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Harding Ice Field Proposed Skiing Sites
Late 1960s - Early 1970's

Proposed Skiing Sites - Never Built

Name of Ski Area: Vincent Bear Glacier Project (1966-67); Arness-Stanton Exit Glacier Snowmobile Tours (1969-70)
Location: Harding Ice Field, at the head of the Exit and Bear Glaciers
Type of Area: Large glaciated area
Dates of Operation: During 1969 to 1970 a spring/summer fly-in and snowmobile operation was run by Arness-Stanton at the head of the Exit Glacier
Facilities: 16' x 20' equipment and warming shed
History: In 1966-67 William C. Vincent of Seward put together a 4 person development team that "proposed to make [a] Harding Icefield a visitors resort with glacier skiing, snowmobile tours, summer ski racing camps, mountaineering, outward bound camps, and cross-country ski touring." This plan did not materialize.

In 1969 Jim Arness of North Kenai teamed up with Joe Stanton of Harbor Air Service and flew snowmobiles and materials to build a shack to the head of the Exit Glacier.  The following spring and summer they flew people in for snowmobile tours, snowshoeing, skiing and sight-seeing.  They had plans for "a $1.5 million construction project that would include a gondola lift system (to take people to the top of Exit Glacier), a summit station, a lower terminal, and a T-bar lift".  Their operation was terminated when they ran into permitting problems with the Bureau of Land Management in 1970.

Sources of Information:

Steve Gruhn; Kenai Fjords National Park Service


Does anyone have pictures of the Arness-Stanton Harding Icefield Snowmobile Tour operation (or current pictures of the vicinity) that they would like to contribute to ALSAP ?

~  Documentation  ~

An Except from Chapter 10 of
"Kenai Fjords: A Stern Rock-Bound Coast: Historic Resource Study"
[Source: http://www.nps.gov/archive/kefj/hrs/hrs10b.htm]

The Harding Ice Field Snowmobile Development

During the 1960s, when mountaineers were showing an increasing amount of interest in crossing the Harding Icefield, local entrepreneurs were beginning to envision the commercial possibilities of taking tourists up to the icefield on short-term excursions.

Commercial interest in the icefield apparently began in the spring of 1966 when Seward resident William C. Vincent made his first visit. Vincent, who ran a plumbing and heating shop, had lived in Seward since 1950; he was a Chamber of Commerce member and a two-term city councilman. [112] Vincent quickly became enthusiastic about the icefield; by January 1967, he had assembled a four-person development team and publicized a five-year icefield development scenario. As his granddaughter later noted, the team "proposed to make the Harding Icefield a visitors resort with glacier skiing, snowmobile tours, summer ski racing camps, mountaineering, outward bound camps, and cross-country ski touring." The first development project would be the construction of a small dock at Bear Glacier. [113]

A trio of skiers crossing the Harding Icefield during the 1970s. M. Woodbridge Williams photo, NPS/Alaska Area Office print file, NARA Anchorage.

Vincent's development project was never realized, but others shared his dreams and decided to act. Jim Arness, who operated a snowmachine rental shop in North Kenai, "dreamed up" the idea of establishing a snowmobile touring operation on the icefield near Seward. He therefore teamed up with Joe Stanton, the head of Harbor Air Service, and in the summer of 1969 the two constructed a "shack" on the icefield–reportedly "somewhere near the headwaters of Exit Glacier"–and brought three ski-doos up to the site. The operation that year apparently lasted for only a short time; snows that autumn came so quickly that both their building and one snowmachine were buried before they could be removed. The items were never recovered. [114]

Undaunted, the pair returned the following spring and began constructing a 16' x 20' equipment shed and warming hut. Soon afterward, they flew ten ski-doos (nine single-tracks and one double-track) and three ski-boos (sleds) up to the icefield. [115] In May, amid much fanfare, local residents and tourists began flocking to the site; some came to ride the snowmachines, but others wanted to ski, snowshoe, or merely sightsee. By early June, approximately 100 people had been flown up to the icefield, and by late July an estimated 200 to 300 had made the trip. To judge by contemporary accounts, reaction to the operation was overwhelmingly positive; local resident Dot Bardarson noted that her flight and snowmachine ride was "the best $70 I ever spent." The project's backers, sensing that it would be a long-term success, laid plans to increase the size of their operation. They envisioned a $1.5 million construction project that would include a gondola lift system (to take people to the top of Exit Glacier), a summit station, a lower terminal, and a T-bar lift near the warming hut. [116]

But in early July 1970, the operation hit a major snag when Bureau of Land Management officials in Anchorage read newspaper accounts about it. They quickly learned that the operation was being held on BLM land–and thus needed an agency-issued Special Land Use Permit–but Arness, the operation's organizer, had not applied for one. Making the situation far murkier was Interior Secretary Stewart Udall's 1966 land freeze order. This action withdrew the Harding Icefield (along with most of Alaska's unreserved public land) from entry; as a result, Arness would not have been approved for a permit even had he applied for one. BLM official Sherman Berg drove to Kenai on July 9 and discussed the matter with Arness; Berg personally expressed hope that a satisfactory resolution could be worked out, but he could promise nothing. Meanwhile, the agency handed Arness a tresspass injunction. He was given thirty days to quit his operation and vacate the area. [117]

Seward area residents, predictably, were saddened by the BLM's decision. The Seward Phoenix Log, in an editorial, said "Let us hope that something can be done to see that the Cap development continues–it means a lot to Seward and the rest of the Kenai Peninsula." H. A. "Red" Boucher, who was running for governor at the time, visited the icefield on July 20; he vowed to keep it open and wrote a lengthy letter to BLM officials protesting the planned expulsion. [118]

The actions of Boucher, Arness, and local officials gave the operators a little breathing room; the operation's deadline to vacate was extended from August to November. But on the larger question, the BLM could not budge, perhaps because of the precedent that such an action would have had on other Alaska public lands. Given that scenario, the operation continued in business until September 1970, perhaps later. The operators, however, were forced to leave so quickly (perhaps because of a heavy, late-season snowstorm) that, as in 1969, they left their warming hut in place where it was engulfed by the winter's snowfall. As for the snowmobiles, several more were lost. One account states that two were buried near the warming hut, while another avers that the operators attempted to drive three off the icefield but became stuck in the crevasses of Bear Glacier. [119]

Bill Vincent, who fully supported the Arness-Stanton operation, refused to give up. He recognized that the icefield was an attraction that "would offer something strangely unique to visitors regardless of where they may have come from." Comparing the area to Columbia Icefield in Canada's Jasper National Park, he furthermore noted that the icefield could be put to any number of uses, including "a military testing area for arctic equipment and survival and an international type hotel." As late as February 1971, he wrote that his group "still plan[s] on seeking private capital to develop the field." [120] The continuing land freeze and the long battle over Alaska's national interest lands, however, prevented any such plans from being implemented, at least in the short term.

One positive spinoff of Vincent's publicity and the Arness-Stanton operation was a revival of interest in Seward-based tourist flights over the icefield. As noted above, flights over the icefield had been advertised, primarily to Seward residents, for short-term periods in both the 1920s and 1930s. In the decades that followed, some tourists doubtless arranged for overflights with Seward- or Homer-based pilots. But no one, so far as is known, advertised such a service. Beginning in 1970, however, the Milepost–a well-known tourist publication–began to advertise the beauty of the Harding Ice Cap in its Seward section and also urged tourists to see the Ice Cap "via charter plane trips." This verbiage, often accompanied by advertisements from local air taxis, remained in future Milepost issues as well as in other local promotional literature. [121]

~  Maps  ~

This large scale topo map shows the location of the Harding Ice Field in Southcentral Alaska.

(click on this map to expand it)

This topo map shows the area where the headwaters of the Exit Glacier and the Bear Glacier meet west of Seward.  The exact location of the Arness-Stanton warm-up shack is not known.

(click on this map to expand it)

Research Correspondence 


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