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Little Susitna Roadhouse Ski Hill

Late 1940's to 1960's ?

Name of Ski Area: Little Susitna Roadhouse Ski Hill, Little Susitna Lodge
Location: Palmer, on the Hatcher Pass Road, just north of the Little Susitna Roadhouse (which is now called the Mother Lode Lodge), near the Mint Hut trailhead.
Type of Area: Ski Hill
Dates of Operation: Late 1940's  to 1960's ?  (still researching)
Who Built It?: Victor and Jim Cottini
Base/ Vertical Drop:

Base: ~1700' / Vertical: ~400'

Lifts: Rope Tow
Facilities: The Little Susitna Lodge (Roadhouse) - meals and lodging
Miscellaneous: Two fallen posts with wheels and the tow engine still exist on the site.

Victor Cottini built the original Little Susitna Roadhouse in 1942.  Victor's son Jim Cottini helped in expanding the lodge in 1943.  The Cottinis built the ski tow, ran a lodge, restaurant and a taxi service for miners.  Victor Cotinni sold the lodge in 1958.

During the late 1950's and 1960's Bill and Marie Betts owned and operated the Little Susitna Roadhouse and maintained the ski area in the winter.

Sources of Information:

Pat Murphy; Pete Hjellen; Motherlode Lodge web site ; Tim Kelley; J. S. Parry; David Lappi

Photos: Does anyone have pictures of skiing at the Little Susitna Roadhouse Ski Hill (or current pictures of the vicinity) that they would like to contribute to ALSAP ?

~  PHOTOS  ~
 

Late October 2005 - Site Photos by Tim Kelley

(Click on any photo to enlarge it)

[Photo Credits:  Tim Kelley]

About 200 feet from the Little Susitna trail head is remains of the return pulley wheel.   The pole the pulley was once attached to is disappearing.  The former ski hill can be seen in the background.
Halfway up the hill I noticed this broken off pole base. You cold just barely make out a pole covered in ferns and snow.  It would be almost impossible to find this in the summer. I cleared snow off the pole and noticed a bolt.  I then pulled the ferns away to expose an old rope tow wheel.
At the top of the hill is the remains of an old truck engine and drive train that was used as the rope tow power plant. Apparently this power plant was covered by a shed.  But the shed fell down a long time ago. Two very large truck tires were used to circulate the rope.  This truck was likely a "deuce and a half" - a 2 1/2 ton, 6 wheel drive Army truck from WWII.

The view from the top of the ski hill was typically Hatcher Pass splendid.  You can see the ski hill running down to the trail head parking lot, and the roof of the Mother Lode Lodge to the right.
 

The shifter.

The stove that once warmed the engine shed? Or maybe there was a separate warm-up shack for skiers?
Grooves where the rope could be placed.

Remnant of the tow rope.

 
An old chrome headlight at the end of a power cord.  Maybe there was night skiing here?

An artsy carburetor shot !!

Looking back up the ski hill from the return pulley at the base.

 

Here is a 1949 shot of the Little Susitna Lodge.

(click on this image to expand it)

[Photo credit: UAA Archives & Manuscripts Dept, Benzie Dow Collection]

BenzieDow_LittleSu_1949_lodge.jpg (149423 bytes)

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: Anchorage Museum of History and Art]

AMHA_FishhookRoad_1940s_horn.jpg (33899 bytes)

~  MAPS  ~

This large scale topo shows where the Little Susitna Roadhouse Ski Hill was located in relation to Palmer and Wasilla.

(click on this map to expand it)

topo_palmer.jpg (148779 bytes)

A zoomed in topo view shows the area around the Little Susitna Roadhouse (now called the Mother Lode Lodge).  The estimated location of the ski hill is indicated on this map (further research will clarify the location and this map will be updated).

(click on this map to expand it)

topo_zoom_littlesu.jpg (142975 bytes)

Research Correspondence 
[Pete Hjellen - 04 December 2004 email to Dave Brann]

Hi;
As a Teenager I went up to the Little Susitna Roadhouse to ski on their rope tow a few times.  During 50's and into the 60's (not sure of the exact dates) My aunt and Uncle Bill and Marie Betts owned and operated the Little Susitna Road house and maintained the ski area in the winter.
 
Bill has passed away.  Marie still lives in Wasilla.   She would have more information on the ski area.
 
Pete Hjellen

[Historical information from the Motherlode Lodge web site]

"In February of 1942, Victor Cottini built a small 12 x 12 lodge six miles below Independence Mine.  After the snow melted, he discovered the building was too close to the river and moved it to its present site where it was known for many years as the Little Susitna Roadhouse. In 1943, Cottini enlarged the building to 12 x 24, and two years later, added the upstairs.  Jim Cottini helped his father build the lodge.  He and his wife, Pia, spent their first winter in one of the small cabins that still stand near the river.  Here they ran the lodge, restaurant and a taxi service for the miners.  The Cottinis originally constructed a gravity-feed water system with 3/4 pipe.  The ice-cold glacier fed water-cooled bottles of beer.  Victor Cottini sold the lodge in 1958.  The property changed hands and sometimes name for the intervening years until, the two large wings were added to the original structure in about 1984, and it was named the Mother Lode Saloon and Cookhouse.  The Mother Lode closed in 1987 and sat vacant until April of 1991, when local resident, Jill Reese under the name of Motherlode Lodge, reopened it."

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

The name given the old erratic which used to teeter over the Hatcher Pass Road, (aproximately 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.

[David Lappi - 08 January 2008 email excerpt] 

By the way, I used to ski at what is now Motherlode Lodge when they had a rope tow there (about 1960?), before Independence was open for downhill skiing, and I used to ski patrol at Cleary Summit (1973). I was on the Denali Ski Patrol at Arctic Valley and Alyeska in 1968 and 1969.

 

 

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