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Gunsight Mountain Ski Hill

1960 to 1973

Name of Ski Area: Gunsight Mountain Ski Hill; Larry and Laura Straley's Ski Area
Location: Mile ~120 Glenn Highway, Tahneta Pass area, uphill and west of the highway
Type of Area: Ski Hill
Dates of Operation: 1960 to 1973
Who Built It?: Larry Straley with help from Duane Leutke, Franz Froelicher, John Gill, John Jr. and Jaquie and Russell Gill and Julie (Straley) Hildebrand and Alice (Straley) Palkow and the rest of the 13 kids of the Straley and Gill family, and others.
Base/Top/ Vertical Drop: Base ~3200', Top: ~3500', Vertical: ~300'
Lifts: One rope tow, a second rope tow was planned an partially built
Facilities: Unique small hexagonal, two story ski lodge.  Aka: "The Chalet St. Christopher" or the "Straley Chalet".  This was the first lodge.  A concrete block lodge was built later, however a fire destroyed it.  And not to be forgotten - an outhouse with a fur-lined toilet seat!  In 2011 the hexagonal lodge was destroyed by fire.
Miscellaneous: Quite a few people hike near this old ski area - because there is a geocache placed near the remaining lift tower.
History: For a detailed account of this ski area's history, see the note from Franz Froelicher below.  And also read the firsthand accounts of life at this ski area from Straley and Gill children below.

According to Harvey Turner, a longtime Anchorage Ski Club member, another ASC member named Larry Straley built this little ski area just after the Alyeska ski area was opened.  Alyeska opened in 1959, so possibly the first ski season for this ski area was the 1960/61 season.  The last year this ski area was in operation is unknown.  Harvey said that Larry built the ski area as a weekend retreat destination ski resort, so Anchorage residents would have an option to go north for a weekend and ski in a beautiful setting.

[Tim Kelley]  October 2004 - I was at this site in September 2004.  There has been a lot of excavation work on the adjacent gravel pit during the last 5 years.  This work may have eliminated some of the lift poles.  I found only one remaining.  Higher up on the hill there were two wooden poles that lined up with the fall line.  I'm not sure if these were old rope tow poles.

A cabin window on the south of the cabin had been broken out.  I looked inside and noticed on the back of the front door there was inscribed: "The Chalet St. Christopher Welcomes You !".  Possibly this was a church group's ski cabin?  No sign of the lift tow motor shack.  This may have been destroyed during recent excavation.  I did discover the remains of the outhouse in the bushes!

Sources of Information: Tim Kelley; Dave Brann; Harvey Turner; Scott McClain; Dr. Franz Froelicher; Betsey Carter; John Gill Jr.; Jacquie Gill; Russell Gill; Julie Hildebrand; Alice Palkow; Tanja Elliot; Jacqueline Duke
Photos:

Does anyone have pictures of skiing at the Gunsight Mountain Ski Area  that they would like to contribute to ALSAP ?

~  PHOTOS  ~
 

2004 Site Photos
[Photo credits: Tim Kelley]

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The Straley Chalet is a unique and striking octagonal cabin with dormer above the recessed entrance.
Kitchen area The Chalet St. Christopher Welcomes You!"    
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One lift tower still stands (as of 2004).  The lift tower was bolted together and the pulley was homemade from plywood. Above the tower is this metal structure.  Possibly the anchor for the rope tow return pulley.
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A poles stand for a 2nd rope tow that was planned by never completed. The berry picking is great in this area. Near the rope tow pole there is this geocache.  You don't need a GPS to find geocaches if you have a dog that knows how to tree them !! 
 

Come to find out ... the above geocache was set by Alaska's most renown geocachers: Tundra Tim and Klondike Kate !

See: http://www.geocaching.com/seek/cache_details.aspx?guid=3767ac8d-2516-47a9-8f85-e568906d931a

 

Dave and Molly Brann were driving past this lost ski area in the spring (2005) and took these pictures of the chalet and surrounding area.  On clear days this must have been a very spectacular place to ski !!

 

2011 Fire

At some time during early summer of 2011 the old chalet was destroyed by fire.  No other information is known.  Photos courtesy of Jacqueline Duke.

~  MAPS  ~

The map to the right shows where this old rope tow site is located at about Mile 120 on the Glenn Highway.

(Click on this map to expand it)

 

 

Research Correspondence 
[Dr. Franz Froelicher - 12 December 2007 email excerpt]

Hi,
I just came across your website and since I helped build the beginning of the Larry Straley (notice the "r")'s ski area, I think I could contribute, so here is some of the story.  My name is Franz Froelicher and after living in Anchorage for 19 years I got my PhD in Edinburgh, Scotland and after some other stops ended up here in Savannah, GA and I am, as they say here, fixin to retire on 31 Dec 07  at 72 years old !! 

As far as I can remember it was 1958-60 when Larry and a few of us (ask Duane Luetke (sp.?) Who is still in Anchorage for some more details as to who was with us.  He, Duane, was the big Arctic Valley booster man for years and still is so I am sure you can reach him through those people ) started to build at the Gunsight Mt. site.  The purpose was to "prove up" as they used to say on the land.  I don't think it was for a homestead, but maybe a homesite.  We used to walk up with skins on our skis and the powder was always deep, but the ski down was exceptional and unforgettable even in those untracked days.  The small pentagon cabin was already in place at that time and a year later the first story of the future "lodge" was built with cement blocks.  There were only the 4X8 sheets of plywood on the deck of the first floor (roof of the basement) to keep the snow out so we slept on the packed snow on the basement floor and let the melting Spring ice drip along the edges of the plywood and if you watched out and stayed in the 4X8 print you didn't get wet. 

So we had many memorable days and nights of partying in that pentagon cabin.  It had a real fur lined "biffy" (one holer outhouse), and the wood stove with the stack-robber heated the inside of the cabin to almost unbearable temperatures. The 1964 earthquake changes a lot of things for most people.   I remember the rope tow going in 1971(?), made mostly of scrounged and used parts, (money was a BIG problem for all during that time) but I doubt if it ran more than a few times in the 1971-73 timeframe.  As always the problem was that there were too few paying customers, skiers, etc. to purchase and run a lift that was needed for a fantastically beautiful landscape.  You would always think you died and woke up in heaven when you were climbing and skiing in the area.    It always was an exceptional place!  One memorable time we brought our partying to the old Gunsight Lodge just down the road (hill), which I hear burned down and a new smaller one has taken its place.

Larry was my best friend for many years and after I left Alaska in summer 1972 I know he moved to California and we lost touch. I heard he and his wife Laura died there.  He had several children, 3 girls and a boy if I remember correctly, and Duane would probably know something more about their whereabouts.  It was never, up to 1972 owned by any nuns, but Laura was Catholic and named the buildings. I don't know if Larry sold it to anyone, however I will ask Bruce Ficke, an Alyeska investor, who now lives in Hawaii and I am in touch with him and will send him this email to get more info. 

I visited the Straley site when I returned to my old Alaska in the summer of 2006, for a reunion of sorts, and saw the gravel pit with no trace of the cement block lodge.  The Cabin was still there and some moose had bedded down for the night in the "front yard."  It was sad to see that the dream never went anywhere, but the mountain beauty and glory is still there!

Hope that helps.  Let's stay in touch and ask me any question you might have and I might just be able to help.

Cheer and Happy Holidays,

Dr. Franz Froelicher

[Betsey Carter - 13 December 2007 email excerpt to Franz Froelicher]

Hi Franz: Got your emails regarding Gunsight Lodge, but Larry's wife's name was Laura and not Alice. Remember, Larry and Laura. Larry put all the carpet in our house and at the hotel and restaurant at Alyeska. Remember that Laura had the little store by their house on O'Malley Rd. I am sending this on to Bruce at home so he can read it. I never did ski up there, it was a long ways to go and not enough facilities for someone with little kids.

[Dr. Franz Froelicher - 13 December 2007 email]

Bruce and Betsey Ficke, as mentioned were close to the Straley's and we talked about them at the 06 at the reunion. Mr. Alyeska, Chris von Imhof who ran Alyeska for years also knew the Straley's. There was one other guy, bald, who's name I can't remember, (skied with AluFlex skis and could thus handle that deep power. Funny what a guy remembers !!!) who with his wife Carol, and who lived and may still live west of O'Malley Rd - Our Rd extension (right behind, so to speak, the now Alaska Zoo.  Dwayne knows him. Anyway, I think he did most of the mechanical work for Larry and would certainly know more about Gunsight Ski Area.

Yes I do have some pictures, but I will have to dig them out. Maybe retirement will give me some time!

[Dr. Franz Froelicher - 16 December 2007 email, answers to Tim Kelley questions]

Nice of you to answer as I love to reminisce about the old days! By the way, the guy I have been trying to remember is named Ozzie Osgood and I think you can find him in the Anchorage directory.

OK... the answers as far as I can answer them.

1. The local "official" name was Gunsight Mt. Ski Area ..... also called Larry and Laura Straley's Ski cabin.

2. No I do not think that the Straleys ever put in a second tow. I think someone else is responsible. Ownership of the hill outside of the homesite was not the Straleys and was always a problem in that they did not have a proper permit yet. Those poles I think belonged to some other entity or Govt agency. I vaguely remember them.

3. The best day I can remember was about 15-20 non-paying guests... friends really, although the non-paying part was a secret because in order to prove-up you had to show "commerce." And yes we all fit into that hex cabin for meals!!!! For which we did pay!

4. Yes I know for a fact that quite a few pictures were taken in those days, but to find them.... !!! I am looking!

I think Ozzie Osgood would know much more about this.
 

[John Gill Jr. - 06 March 2008 email]

My name is John Gill, my fathers name was also John Gill.  My father was Lauras' little brother and obviously Larrys' brother-in-law.   Larry and Laura moved back to Alaska from California and lived just off O'Malley Road in Anchorage until they both died.  Several of their children, my cousins still live in Anchorage and Seward.   My father also helped with the construction of the ski area.  We spent many winter and summer days at the "Chalet"  My father passed a few years ago but my mother is alive and I'm sure could share many stories and some history also.

[Jacquie Gill - 06 March 2008 email]

Wow!  I can't believe what I'm seeing!  My name is Jacquie Gill.  I am Laura and Larry Straley's niece.  My parents, John (Laura's brother) and Dianne Gill lived in Alaska from 1960-64.  During that time, when we all lived on O'Malley Rd, my dad and Uncle Larry and others worked on "proving up" the land described here.  The chalet pictured is the one my dad helped build with Uncle Larry. I remember the name Franz Froelicher very well. If I am not  mistaken, the land with the first chalet was the Straley property and ours was adjacent to it.  The dream, as has been stated, was to create a ski resort. 

Larry and Laura (both deceased now) have 6 children, 5 girls and a boy.  Some still reside in Alaska. Both of our families (my parents have 7 children) would travel up HWY 1 in the summer to work on the buildings.  Imaging all those kids sleeping in that little attic!  When the 2nd building was in progress, there was a fire which destroyed it.  My lilttle brother, John (then 2) was napping in that building and had to be rescued from the smoke and flames!

My family moved from Alaska after the '64 earthquake, but I have remembered the chalet fondly all of these years.  Imagine my surprise last summer when my husband and I were touring Alaska for our 30th Anniversary.  We rounded the corner of Hwy 1 and there on the embankment stood that very same chalet that my uncle Larry had built!   Yes, The Chalet was dedicated to St. Christopher but, to my knowledge, it was not a Catholic youth camp.  Unless you consider the many sons and daughters of the Straleys and Gills a youth group!  And yes, the outhouse had a fur lined toilet seat, which was the talk of every family gathering for years to come!

By the way, Larry and Laura Straley did move to Oregon many years back, but finally returned to Anchorage before both of them passed.  My cousins, Gloria and Julie, my brother Russell and my mom probably have the best recollection of the Chalet details.  I have old photos of the building process, but will have to get them translated to digital before I submit them.

[Julie (Straley) Hildebrand - 06 March 2008 email]

I have a lot to contribute. Pictures, facts and very interesting stories. I am the 2nd oldest of the Straley girls and spent much of my life at the chalet. I have pictures of when it was being built in the summer of 1954. Yes, there was two rope tows but the second one was never finished. The poles were placed to the top of the rise but few remain. They ran straight up from the rock basement lodge that no longer exists. Rock was hauled mainly from Mile 110 for the basement. The roof was placed and a few windows but that was as far as it got.

The chalet was a place of refuge for those caught in a storm, those that needed a cup of coffee or those that needed a dream. It was a place that friends became family, many conquered the mountain and I learned to ski at four years old.

I would love to have Franz's email address as it has been many, many years. I'll share more soon as I'll be digging out my pics.

Thank you ever so much for making my memories come alive again.

[Russell Gill - 07 March 2008 email]
 
My name is Russell Gill (aka: Bates).  As stated previously by my sister and brother, my father was Laura's brother and he had spent part of his younger years in Alaska with the Straley's.  We moved to Alaska in April of 1960 when Larry had gotten the contract to carpet the new Westward Hotel and he needed help.  We moved our whole family to Anchorage from California via the Alcan Hwy.  What a drive....but that's a whole different story.
We lived down O'Malley road from the Straley's, and on many weekends, both summer and winter, we would head up to the Chalet on Hwy 1.  I always loved the scenic drive through Palmer and the Matanuska(sp?) Valley.  
There were actually 2 identical chalets on the property.  What remains today was chalet #1 and the other one burned to the ground in the summer of 1962, if I remember correctly.  I do remember that it was in the afternoon and my two cousins (Julie & Gloria) and I were up on the hill behind the chalets (along the lift line)picking blueberries and having fun, when we looked down and saw chalet #2 on fire.  We started running down the hill yelling "FIRE...FIRE!!!!".  When the parents saw what was happening, my father, John Gill Sr. started running toward the burning chalet.  We didn't realize that my younger brother, John Jr., was taking a nap in that chalet at the time.  My father ran in and got him out just in the nick of time.  The tar from the roof was beginning to drop all around inside and it just intensified the fire.  Best we could surmise is that one of the sleeping bags in the upper sleeping area had been left leaning against the stove pipe and when the stove was lit and the pipe got hot it just ignited.  Thus was the end of chalet #2. 
The idea of starting a ski area had always been a dream and unfortunately in never really came to fruition.  I remember being in on the construction of the foundation and some of the woodwork for the new lodge as mentioned by Franz Froelicher.  I vaguely remember Mr. Froelicher, since I was only 11-12yrs old at the time but it was a wonderful experience being in on the construction.  I remember helping to cut notches by hand axe in some of the logs used on the roofline and the front of the building.  It was hard work.  I never remember the ski lift (rope tow) ever being in a running condition.  If we wanted to go skiing, we hiked up and then skied down.  It was a wonderful time of life. 
We left Alaska in 1964 after the Earthquake.  I hated to leave but things just weren't the same for our family after the ground quit shaking.  I visited with Laura and Larry several times after that, whenever they would come to California to visit other relatives and once when they had moved to Oregon for a while.  My cousin Julie Hildebrand (Straley) has come to California several times in the last 10-15 years, and we always enjoy getting together to talk about the days of old. 
The area was beautiful then and I'm sure it still is today.  Alaska is God's country and someday I would love to go back and revisit that time in my life. 
[Alice Palkow - 09 March 2008 email]
 
My Name is Alice Palkow, I am the 4th surviving child of Larry and Laura Straley.  I state this as my brother Steve who died a year after he was born in California is the reason my parents came to Alaska this was in the late 40's.  My fathers friend from California, Dusty I think was his name called me after they had passed away and told me he had helped my father bring the logs from the lower forty-eight to build the first Chalet.  Dad had dreamed of having the first ski resort in Alaska.  They had lost their son and this was a new start for My father and mother.
 
My memories are very clear of the rope tow burning thru our leather gloves as I would try to hang on up the mountain.  The sourdough pancakes in the morning and the sound of laughter everywhere. We broke the ice to get water from the stream below the Chalet.
 
The fur-lined seat was reserved for the older people.   Bears were something to be careful of during blueberry season and fishing was good in the lakes down below. 
There are so many wonderful stories.  The cabin was always left open with food and fuel should any traveler be trapped and need a place to stay. 
We stopped going there when people started vandalizing the area even with the doors left open.  I hope this helps with your search for information on the Chalet.
[Tanja Elliot - 11 March 2008 email]
 
My name is Tanja Elliott and I am the daughter of Alice (Straley) Palkow and the granddaughter of Larry & Laura Straley.  I wish that I had pictures to remember the Chalet better, but the one thing I can tell you about it, is that it has been a memory shared down through the generations of the Straley Family.  My mother, Alice, took me and my three siblings there when we were younger to share in our family's stories.  And if I remember correctly my mother's sister Mary and her children were with us as well.  I believe this was in the late 90's some time after my grandparents passed.  I was fortunate enough that when they moved back from California they moved closer to us.  I live in NE now, and the Straley clan has spread through the lower 48, but those years in Anchorage, growing up in Spenard (where my grandma started the Spenard Kiddy Drop) were some of the best.  They had amazing lives and amazing stories to share! 
 
I do remember my grandma sharing a very familiar photo of her and my grandfather, Larry, standing infront of the Chalet holding their skis.  I hope that that picture finds it way to you because it would warm my heart to see it again.
 
Thank you for reminding me how wonderful my grandparents were. - Tanja
 
Quick Family Tree-
With 5 girls and 1 boy the Straley Clan is extensive, and I was fortunate to grow up with them all.  In the 90's all of the Straley's lived in Anchorage or Seward. 
 
John Gill-
daughter Laura (Gill) Straley- husband Larry Straley
children Gloria (Spaulding) has 2 sons - 1 grandchild
Julie (Hildebrand) has 2 daughters and 2 sons - 6 grandchildren
Mary (Silverstein) has 1 daughter and 1 son
Alice ('Ali' Palkow) has 2 daughters and 2 sons - 4 grandchildren
Frances ('Finny' Straley) has 2 daughters and 1 son - 1 grandchild
Sam (Straley) has 1 daughter
 

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