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Hatcher Pass Ski Area

Proposed in 1988, 1992, 2002, 2007, never built

Name of Ski Area: Hatcher Pass Ski Area; Government Peak
Location: Government Peak in the Hatcher Pass area of the Matanuska River Valley, northwest of Palmer, Alaska.
Type of Area: Ski Hill
Dates of Operation: Never built, proposed in 1988 by the Mitsui corporation of Japan, in 1992 by Idaho businessman Fred Rogers, in 2002 by Anchorage-based developer JL Properties and in 2007 by the Matanuska-Susitna Borough
Who Built It?: Never built
Base/ Vertical Drop:

Base: ~1500' / Vertical: ~3000'

Lifts: Never built
Facilities: Each proposal has had grand plans for ski area facilities and local development.
History: In 1988 the Mitsui Ltd. corporation of Tokyo had plans to build a $221 million dollar resort at Hatcher Pass with 8 lifts, hundreds of condos and a dude ranch.  For publicity Mitsui even flew in Yuichiro Miura, the man that was in the 1975 movie "The Man that Skied Down Everest", and Miura skied down the steep north slope of Government Peak.  (Tim Kelley note: Miura's tracks on the north face could be seen for a couple of weeks after his ski descent.  It was an impressive sight at the time.)  Economic studies, and Anchorage not winning the bid to host the upcoming Olympics, was the end of this planned ski area.

1992 saw Idaho businessman Fred Rogers show up with big talk, and little money.  So this attempt at a ski area fizzled out.

In 2002 Anchorage based development company JL Properties stated that they wanted to build a ski area on Goverment Peak at Hatcher Pass.  Soon the public would find out that the plan was, of course, to use other peoples' money for this project.  And as shaky "get the developer, and those connected, rich quick" big projects go in Alaska - AIDEA (the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority) was asked to ante up $24 million.  AIDEA is notorious for some huge capital project failures in this state.  The fact that the a Ted Steven's connected principle of JL Properties was recently AIDEA's lawyer, that several of the board members of JL Properties once worked for AIDEA and that the Mat-Su deputy mayor's step-brother is on the AIDEA board - all showed that cronyism was alive and well in Alaska.  This proposal was not skiing at heart.  It merely was using a ski area as vehicle for a few developers, engineering firms and consultants to make a killing off public monies.  This would all have been just be a fun laugh if it wasn't for the fact that a great local area could have been ruined by needless development.

In 2007, JL Properties was apparently out of the ski area development picture as they realized the public outcry against state government corruption (several Alaskan lawmakers were sent to prison) and the outcry against development in Hatcher Pass was working against them.  So - their $42 million dollar project was shelved.  In December of this 2007 it was announce that the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly awarded $50, 000 to Ron Swanson, a former director of Mat-Su Community Development, to provide a plan for building this ski area.  The plan would be unveiled in March of 2008.  No funding has been secured for this project.  The Anchorage Daily News stated that Mat-Su Borough manager John Duffy hopes that his friends and relatives in AIDEA will finance this project with State of Alaska public funds.

Sources of Information:

Anchorage Daily News; Alaska Resource Library and Information Services (ARLIS); Tim Kelley; Anchorage Daily News / Municipality of Anchorage Loussac Library Alaska Collection "Vertical Files"


1985 "Potential Alpine Ski Area Sites in the Hatcher Pass Area"

In 1985 the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources commissioned Hamre, Bahnson and Associates to do a study of potential alpine ski area sites in Hatcher Pass.  A copy of this study can be found here.  Six sites were evaluated: Hatcher Pass West, Grubstake Gulch, Sidney Creek, Lone Tree Gulch and Arcos Ridge, Government Creek and Government Peak.  The Government Peak site was evaluated as the best potential ski area site of those studied.

(Click on maps below to expand to readable size)

West Hatcher Pass Sidney Creek, off Archangel Road Goverment Creek Government Peak

1988 Engineering-Geological Assessment of the Proposed Hatcher Pass Ski Resort at Government Peak
Click here for full document in AK DNR archives


1989 Mitsui Development Plans for a Hatcher Pass Alpine Ski Project

(Click on any page to expand it to readable size)

Cover page Proposed development plan.  Besides a ski area with lodge and lots of condos, there were plans for: golf course, dude ranch, sports center, motocross, archery, clay shooting, RV park, "hiking road", museum, theatre, shops and dining, spa, mini-golf, heliport and airport.  No xc skiing though. A relief view of the proposed development plan. 
The main lodge and surrounding development is show in drawings to the left and right.


1993 Anchorage Daily News "Money Mountain" Article
(Click on either page below to expand it to readable size)

~  PHOTOS  ~

January 2008 Site Photos

[Photo credits: Tim Kelley]

The Mat-Su Borough Parks Department is grooming a small sledding hill at the proposed location of the Government Peak base lodge. View from the top of the groomed hill.

~  MAPS  ~

This large scale topo shows the general vicinity the proposed Hatcher Pass ski area would encompass.

(click on this map to expand it)

A zoomed in topo view shows the general vicinity the proposed Hatcher Pass ski area would have encompass.  Miura's descent route (mentioned above) would have been from the summit and down just to the left of the 'G' in 'Govt'.

(click on this map to expand it)

Research Correspondence 
[Anchorage Daily News - excerpts from a 08 October 2005 article titled: "Hatcher ski area's day may be at hand" by Kyle Hopkins] 

In late February 1988, half a dozen Japanese businessmen in dark suits waited in the belly of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough building. Howling winds shook the walls outside, where temperatures fell to 40 below. They arrived with the notion of developing an international ski resort in the Valley.

"It's freezing, it's dark. You couldn't have picked a worse day to showcase the place," said borough manager John Duffy.

That same night, Mitsui Ltd., a mega-corporation out of Tokyo, bid to lease thousands of acres at the mouth of Hatcher Pass. Mitsui executives dreamed of a sprawling, $221 million ski resort with eight lifts, hundreds of condos, a dude ranch and even hot-air-balloon rides.

During a grim time for the state economy, when sinking oil prices crippled property values, excitement over the Japanese conglomerate's arrival hummed throughout the Assembly chambers.

"You could cut the air with a knife," said Jim Turner, a longtime skier who owns Turner's Corner near Hatcher Pass and attended the land auction as an advocate for a smaller, regional ski area.

Two years later, Mitsui's grand plans evaporated as studies showed the giant resort wouldn't attract enough foreign skiers to pay for itself and, maybe more importantly, Alaska lost its bid to host an upcoming Winter Olympics.

In 1992, Idaho businessman Fred Rogers appeared with big plans for a ski resort at Hatcher Pass but little money to actually follow through. That attempt failed too.

Today, another developer -- one of Alaska's biggest, Anchorage-based JL Properties -- wants to try it again. JL would use Government Peak at Hatcher Pass as the focal point for a regional Alpine ski resort, commercial village and hundreds of new homes.

Could it really work this time? Other important questions remain unanswered -- is there enough public support and political backing behind the $41-million-plus plan, and can the Assembly and the developer agree on a fair deal?

Proponents of a ski area hope that after two decades of wishing, the winds are finally blowing in their favor. They have reason to be optimistic.

Over the past 20 years, while the Hatcher Pass ski project languished, JL Properties partners John Rubini and Leonard Hyde became two of the most successful developers in Alaska, amassing a collection of office buildings, apartment units and other holdings worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

But ski areas are notoriously hard to launch, and borough officials say no local developer would be willing to build one without plenty of incentives. Sure enough, when JL Properties announced its plan for funding the ski area in September, it called for millions in public money.

Nearly a quarter of the cash would come from the borough. JL also plans to ask for an additional $24 million in financial assistance from another public entity, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.

JL hasn't officially requested AIDEA's help yet, but borough deputy mayor Jim Colver, a ski-area advocate, says the plan won't work without the agency's blessing -- and its wallet. To that end, few developers have as much insight into how AIDEA works and what it looks for from applicants as JL Properties has.

Through the state Department of Law, JL Properties co-owner John Rubini worked for AIDEA as a lawyer for years. Rubini was not a member of AIDEA staff, but he gave legal advice and negotiated the terms and structures of business deals, most recently on the failed Alaska Seafood International project in Anchorage.

Two former AIDEA chiefs -- executive directors Randy Simmons and Riley Snell -- also went to work for JL Properties. (Rubini says Snell joined within the past two months, while Simmons has since retired.)

David Germer, a former AIDEA project manager, and Keith Laufer, formerly the agency's deputy finance director, are both on the JL Properties team.

What does all this mean? In 2003, Rubini told the Anchorage Press that JL Properties didn't work with AIDEA because of Rubini's past ties to the organization.

Things are different now, he said.

"I stopped doing legal work for AIDEA a couple years ago, so the conflict ran its course," Rubini said in a recent phone interview. Later, at his office in Anchorage, Rubini added that he never worked for AIDEA on the previous attempts to develop Hatcher Pass and that his company's ties to the agency pass every legal test.

Jim McMillan, AIDEA deputy director of credit and business development, said Rubini's past work for the agency wouldn't help the ski area project gain funding, but Rubini's reputation as a developer might.

"He knows how to take on projects, manage projects and have them be successful," McMillan said. "That did play a part in us being interested."

In the only public assertion of potential conflict of interest in the project thus far, Assemblyman Bill Allen at the September Assembly meeting questioned Colver's connections to AIDEA. Colver represents the Hatcher Pass area on the Assembly. His stepbrother, Mike Barry, sits on the AIDEA board of directors.

Borough Attorney Teresa Williams investigated and on Monday said there is likely no legal conflict of interest.

Like the Alaska Railroad, AIDEA is a public corporation started by the state. It exists to create jobs and boost Alaska's economy.

AIDEA is often linked to big, sometimes embarrassing projects such as the dormant, $300-million-plus experimental coal plant near Healy. But much of what the agency does is help small businesses by backing loans through private banks.

That program helped fund the new Mat-Su Title office building on the Palmer-Wasilla Highway, for example, and the Grand View Inn and Suites along the Parks Highway in Wasilla, McMillan said.

Creating a Hatcher Pass ski resort won't be as simple.

A 2002 study administered by AIDEA described the ski resort business as stagnant, reporting that the number of ski areas nationwide dropped from 800 to 500 over the previous 20 years.

But unlike earlier proposals, the latest ski resort plan relies mostly on regional skiers instead of tourists. The idea is that enough people now live in the Valley -- the population has more than tripled since 1980 -- to buy all those lift tickets.

Rubini said it also helps that the land to be used for the ski area is now owned by the borough rather than the state.

Plus, the borough has spent $250,000 in matching funds toward paving Hatcher Pass Road as well as provided the area with electricity and used rubble from a landslide to start a parking lot for future skiers.

That means the borough is already invested in the project. Whether it should take the next step and commit more public resources to an inherently risky proposal is another question.

At least one initial doubter has become more optimistic.

On Sept. 20, Allen said he saw problems with JL Properties' plan: It asked too much of the borough and didn't give enough in return. Monday, Allen said he's taken a closer look at the proposal and, while far from perfect, it's a better deal than he'd thought.

"I think we're awfully close to being able to say yes," Allen said.

Duffy, the borough manager, said that if this attempt at a ski area fails, the borough would just have to try again.

But Turner, who, like Duffy, watched past ski-area developers come and go over the decades, says that with heavyweights JL Properties and AIDEA involved, it may be a question of now or never.

"If they can't do it, this project isn't going to happen," he said.

[Anchorage Daily News - excerpts from a 21 December 2007 article titled: "New Plan in Works for Hatcher Pass" by Rindi White] 

$50,000 CONTRACT: Developer expects details in February or early March.

Heads up, ski fans. A new plan for nordic and alpine ski runs at Hatcher Pass should be unveiled in late February or early March.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly on Tuesday approved a $50,000 contract with Ron Swanson, former director of Mat-Su Community Development, to work on the plan. Swanson is working as the borough representative while contractor Dowl Engineers study soil data and other environmental information on land the borough owns and manages in the Hatcher Pass Public Use Area.

Swanson on Thursday said he's also drawing up a new plan for Hatcher Pass development, which he hopes to complete by early March.

"It's what I'm calling the new beginning," Swanson said.

For more than 20 years, a ski area at Hatcher Pass has been a dream in progress.

An early campaign by Tokyo mega-corporation Mitsui Ltd. to build a $221 million, eight-lift ski resort to host an upcoming Winter Olympics failed feasibility studies. Other developers have tried over the years, most recently a $42 million residential, nordic and alpine development plan by Anchorage developer JL Properties.

"We're trying to learn from the mistakes of the past, basically, and start over again. We tried a private developer and that didn't work. We tried public-private partnership, that didn't work," Swanson said.

The new plan is for a borough-built facility, privately operated, he said.

"We don't want to be operating this whole facility with borough staff," Swanson said.

Swanson retooled JL's plan, keeping the Olympic-quality nordic facility while downsizing other pieces, such as a day lodge at the alpine ski area. Swanson's plans include three ski lifts in the alpine area, but he said it's too early to say what types of lifts or how many groomed acres will be in his new plan.

Those details will depend on operational and capital costs, he said.

Most notably, however, his plan does not include residential development, a key feature of previous development proposals.

The idea of a subdivision is too controversial, Swanson said, and it's not clear what kinds of septic systems or other infrastructure soils in that area will support.

Borough Manager John Duffy on Tuesday told the Assembly he's looking for state funding sources, such as the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.

A financing plan is not ready, he said.

Assemblywoman Michelle Church said she worried approving Swanson's contract amounted to paying for more study on an already over-studied project.

Assemblywoman Cindy Bettine said the plan to use Swanson's knowledge of the project seemed ideal.

Swanson said he was eager to work on the project because he wants to see lifts up and running.



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