|Name of Ski
Island in Massacre Valley near Engineer Hill.
|Type of Area:
to 1949 (possibly to 1958)
|Who Built It?:
~????' / Top: ~????' / Vert: ~400-500' (still researching)
hill was next to Camp Earle, a large military "city"
that was home to many thousands of US Army and US Air Force
servicemen. This "little city on the edge of the
world" had hospitals, pubs, bowling halls, a church and a
Attu Island was the site of a
brutal 20 day battle in 1943 as the US fought the Japanese to
regain control of this island. An account of this WWII
battle can be found below.
Be sure to read Bob
French's excellent account below of skiing on Attu Island in the
1980's, and finding the remains of the Attu Ski Hill rope tow.
This rope tow was built during
Word War II, after the Battle of Attu, for ski troop training and
Bob French; USCG Loran Attu web
site; Dick Goldberg; Whittier, Alaska Museum / Tim Kelley;
Liam Kelley; Tony Feiza; Ron Pyron
anyone have old pictures of skiing at the Attu Ski Hill (or current pictures of the vicinity) that they
would like to
contribute to ALSAP ?
tow rope at the Attu Ski Hill at Massacre Bay (1944)
credit: Dick Goldberg]
|[Dick Goldberg -
June 18&19, 2005 email excerpts]
I arrived on Attu in
November of 1944, as a replacement. I was a radar
repairman and ran a seacoast surveillance radar station on Cape
Klebnikoff for about a year. We were supplied by LCT at Keliher
Beach and walked to Chichigof Harbor for a bath every two weeks.
Then I was sent to Massacre Bay to serve as operations sergeant
for the Post Engineer. At that time we skied using the rope tow
and I must admit my memory is somewhat hazy as to what went on
there. I have attached a picture - the only one I have of the
top of the tow. Of the two guys in the center of the picture,
I'm the one on the left.
The fellow facing me was too eager to try out skiing and
wouldn't wait for instruction. He went about 100 yards down the
hill, got "caught" in the deep, heavy corn snow, and broke his
leg. That put a damper on the enthusiasm for skiing for quite a
while. As you can see in the picture, we were splicing the rope
to shorten it.
I am sending you a bunch more [pix] by separate email,
primarily for your own enjoyment. Most of them are pix of the
Coast Artillery Bn radar site on the north side of Attu. There
was another (SCR582) radar set on the south side on the east end
of Massacre Bay. I can't remember the name of the location but
it was out in the direction of Alexai Point. When we drove to
AK in 1996 we took a boat trip from Seward* to visit the
glaciers and were told by a Park Ranger that there had beeen
another identical station near there. I think they only made a
half dozen of those sets, which was 6 too many. Very primitive
microwave technology that barely worked.
*On that trip we drove every highway in Alaska except from
Fairbanks to Pt. Barrow. Now that they are going to do some
more drilling up there, I'm sorry we missed it.
There is one picture of Massacre Bay taken from the stern of the
ship as we left the island on March 6, 1946. The most beautiful
day in 1-1/2 years! I am also including a map of our radar
outpost showing its location on Cape Klebnikoff. I can't really
remember too much about the ski area but I am under the
impression that it was only about 400 or 500 feet vertical and
probably not over 1000 feet above sea level. Please don't quote
that as fact - it is just a vague recollection
By strange coincidence I went to Japan on business (cameras) in
1958, by DC7C, which couldn't make it non-stop so we landed on
Shemya, 18 miles from Attu. I never expected to see that part
of the world again. During the next 10 years I landed in
Anchorage many times, until they built jets that could make it
from SFO without refueling.
When I was sent to the outpost we were issued skis and
snowshoes, but eventually we gave up on them. It was easier to
walk on the windpacked snow, even though you occasionally sunk
in and lost your stride.
I don't know what more nostalgia an old man can impart but if
you have any questions, holler and I'll try to give you an
Regards to you all,
pictures of life on Attu Island (1944-1946) - courtesy of Dick
old ATTU map
Monthly supplies by LTC
Outpost - winter
Outpost - summer
Pier as ship is leaving
Pictures Courtesy of Ron Pyron
Ron Pyron's father,
Norval R. "Pony" Pyron, was stationed at Alexai Point on Attu
Island from August 1945 to March 1946.
William B. 'Marty'
Smith of Dyersburg, TN
Location of Alexai
Picture Courtesy of Simon Feiza and son, Tony Feiza
AAA Revetment in snow
from the Whittier, Alaska Museum (2007)
[Photos by Tim Kelley]
(Click on any image to enlarge it)
Alaska has a small museum with some very nice Alaskan military
has this display of the Japanese invasion of Attu. Note
the skis on the right of the display. Presumably these
were Japanese skis found at Attu.
find this picture there and the picture of another Japanese
skier that is shown lower on this web page.
The skier to
the left is the young man on top. All of these Japanese
soldiers likely died at Attu shortly after this picture was
view of the skis ...
The skis are
numbered at the tip.
symbol on this ski is "migi", meaning "right". This ski's
mate likely had the "hidari"/"left" symbol. It is
interesting that these skis are also marked with the letters 'ELFA'.
offer an explanation of the "ELFA" insignia?
Captured Japanese "Ski Trooper" Gear on Display
verso on this US Navy picture reads:
sailors at the
Even in May that
handy in the
on this picture to expand it)
credit: Archives, University of Alaska, Fairbanks]
that the ski in this picture looks exactly like the Japanese skis in the
Whittier Alaska Museum pictures above.
Japanese soldier on skis was one of the reasons Americans came to Attu.
In 1943 US military forces fought and defeated the Japanese for control of Attu
Island. This picture was found in a Japanese military encampment on Attu
after the battle. Chances are good that this Japanese skier never
shared the Attu rope tow with US skiers. He likely either died
fighting the US Army, or killed himself to avoid capture.
on this picture to expand it)
credit: Anchorage Museum of History and Art]
shows the location of Attu Island on Alaska's Aleutian Island
chain. It's about as far west as you can get in the US. The
Attu Ski Hill takes the honor of the westernmost lost ski area in the
on this map to expand it)
shows the location of Massacre Bay/ Massacre Beach on the east side of
Attu Island. The Attu Ski Hill was located up the valley to the
northwest. The exact
location of the Attu Ski Hill is still being researched.
on this map to expand it)
French - November 07, 2004 email]
Attu Ski Hill
I was fortunate enough to spend about 9 months out of 20 at Attu from
1984 to 1986. I was an inspector for the reconstruction of the
USCG Loran Station Attu, and was on a 2 or 4 week out, 2-week back
schedule. I only had Sundays off and tried to do some bigger
explorations on those days. However, I was able to do a fair
amount of telemark skiing during the afternoons and evenings.
Attu is so far west, but is only 1 hour off from Anchorage time, so
"solar noon" is about 2:30 pm, so even in the winter, there
was daylight past 6 or 7 pm.
The Aleutian Islands are hardly what one thinks of when we think of
great skiing sites. Yet, I experienced many days of spring
skiing conditions that were typical throughout the year. The
snow extended down to the water's edge, and because they had only 2-4
feet of tides, you could ski right along the breaking waves. The
typical horizontal rain/sleet/snow mixture that Attu gets had one
major advantage. The winds groom the slopes by filling in
gullies, even the big 30 to 40 foot deep gullies. The rain kept
the snow compacted, and the warmth kept it in spring, corn snow for
most of the year! Attu is very mountainous, and the skiing was
only limited by my ability, and how much time I had off. There
were ski-able hills in 3 directions; the 4th had the North Pacific.
Few Alaskan's know that there were 40,000 soldiers on Attu after the
island was re-taken from the Japanese. The rolling tundra is
covered with remnants of the different "villages", serving
the bomber base, fighter plane base, and submarine base. Most of
the bigger buildings had been burned down a few years before I got
there, (the excuse was that they were rotting and in danger of falling
down.) however, there were still plenty of old Quonset huts in varying
stages of disrepair, and many still had old pin- up's on the walls.
It was not uncommon to be going along through what appeared to be
wilderness, and come upon a fire hydrant surrounded by acres of
tundra! Some of the only features that stuck out of the snow
were thousands of telephone and power poles. Most had lost their
wires and cross beams years ago, and I was not surprised that there
was a line of telephone poles that went up one of my favorite skiing
hills, although I couldn't see any remnants of a building that they
would have served at the top.
It wasn't till the following summer that I
discovered that the "telephone poles'" were actually part of
a rope tow! I found several of the automobile rims that were
used for rope guides and the gearbox drive for the rope. I don't
remember what the name of the hill was, but it was probably 600 -800
feet high and had mostly intermediate slopes, but was steeper towards
the top. There were no trails, as there were no trees to deal with,
the runs were just limited by gravity and how far you wanted to hike,
it was just part of the lower foothills of the mountains. It
might be marked on some of the older maps. It was in Massacre
Valley, on the way towards Engineer Hill. Attu was re-taken in
June 1943 and was mostly disserted by 1949, so the longest that it
could have been in business for Alpine skiing as 5 or 6 years. I
don't know of any resources to find out more information about the
lift, some of the military historians may be able to help.
Certainly the military has put many ski lifts in the name of training,
as well as morale and recreation.
I was the only person telemarking on Attu at that time, and I have no
idea whether or not anyone has been doing it since. I did
negotiate with AMH to buy six pairs of fishscale touring skis, and
bought a pile of used three pin boots for the Coasties to use.
There were a few of them who would take them out, but couldn't keep up
with my skins and Fischer 99's.
I will try to find the photos that I took. I know that I have
some of the wheels in the summer time, and I might have some winter
Some other fond memories of skiing at Attu.
Finding a nesting pair of Whooper Swans at a small lake near the
Seeing White Tailed Eagles soaring along with the ravens.
Falling down on Artillery Hill early in the season and finding a
jagged exploded shell casing exposed by the sitz-mark that I made, yet
not a scratch on me.
Digging a pit to wait out a snow squall on a day that brought 3
squalls interspersed with brilliant sun on an all-day tour over a pass
to an adjacent bay to visit a P-38 that now sits outside Hangar 1 at
Skiing one evening where the winds were gusting to over 95 mph.
The bigger gusts would knock me down, and it was a tough slog to go
downhill to the station on my way back.
Watching the ravens play in the wild winds that are a constant fact of
life out at the end of the world.
Submitted by Bob French, Nov 2004.
WWII History - from USCG Loran Attu web
Attu's World War II History
In early June of 1942, Japanese forces landed on the
island of Attu capturing the only inhabitants: 41 native Attuans, an
American schoolteacher and his wife. When American troops landed
almost a year later, May 11th, 1943, they found the Japanese dug in
and well positioned in the foothills and ridges that cover the
Southeastern portion of the island. The American's also found that
they were not completely prepared for all the trappings the weather
and topography of Attu had in store for them. Trained in warm climates
and outfitted with inadequate cold weather gear, many succumbed to
frostbite and hypothermia. The cold Bering Sea also served as an
unwelcome adversary, claiming several soldiers before they could get
ashore. Low lying fog impeded the American's ability to see and
navigate the many reefs that surround the island. Landing craft would
run into each other or rip-up altogether on the reefs, sinking with
everyone onboard. When land was finally reached, the American forces
found that the tundra could not support the weight of the vehicles and
artillery. It would be up to the foot soldier to take the island back.
The Japanese were buried in the hills. They wore white to blend in
with the terrain, and would rise and fall with the level of the fog
line. The Japanese soldiers used mortars, hand grenades, and snipers
to attack the American forces as they advanced up Massacre Valley. The
battleships Nevada, Idaho, and the Pennsylvania used their guns to
bombard the island with shells. As the battleships hit their targets,
Japanese machinery, soldiers and supplies came down the mountains
along with the snow which moments earlier had fortified them. A second
American force came from the north, but took longer to reach its
destination then first thought. The unexpected delay caused the
American troops to run out of supplies, forcing them to search the
dead bodies of Japanese soldiers for rice. In all, the capture of Attu
took 20 days to complete. In the final days of the battle, the
Japanese killed their wounded with morphine and made one last bonsai
charge through the American base camp. On their last charge, the
Japanese went through the American hospital killing wounded soldiers
and destroying the propane stove. Surrounded by units of engineers,
the Japanese force committed suicide by holding grenades to
themselves. At the end of the battle the Japanese had lost 2622 men
and 28 surrendered. The Americans had lost 549 and had 1148 injured,
many from the severe weather conditions on the island. The dead were
buried in Little Falls cemetery at the base of Gilbert Ridge. The
bodies were later exhumed in 1946.
The navy and army set up a large base on the island from 1945 to 1958,
creating a little city at the edge of the world. There were hospitals,
pubs, bowling halls, a church, and a movie theater. There were three
working runways and several buildings. Now, all the buildings and two
of the runways have begun to be taken over by the island. The only
people remaining on Attu, reside at the USCG Loran Station. Twenty
people in all; they serve one-year tours wandering through the
skeletons of the past that lie rusting from the end of an era… at
the edge of the world.
Books that are highly recommended for further
information on the
war in Alaska, the Aleutian Islands and on Attu are:
THE THOUSAND-MILE WAR, by Brian Garfield and published by
Bantam Books. The ISBN number is 0-553-27527-5
THE CAPTURE OF ATTU, by Lt. Robert J. Mitchell.
ISBN number is 0-8032-9557-X
Kelley - 22 July 2007 email excerpt]
[The Japanese symbol on the ski] would be "migi,"
meaning "right." I'm guessing that if there is another ski it must
have hidari/left on it.
you have further information, stories or pictures that you would like to
contribute about this