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Fishhook Creek Ski Hill

1930's to 1940's ?

Name of Ski Area: Fishhook Creek Ski Hill
Location: Palmer, on the Hatcher Pass Road, at Mile 12, ~1 1/2 mile from the Mother Lode Lodge.  This site is near the "pickup spot" for a run that is popular with sledders and skiers that are dropped off on the Hatcher Pass road at a point 1000 vertical feet above.
Type of Area: Ski Hill
Dates of Operation: 1930's to 1940's  (still researching)
Who Built It?: Jim Turner
Base/Top/ Vertical Drop:

Base: ~1600' / Vertical: Unknown

Lifts: Rope Tow
Facilities: The Fishhook Lodge (built in 1916) once stood next to this rope tow site.
Miscellaneous: Not much is known about this ski area except what has been told to alsap by park ranger Pat Murphy.  Of the three known lost ski areas in the Hatcher Pass area, the other two being the Little Susitna Roadhouse Rope Tow and the Independence Mine Ski Hill, this ski area would likely be the oldest.
Sources of Information:

Pat Murphy; Russell Dow photo archives; Barbara McIlrath

~  PHOTOS  ~

[Left] This 1939 picture by Russell Dow shows skiers waiting to grap a ride up the rope tow behind the Fishhook Inn.

[Photo credit: Univeristy of Alaska, Anchorage  Archives and Manuscripts Dept.]

[Right] A tractor in front of the Fishhook Inn.  Notice the skis behind the furthest car.  Skier and heavy equipment operator Russell Dow is the man in the middle of the three standing in front of the tractor.

[Photo credit: Univeristy of Alaska, Anchorage  Archives and Manuscripts Dept.]

(click on either image to expand it)


[Left]  Anchorage schoolteacher Gertrude Slotsfelt stands next to the Fishhook rope tow engine - a portable, gas powered unit that is anchored by a rope.

[Photo credit: Univeristy of Alaska, Anchorage  Archives and Manuscripts Dept.]

[Right] Russell Dow's caption for this photo was: "Anchorage ski crowd unloading from bus at Fishhook".

[Photo credit: Univeristy of Alaska, Anchorage  Archives and Manuscripts Dept.]

(click on either image to expand it)


Jack Edward McIlrath Pictures (1941)

Jack Edward McIlrath spent time in the military in Alaska during 1940 to 1942.  These pictures of his show outside and inside views of the Fishook Inn on June 21, 1941.  Apparently these pictures were taken in conjunction with a midnight ski 2000 feet up at Willow Creek.

[Photo credits:  Jack Edward McIlrach / Barbara McIlrath]

A view of the Fishhook Inn on the Hatcher Pass Road, looking north. Inside the Fishhook Inn.  Russel Dow, a revered civilian ski instructor that trained military troops, is 4th from the left at the bar. Midnight sun skiing at Willow Creek on June 21, 1941 (Note: This location is at the highpoint of the road that crosses what is now called Hatcher Pass)


In the 1940s the Hatcher Pass Road was called the Fishhook Road.  This road goes through a canyon carved by the Little Susitna River that used to have this neat rock horn at a curve in the road.  To the dismay of many people, this unique landmark was dynamited and removed in the late 20th century to widen, and eventually pave, this road. [See J. S. Parry email below concerning the name of this rock.]

(click on this image to expand it)

[Photo credit: Alaska Museum of History and Art]


AMHA_FishhookRoad_1940s_horn.jpg (33899 bytes)

~  MAPS  ~

This large scale topo shows where the Fishhook Creek Ski Hill was located in relation to Palmer and Wasilla.

(click on this map to expand it)

topo_fishhook.jpg (232220 bytes)

A zoomed in topo view shows Fishhook Creek descending to near the Hatcher Pass Road.  It is estimated that the ski areas was in the open area near the '1625' benchmark (though the actual location is still being researched).

(click on this map to expand it)

topo_zoom_fishhook.jpg (215948 bytes)

Research Correspondence 
[Ron Wilmot article in the 04 January 2005 Anchorage Daily News entitled: "Thumbs up for Hatcher Pass" - see bold text below]

At the 16-Mile ski run in Hatcher Pass, there are no lift lines and no lift tickets.

Instead of chairlifts, snowboarders, sledders and skiers thumb rides uphill in the back of a pickup or inside a van. Or a designated driver -- often a parent -- serves as chairlift, shuttling packs of cheery snow enthusiasts four miles up the road for another run down the mile-long pitch.

Long a Valley tradition, the 16-Mile ski run -- so named because the run begins at Mile 16 Hatcher Pass Road -- is where snowboarders and skiers can enjoy fresh powder while sledders navigate a rollicking run, all free and without the sweat of a long hike uphill.

Snowboarders are the heaviest users. They park at Mile 12, thumb rides up the road, board down and do it again. The road switches back at the Motherlode Lodge, so the parking lot at Mile 16 is almost directly above the lower lot, providing a convenient run of 800 vertical feet between the two lots.

On any weekend, hundreds of snowboarders, sledders and skiers whisk down the hill, state parks ranger Pat Murphy said.

"There'll be 35 cars parked at the bottom. We figure about three people per car. Then at the same time, there's 18 to 20 parked at the top," Murphy said. "Then you figure eight to nine en route. A lot of people ... ski that run."

The attraction is more than cost. Valley residents who don't want to drive to Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, Alpenglow at Arctic Valley, or Hilltop in Anchorage find it convenient. The 16-Mile run offers variable terrain. Plus, Hatcher Pass often has snow when other areas do not.

"It's pretty awesome," said James Rose of Palmer, who was out snowboarding with his brother, Kris. "It's the quality of the snow, and it's close. Even when it's crowded, there's always a place to find more powder."

With so many people cruising down the hill, however, enforcement is necessary. Area park rangers serve as the de facto ski patrol as well as traffic cops. Murphy listed a few rules for those shuttling people uphill.

They're allowed to ride in the back of pickup but may not sit on a toolbox or the side of the bed. And the tailgate must be up.

"The problem is trying to cram as many people into -- or onto -- the vehicle," Murphy said. "I've seen people ride on the hoods of cars, or crammed onto a snowmachine trailer."

Once, Murphy caught a skier riding atop a car roof. His skis were locked into a ski rack, and he was clipped into his bindings.

Another problem is speeding. Snowboarders and skiers can get to the bottom before the car can.

"So there is peer pressure to hurry up," Murphy said.

For such offenses, rangers can write tickets and often do. They also park the ranger truck in a conspicuous spot to slow traffic, just as a state trooper on the highway does.

Murphy said more accidents occur at the 16-Mile ski run than at any other place in Hatcher Pass. This year there have been at least two femur bone breaks, he said. Sledders suffer the most injuries.

When an injury occurs, rangers are often first to respond. After patrolling the road, rangers often pull on skis to check out the run. Also, members of the Nordic Ski Patrol are frequently in the area and keep in radio contact for quick response. Palmer ambulance and a group called Fishhook First Responders help in Hatcher Pass emergencies too.

The run has been popular for decades. Skiers from Anchorage came in the 1930s and '40s to ride a rope tow set up by the old Fishhook Lodge. Workers from Independence Mine skied or sledded down after their shifts to meet at the lodge. The Little Susitna Roadhouse, once located just up the road from Mile 12, also had a rope tow for a while, Murphy said.

"I've seen old pictures of buses with 'Anchorage Ski Club' on it and 40 pair of skis hanging vertically on the outside," Murphy said.

Jeff Turner of Palmer has skied the Mile-16 run for 20 years. He likes the convenience and the intermediate terrain, and he doesn't mind the frosty 15-minute ride in the back of a pickup. "It's just about long enough to get cold," he said.

For the fourth time in 15 years, a ski resort is being proposed at nearby Government Peak. Turner thinks the 16-Mile run would still be used, even with a resort.

He's not alone. Jordan Levey of Palmer sat on a snow bank with other snowboarders waiting for a ride last week. Soon, a truck towing snowmobiles pulled alongside and stopped.

"Hey, want a lift?" a man asked as he rolled down the window.

Four or five boarders piled into the back of his pickup for the ride up.

The appeal was simple.

"It's free, just gas money. You can make your own trails," he said. "And you don't have ski patrol telling you what to do."

[J. S. Parry - 01 January 2006 email excerpt] 

The name given the old erratic which used to teeter over the Hatcher Pass Road, (approximately a half mile upstream from the bridge), was called "Bent Dick" previous to it's first blasting.  After that time, it was retagged "The Nub" and "Broken Dick" in various climbing and trekking books.  I believe Fred Beckey, (who mapped the Archangel, Lane, and Reed Valley climbing areas in Hatcher Pass), was the man responsible for renaming it "Broken Dick", which was what I grew up knowing it to be.  In fact, if you can find the old book "Hatcher Pass Climbs" that was written in the mid 70's, that's what it is uncontestedly called in plain print.
That was the rock I learned to rock climb on, and it is a shame that it no longer exists.  Please, don't let this pass through history without resolving the issue.  It had a name, and while not everyone was terribly excited about the name it received, that's the name many of us grandchildren of the early Mat Su pioneers affectionately remember it as.




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