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Fort Richardson Biathlon Center

1950's to 1970's

Name of Ski Area: U.S. Army Fort Richardson Biathlon Training Center
Location: Anchorage, On Fort Richardson about 2.5 miles up the Arctic Valley Road and 3/4 of a mile to the south
Type of Area: Ski Trails, Biathlon Range
Dates of Operation: 1950's to 1970's
Who Built It?: U.S. Army
Elevation:

Lowest point on trail system: ~600' / Highest point: ~1100'

Facilities: Quonset hut, lights for night skiing, shooting range.

There were approximately 10-12 kilometers of trails at this ski site.  There were lower and upper loops each of about 5 kilometers.  Plus connector trails to allow various race lengths to be supported.

History: The US Biathlon team was sponsored by the Army and based at Fort Richardson from 1958 to 1973.  Many of the athletes that were involved with the Fort Richardson Biathlon center went on to become influential contributors to cross country skiing and biathlon programs around the country.  (In other words: they were a good bunch of guys.)

The North American Cross Country Ski Championships were held on these trails in March of 1976.

As of December 2007, one might say that this is a "twice lost" ski area.  In 2005 a refurbishment project was undertaken that rebuilt the shooting range, cleared and put signage on new trails, constructed a warm-up lodge, timing building, outhouses and parking lot (see pictures below).  But as of the end of 2007 all of this infrastructure remains unused and abandoned in place, at least during the winter.

Sources of Information:

Tim Kelley (site visits in Mar. 1976, Oct. 2004, Sep. 2005, Dec. 2007); Todd Communications "Anchorage & Vicinity Road and Recreation Map"; Leo Hannan

Photos: Does anyone have pictures of skiing at the Fort Richardson Biathlon Center trails that they would like to contribute to ALSAP ?

~  Photos ~

USA Biathlon Team, Fort Richardson, Alaska - November 20, 1959
Skiers: Ronald Seater (left) and William Rudd

[Photo credit:  Alaska State Library, Historical Collections]

Pictures from the 1974 Arctic Winter Games Biathlon Races that were held at the Fort Richardson Biathlon  Center
[Left] At the range, prone position.

[Photo credit:  Alaska State Library, Historical Collections]

[Right] Two skiers head out onto the course.

[Photo credit:  Alaska State Library, Historical Collections]

[Left] Two skiers approach the shooting range.

[Photo credit:  Alaska State Library, Historical Collections]

[Right] A woman uses a spotting scope to observe the shooting accuracy of competitors.

[Photo credit:  Alaska State Library, Historical Collections]

 

~  Documents & Maps ~

1982 "A Guide to Cross Country Skiing in Anchorage" 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 trails at the Fort Richardson Biathlon Center.

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

[Text and map credits: Leo Hannan]

Map of biathlon trails (1982) Description of biathlon trails (1982)

~  Site Photos ~
 

The Fort Richardson Biathlon Refurbishment Project - Dec. 2007

A visit to the Fort Richardson Biathlon Training Center in late December 2007 revealed a new biathlon complex had been built (lodge, timing building, parking lot, outhouses, new trails and a new shooting range).  But - there was no sign that this facility is seeing any winter use.  The road to the site was gated shut and the road was not plowed.  The road to this site was never plowed open during the previous winter either.


[Photo Credits: Tim Kelley]

New lodge   Shooting positions on new shooting range Target marker
Some old firing range markers remain New timing building New signage on new trails Many of the new trails have fallen trees blocking them, a sign that this facility is not being used.
   
  "Biathlon Ski Team Training Area Keep Out"  
Old trail signs still can be found nailed to trees "Snowhawk Training Off Limits To All"

 

The Fort Richardson Biathlon Refurbishment Project - Sept. 2005

The summer of 2005 saw the new life at the site of the Fort Richardson Biathlon Facility.  The biathlon range was cleared and new trails were brushed.  Some of the old trails were cleared of brush and new trails were also created.

The sign on the right displays project information.  On the right you can see signs of the hyra-axing done to clear alders from the trails.  The light that once lit this section of ski trail can be seen on the pole in the distance.

[November 2007 update]  It seems that due to lack of funds this project has stalled.  This area is not back in use, yet.

 

Site photos taken by Tim Kelley - Oct. 2004

Both sides of the southern edge of the shooting range are marked by these red and white striped safety markers.

Kelley_FR1.jpg (212369 bytes)

 

Kelley_FR2.jpg (166892 bytes)

A fence still stands at the southern end of the range.  Targets were hung on this fence as is evidenced by the posts.  The posts still show scars from the days biathlon competitors used REAL guns: 223 caliber rifles instead of the 22 caliber "make believe" rifles used today!

Kelley_FR3.jpg (140771 bytes)

Kelley_FR4.jpg (137565 bytes)

[Left] The shooting range, where I once skied during the 1976 North American XC Championships (almost 30 years prior to this photo), is now covered with dense alder growth. 

[Right] An old trail sign. UPPER LOOP ONLY ???

 

Kelley_FR5.jpg (125608 bytes)

Street lights on the power line poles leading to this site must have provided night skiing illumination.

Kelley_FR6.jpg (90276 bytes)

 

~  Maps and Aerial Views  ~

This topo map shows the location of the old US Army Biathlon trail system in relation to Anchorage (click on the map to enlarge it).

topo_FortRichBiathlon.jpg (269368 bytes)

The Todd Communications "Anchorage & Vicinity Roads and Recreation Map" (circa 2000) shows the layout of the old biathlon trails.

(Click on image to enlarge it)

This 1996 aerial view shows the biathlon center layout.  An access road came in to a Quonset warm-up hut (which no longer exists).  To the south of the quonset hut was the shooting range.  Trails were cut on the lower western slopes and the upper eastern slopes.  A powerline that came to the hut and range was rigged with street lamps to provide light for night skiing.  (Click on image to enlarge it)

terra_FortRichBiathlon.jpg (140627 bytes)

This is a zoomed in view of the range.  (Click on this view to enlarge it)

terra_zoom_FortRichBiathlon.jpg (122241 bytes)

Research Correspondence 
[Tim Kelley - October 2004 note] 

The Fort Richardson Biathlon Center was the first place I ever raced in Alaska.  I went to the National Championships in Bozeman, MT in 1976 and won a unexpected trip, the next week, to the North American Cross Country Skiing Championships at this trail system.  I stayed at George and Judy Morelein's home (parents of my Dartmouth College roommate and fellow ski team member Tim Morelein).  I remember driving down Muldoon Road, which was all gravel then, and having to sign in at the guard shack at the Moose Run golf course.  The warm-up facility was a quonset hut with a wood stove.  The temperatures were quite cold for March, I believe we were skiing packed powder tracks on green and special blue hard wax.  From the start/finish area next to the shooting range, the course went downhill for a couple of kilometers.  Then there was a long, very tough 5 km or so climb up past the range to the high point of the trail system to the east.  A couple of kilometers of screaming downhill then brought you back to the range and the end of a 10km loop.  To make other distances, various cutoff loops were used.  This being my first time to Alaska, I was quickly enamored with this place and the people.  And soon I would be calling Anchorage my home.  So ... in a way, I can thank this "lost ski area" for calling me north to Alaska.  Something I've never regretted.

 

 

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