes, had been hung up for the event, as follows:  Fifty dollars for first; $30, second; $15, third and $5, fourth.

[Tim Kelley note:  Using a consumer price index calculator - $100 in 1917 equals about $1500 in 2005 dollars due to inflation.  So the winner in 1917 won about $750 dollars in 2005 dollars.  This is the same amount a professional cross country ski racer would make in 2005 for winning a national caliber SuperTour USSA race]

The winners and their times follow:  John Aho, No. 6, first, 57 minutes 25 seconds; Lee Sundell, No. 10, second, 57 minutes, 49 seconds; H. Lind, No. 9, third, 58 minutes, 43 seconds; T. Hennington, No. 8, fourth, 60 minutes, 31 seconds.

Harry Challstorp, W. Nastrom and Swan Swanson acted as judges and timekeepers.

The Recreation Bowling Alley, from which the race started and finished, acted as stakeholder for considerable money, as enthusiastic supporters were quite willing to back the various favorites.

A banquet was given at the Oyster Grotto last evening for the contestants and members of the committee having the race in charge, at which 21 were seated.  The prizes were distributed and the party was an enjoyable affair.  The committee wishes to thank the business men and others who subscribed for the purse and otherwise made the race possible.  The skii jumping contest was postponed indefinitely owing to the fact that the jump prepared was only 40 feet and was considered too short to make the contest interesting.  Fourth Avenue was packed Yesterday afternoon between D and E street and many spectators scattered all along the course.  The skii races are causing so much excitement and have arouse so much enthusiasm that another race will undoubtedly be arrange for next Sunday and possibly a short dog team race.

The committee in charge of yesterday's successful affair deserves all credit for the sportsmanlike manner in which it was carried out.

Mar. 16, 1917 (Friday):  A 20-mile skii race is scheduled for next Sunday and this time the race will be under the management of the Native Sons of Finland.

Mar. 17, 1917:  The Young Viking has been asked to manage the 20-mile skii race that is scheduled for tomorrow under the auspices of the local Finlanders.  The race will start in front of the Recreation Pool Hall at 10 o'clock tomorrow morning and the racers will pass through Fourth Avenue four times during the race.  Aho, the winner of the last two contests has entered as have Hemminson, Sundell, Lind and several others.

Mar 19, 1917:  Yesterday's ski race was a frost and caused very little excitement.  Aho, who won the two previous races, showed the yellow: dropped out in the second lap.  Lind finished first, Sendell second and Gustafason third.  The race was for 20 miles and Lind made the distance in 2 hrs and 48 minutes.  There were six entries in the race, that will probably end ski racing for the season.

Sources of Information:

Anchorage Daily Times (1916, 1917), Dave Brann, 1950 Anchorage High School Yearbook, Eric Fuglestad

~  PHOTOS  ~

This is a zoomed in view of a picture of the start of Anchorage's first cross country ski race - help March 4, 1917, starting and ending on 4th Avenue. 

(click on this image to expand it)

[Photo credit: Special Collections Division, FM-25, University of Washington Libraries, Seattle, Wa. 98195 Neg. No. uw17771]

The same photographer that took the above photo likely took this picture ... that became a postcard. 

This photo, taken on November 10th, 1915 by Sydney Laurence, shows a winter view of Fourth Avenue.  The first known organized ski race held in Anchorage would be held a little over a year after the date of this picture.  Looks like good ski trails, and as Laurence noted on his picture: "A paradise for kids". 

(click on this image to expand it)

[Photo credit: Anchorage Museum of History and Art]

AMHA_4thAvenue_1915_winter.jpg (39347 bytes)

Here is a panoramic of Anchorage from May 1st of the same year as the first ski race - 1916.

(click on this image to expand it)

[Photo credit: Library of Congress, F.W. Sheelor]

LOC_Anchorage_1916_pano.jpg (288834 bytes)

On the right of the left picture, taken in 1916, you can see the words on the window: "Recreation Bowling Alley".  This is where Anchorage's first ski race started and finished.

To the right is a 1915 picture of Fourth Avenue.  You can see the city's first concrete sidewalks.

(click on this image to expand it)

[Photo credits: (left) Anchorage Museum of History and Art, (right) Anchorage Museum of History and Art]

AMHA_4thAvenue_1917_bowling.jpg (39981 bytes)

AMHA_4thAvenue_1915_firstsnow.jpg (58044 bytes)

As late as 1950 there were Fur Rendezvous cross country ski races that finished on 4th Avenue.  These pictures are from the 1950 Anchorage High School yearbook.  The shot on the right shows well the large crowds lining the street to watch the ski races.

(click on this image to expand it)

[Photo credits: Anchorage High School Yearbook - 1950]

WestHS_4thAvenue_1950_skier2.jpg (92123 bytes)

WestHS_4thAvenue_1950_skier1.jpg (86076 bytes)

In the early 1950's, they would have a ski parade on 4th Avenue during Fur Rendezvous.

[Photo credits: Eric Fuglestand for Wally Wellenstein]

~  MAPS  ~

This large scale topo map shows the estimated area of the trails and roads used by the early 1900's cross country ski races in Anchorage.

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topo_4thavenue.jpg (178678 bytes)

This 2002 aerial view of shows the location of 4th Avenue in downtown Anchorage.  And estimation of the downtown / Ship Creek area where the ski course may have been is outlined.  This map will be updated when more information is found.

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terra_zoom_4thavenue.jpg (110245 bytes)

Research Correspondence 



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