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Centennial Park

1973 to 1987

Name of Ski Area: Centennial Park
Location: Northeast Anchorage
Type of Area: Downhill Ski Area, Cross Country Ski Trails
Dates of Operation: 1973 to 1987
Who Built It?: Municipality of Anchorage, Parks and Recreation Department
Base/Top/ Vertical Drop:

Base: ~250' / Top: ~350' / Vert: ~100'

Lifts: 1 electric powered rope tow.
Facilities: Two downhill ski trails, 5 kilometers of cross country ski trails with 1km lighted.
Miscellaneous: This park shows features of the Elmendorf Moraine geological formation.  There are small and steeply sloped hills here with a lot of nooks and crannies.  This terrain was one a lateral or terminal moraine of a large glacier.  Such terrain would have made for superb and exciting cross country ski racing trails in the, slower, wooden ski days.  And the steep slopes also would make fun alpine skiing slopes.

Cross country ski trails are no longer used here for racing.  The last ski races here were likely in the late 70's / early 80's.  A ski race called the Oilwell Race was run from Service High School to Centennial Park during the lat 70's / early 80's.  The Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage no longer maintains these trails.

Sources of Information:

John McCleary and Jerry Walton of the MOA Parks and Recreation Department; Tammy Thiele (raced here in 70's); Tim Kelley (site visit and photos Oct. 2004); Leo Hannan; Ed Rosek

Photos: Does anyone have pictures of skiing at Centennial Park that they would like to contribute to ALSAP ?

~ Photos ~

Site Photos - October 2004
(Click on pictures to enlarge them)
[Photo Credits: Tim Kelley]

Kelley_Centennial006.jpg (206244 bytes)

 The remains of the rope tow power plant can be found at the top of this ski area.  A large electric motor, which was wired to a nearby power pole, turned a drive shaft that was connected to half of a large truck axle.  It looks like the structure that housed this tow drive was burned down.

Kelley_Centennial004.jpg (223370 bytes)

There are about 6 lift towers with wheel pulleys installed to support the down-line of the rope tow loop.  The majority of these supports are made of welded steel.  But a couple were made from timbers.  Perhaps the wooden towers were installed at a later date to correct initial design problems.

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Here is a view of the ski area.  In the trees to the left you can just barely see a blue rope tow tower.  The clearing in the center is a steep narrow ski slope.  To the right is the main downhill ski slope.  This slope is presently used as a sledding hill.  Kelley_Centennial_pano.JPG (417743 bytes)

Kelley_Centennial001.jpg (216086 bytes)

The old cross country ski racing trails in this park are picturesque and enchanting.   They still call out to ski racers, on freshly pine-tarred wooden BlaSkias and Rex Crowns, to be poled and strided.

Kelley_Centennial002.jpg (219538 bytes)

~  Documents & Maps  ~
 

1973 "X-C Ski Trails" by Leo Hannan

In 1973 Leo Hannan wrote an Anchorage area ski trails guidebook entitled "X-C Ski Trails".  Leo's guidebook was republished in 1982, when it was called "A Guide to Cross Country Skiing in Anchorage".  This later "Subaru World Cup Commemorative Edition" was published by the Nordic Ski Club of Anchorage as a fund raising tool for the FIS World Cup cross country ski race that was held at Kincaid Park that year.  Below are pages from this out of print guidebook that describe the Centennial Park Trails.

(Click on page or map below to expand to readable size)

[Text and map credits: Leo Hannan]

1973 description (1) 1973 description (2) 1973 map 1982 map and description

 

Centennial Park trail map from a 1975-76 Winter Recreation brochure published by the Municipality of Anchorage, Division of Parks and Recreation

To view the full images of the 1975-1976 Anchorage Trails brochure, click on the images below

~  Aerial Views  ~

This 2002 aerial view shows the location of Centennial Park in Anchorage (click on the map to enlarge it).

terra_centennial.jpg (129918 bytes)

Here's a zoomed in view of Centennial Park with the locations indicated of the rope tow and the main downhill ski trail (Click on image to enlarge it)

terra_zoom1_centennial.jpg (138544 bytes)

Further zooming in, here again is indicated the locations of the rope tow and alpine ski trails.  Also indicated is the location of the rope tow engine and shed remains (Click on this view to enlarge it)

terra_zoom2_centennial.jpg (97107 bytes)

Research Correspondence 
[John McCleary and Jerry Walton, MOA Parks and Recreation - October 27, 2004 email] 

Tim,  The following information is the best we, Jerry and I, can put together:

Centennial Park was operated by the Borough in the early 70ís.  The ski hill was built by Borough staff the summer of 1973 and the rope tow operation began that winter.  It was operated by the P&R department.  There was never a ski jump at Centennial.  After the poor winters of 1985 and 1986 when tow operations were suspended and coupled with the opening of Kincaid in 1986, the ski tow rope operations was officially closed the winter of 1987.

[Steve Gruhn - November 4, 2004 email excerpt] 

I recall participating in a cross-country ski race [the Oilwell Race] that started at Service High and finished at Centennial Park in 1981 or 1982.

[John McCleary, MOA Parks and Recreation - December 01, 2005 email] 

There were at least three loops that we had designated as ski trails that were set by our Park Maintenance section by snow machine in the 70ís.  We had a lighted loop that was set on the camp ground paved roadway system that was approximately 1km and then the other two loops as shown on the brochure totally approximately 5 km.  The use of the trails was low due to the competition by other trails such as the Bartlett H.S and Russian Jack Springs trail systems that had more lights.  Eventually trail grooming was ended when the mid 80ís budget cuts forced the closure of the ski hill and log cabin staffing.  Volunteer grooming by individuals and by the skijoring club was off and on since then.  With the lack of annual grooming and trail maintenance, trails became victim to natural processes as you have discovered.  While they have become overgrown, they are still found on the master park plan as park trails.

[Ed Rosek,  January 24, 2014 email] 

My name is Ed Rosek and I was born in Alaska in 1956 and moved to the lower 48 in 1984.  I have a Group page on facebook called ALASKA post.  I recently wrote a short story about my first job at Centennial Camper Park just east of Anchorage: https://www.facebook.com/groups/149429171918551/
 
The story is about the ski area that was built in 1973.  I was there and participated in building the ski lift and ski hill.  Consequently one of the group members posted your webpage, Alaska Lost Ski Area Project.  I read the article about the same ski hill and the attached photos.  It brought back great memories.

So I just wanted to let you know I appreciate the article and photos and had a couple things to add if you'd like.  One of course is my short story and then a couple things about the ski area.

I was there during the clearing of the ski hill and the building of the ski rope tow.  In your article it is mentioned that there are steel posts and wooden ones that hold the wheels that guide the rope.  As far as I can remember during the initial building stage, we put up the wooden posts first.  It's most probable that the steel posts were put in later to replace the wooden ones that were warped or possibly decayed.
 
The motor that ran the tow was loud and the little shack that I ended up working out of was small, cold and made of framed wood and plywood with no insulation.  It had a door and one window that looked down the rope tow.  It also had a stop and start button that started the motor and the rope tow.  I don't remember the motor housing and axle being in a closed shed or covering, but that's probably just a lost memory.  It's been awhile.

Here's my short story from ALASKA post:
 
When I was 14, my brother-in-law Cliff got me my first summer job, working at Centennial Camper Park just east of Anchorage on the Glenn Highway. He was a well-known official with the GAAB (at the time Greater Anchorage Area Bureau) I ran the park that summer until a "qualified" adult came to rule over me like a mean Grinch. It spoiled the fun of working by myself.

Well the city had decided to make a small ski area in the park (see photo, red line is the rope tow). Cliff was well versed in pretty much everything but brought out a young 18 year old to help cut trees to create the skiing area. By the end of the first panic stricken day the kid, wildly swinging his chainsaw had cut two holes in the gas can, wedged the saw blade in bunch of falling tree stumps and actually nipped his own leg twice. I was mortified and stayed far away.
Luckily Cliff came by to watch over things and help move the trees to clear out the area. There was lots of good pine and birch firewood to be collected too. Eventually the chainsaw massacre ended but I had no idea what a horrible winter this whole scenario had created.

I donít remember who built the little rope tow shack on top of the hill, but if Iíd have known at the time, I would have mentioned a little something called INSULATION! I helped to dig holes and set in the huge posts that would hold the 1970ís used wheel rims that the tow rope would track on. It was hard work for a young teen but part of the process of teaching me that hard work is . . well, crappy. No, not really, it was integral in teaching me a hard work ethic. Still didnít know what was to come though.
So it was finished by fall and the ski hill was cleared and ready for snow. The Rope Tow worked great and was powered by a small motor in the non-insulated meat freezer, er . . I mean shack at the top of the hill. There was a stool inside to sit on while the operator got frost bite, but at least there was a process that allowed a slight bit of movement to try and warm the poor operator; the STOP button. God, I hated that button.

Yes, as you can tell by now, that was a job I inherited after the park closed for camping and became the local small ski area. I came to work the rope tow in the evening after school let out. Of course it was always dark and cold! Not always terribly cold, but you know when those below zero winter nights set in kind of cold? Well, thatís when I thought of the guy who didnít know what insulation was. The worst part, besides the hard frozen fake leather seat on the stool, was the interminable cold and breath that frosted over the little viewing window.

My little enemy, the red kill button was the only warm thing in the shack, probably because of the friction from using it so much. Sad to say but the people who came to ski and use the rope tow, were mostly non-skiers, which made my job so much (insert sarcasm) . . fun.
Watching them grab the rope, fall, get tangled in other skiers, flail and wait for the frostbitten guy in the meat freezer at the top of the hill, to hit the kill button. I actually kind of liked the frosted window; it helped me NOT see some of the traumatic events that unfolded below. Once I scraped off some of the frost I would see the pile of human carnage that had been dragged halfway up the hill. That was the only real fun part for me.

Of course I did get a little bit of pleasure from the ski hill. I actually got to ski there on my days off. It was nice, not like Alyeska, but a fun little hill.
I really looked forward to the ski hill closing down for the winter as spring started to melt the battered snow on the slope. It was probably then that I realized I had to go to work back in the camper park, with the GRINCH, oh man . . .
 
Thanks again for your great website and the wonderful photos!

Ed Rosek

 

 

 

 

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