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Cape Newenham AFS

1952 to 1984*

Name of Ski Area: Cape Newenham AFS (Air Force Station)
Location: Western Alaska, 150 miles south of Bethel, on the coast of the Bering Sea.
Type of Area: Ski Hill, Sledding Hill
Dates of Operation: 1952-1984 (*in 1984 the minimally attended radar was installed)
Who Built It?: The United States Air Force built this Long Range Radar Station.
Elevations:

~600' for the Lower Camp, ~2000' for Top Camp

Lifts: A tram ran from the Lower Camp to the Top Camp.  The tram was installed to transport people and supplies to the mountain top.  But the tram could also transport skiers!
Facilities: A full-service remote Long Range Radar Station camp with airfield that would support over 100 servicemen.
History:

Cape Newenham AFS was one of the ten original aircraft control and warning sites of the Alaskan air defense system.  Construction of the site began in 1950 and after a two year delay became operational in 1954.  Minimally Attended Radar (MAR) became operational in 1984 and from then on only a handful of contractors were needed to maintain this radar site.

Sources of Information:

Scott Turney; Carter Morris; The Online Air-Defense Radar Museum - www.radomes.org/museum/

 

Skiing at Cape Newenham in 1954 - Pictures courtesy of Morris Carter

Skiing on the slope below the radome. Taking a break from skiing, Morris Carter and Robert Harkins. Morris Carter, lower camp site and frozen sea in the background.
Robert Harkins, tram tower is in background. This is how I stopped when I skied.  Notice the men, site buildings and sea in the background. Second from left, Fred Barker, myself 3rd from the left, the 4th was our 1st Sgt, Phil Caballero.

 

The Hurricane of September 11th, 1955 - Article courtesy of Morris Carter

Morris Carter sent this article to ALSAP.  It shows how severe the weather at Cape Newenham can get.  And in this case - how bad it got when he was there.  On September 11, 1955, after 24 hours of gale force winds, hurricane force winds that topped 120 mph battered Cape Newenham.  These sudden and violent winds killed two servicemen and injured 10 others.  The bubble on the radar was lost, buildings were blown over and tents that troops lived in were flattened.  Click on the article to the right to expand  it to readable size.

 

Skiing, and a Close Call with an Avalanche, at Cape Newenham in 1981
by Scott Turney

Hello Tim,

I have lived in Alaska since August of 1980.  My first winter as a cheechako was spent at Top Camp  on Cape Newenham AFS as a civilian Radar technician working on the USAF Advanced Early Warning Radar System.  It was a mighty long and brutal winter, with winds well over 100mph on a fairly regular basis.  But in early Spring of 1981, I made the acquaintance of a guy nicknamed Crazy Joe, a transplanted Texican.  Joe had worked out there for a few years and had brought two complete sets of downhill skis, boots, and poles.  Being a bit crazy myself from living with three alcoholics in a tin box topped by a giant golfball with no breaks for five months, I offered to buy one of the two sets from Joe.

Our routine was to tell George (the site manager) we were going up to check the cables on the open air tram…then we would trek across the saddle sitting 2000 feet above Bottom Camp, kicking footholds in the frozen crust up the ridgeline to the top of Ol’ Jagged, a mere 4-hour journey.  And when we reached the widest of three avalanche chutes, we would sit down, pull on our (old-fashioned) leather ski boots, kick the cornice off and flip a coin.  Winner got to go first.  It was insane but the three minute screamer was a huge adrenaline rush, much akin to leaping out of a good airplane with no parachute.

I nearly had to retire those skis later that Spring...one day in early May 1981, I had emerged from the dome to find sparkling skies and temperatures in the twenties – and best of all, the wind had STOPPED after three weeks with no mail or fresh supplies from Bottom Camp.  I spotted a Twin Otter landing far below – and knew it was too good to miss this opportunity.

I hauled the skis out the back door of the radome, and followed the gradually descending ridge toward the ocean.  It was a four mile trip and one I had enjoyed before on at least three other descents.  As I skied across the face of a rounded peak, just 50 feet from the top of the ridge, I heard a ghastly sound…KAWHUMPF!  I cranked my head around and a two foot crack was about to make me do the splits.  God was not ready for me to check in that day.  Without reasoning it out, I got the skis off my feet, and jumped up and over the 8-foot rock wall I had been skiing below.  How did I do it?  I still don’t know.  But what I witnessed next freaked me out pretty bad.  There were huge rectangles of snow eight to ten feet thick tumbling and sliding down the mountain below where I had been only moments before. 

A year later I was attending the University of Alaska in Anchorage (I’d left the Cape and gave up a gravy job).  My wife and I met Todd Miner and Bill Babcock, instructors of the Arctic Winter Survival classes taught there.  Later I joined the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group, and learned about avalanche safety from Doug Fessler.  We climbed for a few more years, advancing to crevasse rescue and other valuable mountaineering skills.  I have a much healthier respect for the Mountains now.  And I encourage the people we meet to get trained before they head into the back country.

Scott Turney

 

 
 

"Scotty",  Currently employed by Boeing on Shemya Island, Alaska

 

 

~  DOCUMENTS  ~

(Courtesy of the Cape Newenham Veterans MSN Group)
 

1956 Indoctrination Pamphlet

Proof that skiing was a recreation option for Cape Newenham troops from the get go can be seen in the Cape Newenham 1956 Indoctrination Pamphlet by Joel Cooper.  Page 6 of the pamphlet states: "Skis and snowshoes are available for use by all personnel." And the pamphlet cover even had drawings of two skiers.

 

On the right is a segment of the 1956 Indoctrination Pamphlet cover showing drawings of two skiers.

(Click on page to expand to readable size)

Cover

Page 1

Page 2

Page 3

Page 4

Page 5

Page 6

Page 7

Page 8

 

~  PHOTOS  ~

(All Courtesy of The Online Air-Defense Radar Museum, www.radomes.org/museum/
Go to this great web site for many more pictures of Cape Newenham AFS)

(click on any image to expand it)

 

~  MAPS  ~

This large scale map shows where the Cape Newenham AFS was located relative to Bethel and the rest of Southwest Alaska.

(click on this map to expand it)

A zoomed in view of a topo map shows the location of the Top Camp and Lower Camp of the Cape Newenham AFS.  The area of the tramway that connected the camps was where skiing took place.

(click on this map to expand it)

Research Correspondence 

[Larry Smith - 01 January 2006 email excerpt] 

 
Cape Romanzof, 795th AC&W Squadron is still active as a minimally manned long range radar site (LRRS). In the summer of 1984 the Air Force installed an
AN/FPS-117 radar system at the site. Contractors now do the maintenance and take care of the equipment. I understand that it now only takes 3 - 5 contractors to do the maintenance and all the 150+ blue suiters that used to run the sites when we were there have been eliminated for the past 20+ years.

Somehow, I feel left out of it all. Of course, when blue suiters ran all these Alaska sites it took a lot of folks - in all AFSCs - to do the one year remote.
The "Cape" was activated in April, 1953 so just think of how many people had to pull a "remote" away from their families for the 31 years before technology could make it so that only a handful of people could run such a radar!

Now, multiply that by all the Alaska radar sites then in existence and some that only operated for 5 or so years before "they" were closed up... and.. that's a lot of personnel resources and support costs associated with keeping a "thousand" plus blue suiters (and civilian KPs) PCS to an Alaska Radar Site.

Of course, then, it was necessary due to the "Cold War." Now, it's necessary for other reasons to keep control of our airspace over Alaska. But, for the past 21 years it's being done with fewer people.

 

 

Do you have further information, stories or pictures that you would like to contribute about this ski area?