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Manitoba Ski Area

1941 to 1960

Name of Ski Area: Manitoba Ski Area, Glacier Ski Lodge; Mile 50 Ski Area
Location: Manitoba Mountain, north of Lower Summit Lake, off of mining road that leads past the Anchorage Nordic Skiing Association's Manitoba Cabin and on to Mills Creek
Type of Area: Ski Hill
Dates of Operation: 1941 to 1960
Who Built It?: Residents of Seward, led by Gentry W. Schuster .  And this was likely a Seward Ski Club project.
Base/Top/ Vertical Drop:

Base: ~1400' / Top: ???? / Vert: ????

Lifts: At first there was one 200' rope tow.  At one point there were three rope tows running with the longest being 1200'.
Facilities: The Glacier Ski Lodge (that eventually burned down).
History: An Anchorage Daily News article, entitled "Skiers Guard Secrets on Remote Ins'N'Outs" and written by Natalie Phillips, was published on December 30, 2001 (page F1).  This article mentioned an older gentleman from Seward named Oscar Watsjold who helped start a ski club in Seward in 1938.  In the article Oscar says "The locals put in a rope tow and built a cabin at Manitoba Mountain, about 50 miles north of Seward."  Dave Brann called and talked to Oscar, who said that the Manitoba Rope Tow was built by Sewardites in the late 1930's and that a Gentry Schuster  was one of the prime builders.  Schuster  eventual moved from Seward to Anchorage and worked for Safeway Airlines and then the DEW (Defense Early Warning) Line.

In December 2005 Seth DePasqual interviewed both Oscar Watsjold in Seward and Oliver Amend by phone in Hawaii.  Oliver operated the ski area after Gentry Schuster .  Information from these interviews can be found below.

Rope tow remains can still be found at this site (see 2011 Tim Kelley photos below) and some remains of the old "Glacier Ski Lodge" can still be found.

Sources of Information:

Eloise Spencer, Bill Spencer; Natalie Phillips; Oscar Watsjold; Dave Brann; Seth DePasqual, Lesli Schick, Linda Yarborough (Chugach National Forest Archaeologists); Paige Spencer; Tim Kelley; Theresa Zimmerman; Mary J. Barry, author of "Seward, Alaska: A History of the Gateway City - Vol. III: 1924-1993; Viginia Schuster ; Joe Connolly; Bruce McClellan; Clarence "Buster" McClellan; Clark Fair

Photos: Does anyone have pictures of skiing at the Manitoba Rope Tow (or current pictures of the vicinity) that they would like to contribute to ALSAP ?

~  PHOTOS  ~

Glacier Ski Lodge / Manitoba (Mile 50) Ski Area, around 1942

[Photos, and captions, courtesy of Virginia Schuster  (wife of Gentry Schuster )]

The ski tow from the cabin yard - Mt. Manitoba [on] right.
[Note: This is an old picture where the rope tow was based above the Glacier Ski Lodge.  Eventually a rope tow would extend down next to the lodge.]

Paul Ford, Dick Blissner, Marilyn Schuster , Gentry Schuster , Oscar Watsjold

Lunch in the cabin.  Gentry Schuster  on right.  Table seated 20.  50-gal oil drum heater.  Extreme left: A swing installed to serve our 4-year old daughter.

March 1942 - On the hill.

Army guys, a typical ski day.

Military personnel.

A good snow covers the entrance door.


1941 Photos courtesy of Bruce McClellan and his father, Clarence "Buster" McClellan

Construction - hauling materials up a rope tram to the lodge site.

Ski lodge under construction.

Christmas dinner at the ski lodge.

Views of the ski area the first year of operation.




Schuster  family Christmas card


[Bruce McClellan - 14 June 2007 email] Attached are some photos of Gentry Schuster  and, I believe, some of the beginnings of the ski resort. Not sure about all of them. Thought maybe someone up there could identify.  All captions/identifications should be taken with a "?" because we're really not sure and my father's 92 year old memory doesn't work as well as it used to.

Dad, Clarence "Buster" McClellan (2nd Lt. in USA), tells me Gentry Schuster  rode a motorcycle with his pregnant wife behind him all the way up the Alcan highway (Didn't even know it existed then). Dad participated to a degree or was at least around the rope tow construction. Perhaps the "cabin" is actually the ski lodge. He recalled once when a load of lumber making its way up the mountain with the donkey engine lost its drive mechanism. Below they could hear the increasing hum on the cables as the load succumbed to gravity and everyone bailed just as the load came crashing back through the loading area. As always Schuster  was undaunted and they continued after the mess was cleaned up. Schuster  related this next story. Evidently on one of his flights he developed engine trouble and had make an emergency landing. He selected an area of spruce(?) knowing that they would provide a softer landing than others species and proceeded to safely pancake the plane down atop them.  He then found help and/or materials, returned to the scene and freed the plane. After making repairs he returned to the skies. Sounds wild but anytime my Father mentioned him it was about how resourceful the man was.

Hope this helps.

Bruce McClellan


Glacier Ski Lodge, around 1947

[Photos courtesy of Theresa Zimmerman]

At left the rope tow base can be seen.  At right, the Glacier Ski Lodge with skis piled around it (click on this picture to enlarge it). Another shot of the Glacier Ski Lodge with the Kenai Mountains to the west of the Seward Highway in the background.  Notice all the people around the lodge (click on this picture to enlarge it).
[Left] The backside of the picture in the upper left says:

 Glacier Ski Lodge
Mile 50 on the Hope Road
This was built on a Forest Service Special Use Permit.  Gentry Schuster  built it with help of some of the ski buffs.  Every piece had to be brought up from the Mills Cr. Cat Trail on somebody's "hump" or the makeshift rope tram.

 [Right] In Mary J. Barry's great history book, "Seward, Alaska: A History of the Gateway City, Vol. III: 1924-1993 Growth, Tragedy, Recovery, Adaptation" she has a picture of the Manitoba Ski Area on page 80.

[Photo credit: Mary J. Barry]

2011 Photos of Rope Tow Remains By Tim Kelley
[Photos and text by Tim Kelley]

The above photos were taken in late May 2011.  The ski poles mark remnants of posts in the ground that anchored the lower end of a rope tow (or possibly multiple rope tows).  On the hill leading above this location there appears to be remnants of two separate rope tows.  A long rope tow likely extended up through the trees to where old engine remains and and anchor cable on a tree can be found.  To the right (south) of this rope tow there appears to be remnants of another smaller rope tow.  This rope tow could possibly have been operated without any intermediate pulley towers.  Instead - rollers on tops of 55 gallon drum halves may have been used to keep the moving rope from cutting into the snow.

Five 55 gallon drums, with rollers welded to the tops, can be found spread up the hill to the right (south) of where the main rope tow likely existed.  Brackets were welded onto the 55 gallon drums to hold two rollers to each drum half.  The entire drum and roller fabrication does not weigh much, so maybe these drums were set into the snow so that the roller was just above the snow surface, and under the tow rope.  The weight of the rope can cause the rope to dig deep into the snow pack as the rope moves.  With these rollers under the rope it would not cut into the snow and friction would be reduced making it easier to power skiers up the hill.  A couple of the rollers have pipes welded upright to the brackets.  These pipes could have been guides to ensure the rope remained on top of the rollers.

One of the barrels had stenciled letters on the top.  The letters were weathered but likely spelled out:

Alaska Diesel Fuel

Frank Ondus

Three rope tow guide wheels can be found on the main lift line.  Judging by comparison with period pictures, the trees near the top of the ski area have grown in considerably.  A swath of alders between hemlock groves stands where the lift line once was.  Next to a pulley wheel in this area there seems to be a pit that was perhaps once a lift pole location.

Near the top of the lift, and below the power plant remains, there are a number of old fuel barrels.

Above the hemlock stands and just below the top rope tow anchor there are remains of the rope tow power plant.  Judging by the shape of the engine bracket, this is the same truck motor power plant that is pictured in the 1941 McClellan picture.

A section of cable that is wrapped around a tree stump shows were the top anchor of the rope tow was.  Just below the top anchor cable is an old manual winch.  This winch was likely used to adjust the tension of the tow's rope loop.


In the summer of 2005 the Chugach National Forest performed an archaeological study of the remains of the Glacier Ski Lodge

[Photos courtesy of Seth DePasqual, archaeologist for the Chugach National Forest]

Seth DePasqual at the Glacier Ski Lodge site.  The lodge would have been directly behind him.  A stove door lies to the left. Oil furnace and chimney. The furnace that once heated the Glacier Ski Lodge.
Charred piling within lodge footprint. The lodge's distinctive stove pipe top.  You can see this stove vent in Theresa Zimmerman's pictures above. Pile of bedsprings.
Just west of lodge site, possible remains of an equipment shack. Miscellaneous cans from the dump.  Mmmm, Mmmm!!  ... Nothing like a quick snack of Shasta and Spam !! According to Oliver Amend, this is a sled that once belonged to "Cowboy George".  He couldn't ski so he rode along on this behind the Weasel.  The rod welded to the old car hood kept it sliding straight ahead.


December 2006 Shots from Skiing at Manitoba Mountain by Joe Connolly

The rope tow at Manitoba Mountain is long gone, but backcountry skiers can still ski the hill and take in the great views that have changed little since the days of the ski area.

[Virginia Schuster  - 11 January 2006 letter to Seth DePasqual]

Note: This letter was received on January 11th, 2006 after a written request for further information on the Glacier Ski Lodge (SEW-1273).  Virginia and her late husband Gentry managed the Lodge from 1942 to 1955.  Gentry built the lodge.

Dear Mr. DePasqual,

I was delighted to receive your letter of December 15, 2005, but saddened to see the relics of the old ski lodge.  That place provided a host of wonderful times.

Gentry built the ski lodge the summer of 1942.  He erected two poles, one on the Dahl mine road, and one in the cabin yard, with a revolving rope cable, powered by a Ford truck engine.  All the materials were carried from the Dahl mine road to the cabin site by this means.  Dick Blissner, a friend, assisted financially and helped a bit in the building.  This highline motor was later used to power the rope tow.

Gentry learned to build by working with a contractor who erected the downtown area of Pampa, Texas in 1926. 

We had intended the place to be for the use of ourselves and friends, but WWII put about 5,000 troops in the Seward area and a great many of them were skiers so we just welcomed all who came up.

The cabin had two bed rooms, a dormitory that slept 8, and the loft had a lot of open space for “sleeping bags”.  No liquor was allowed in the cabin, so after the war, when Gentry entered the loft, he was annoyed to find thousands of beer “empties” and spent the weekend clearing out the loft.

There was a sort of boarded-off area that served as the kitchen.  A large cast-iron stove was used.  One Sunday I served a roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy and coleslaw lunch to 67 persons!  Since the table seated 20, that meant setting it four times and washing dishes in melting snow – no sink.  That was the straw that broke the camel’s back so to speak, and thereafter lunch consisted of cold cuts, cheese, canned fruit, and cookies.

Since Gentry was chief operating officer of the Seward dock, he could only open the lodge on weekends.

During the war, a pilot wandered into town in a Taylorcraft, and Gentry learned to fly and as soon as he could, bought a small plane and with a private pilot’s license, started a bush operation, “Safeway Airways” about 1946 or 1947.  He had to get a commercial pilot’s license so he went to Denver for about three weeks.  He said it was the hardest thing he ever did.  Starr Airways of Anchorage went into receivership upon the death of the owner, and Gentry bought their place from the bank and that became our Anchorage headquarters.  He had the Harley-Davidson franchise for Alaska from about 1936, and just as he was in Jack Haven, PA. to pick up a new plane (Piper) he’d purchased, the Piper Co. had a default by the then-distributor in Alaska, and in disgust, they asked Gentry if he’d like the franchise, and of course he said yes, so that’s how he acquired that. 

He did build a small landing strip above the cabin, but the Cub couldn’t haul enough supplies to make that a practical operation.  Finally, he just got too busy to use the cabin, so he just turned it over to Oliver Amend to operate – no sale – just a “you take it.”

The marriage dissolved in 1955 and we sold the business to United Airmotive.  Gentry operated as “Alcan Airways” after that and he did a lot of flying for George Tibbelts of Peninsula Airways out of Naknek and King Salmon.  He then was stricken with cancer and died in a North Las Vegas hospital on March 3rd, 1967, and was interred in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Cypress, California.

Gentry was a lieutenant in the Alaska National Guard during the war years.

I was an employee of Eastman Kodak Co. in Kansas City, MO from 1928 till 1935 when we went to Alaska.  I continued as a photographer and photo finisher until about 1951 or so at the Alaska Shop. 

During those years the Moose Pass Store had a lovely sign, with the M-P-S in red paint, the rest black.  Unfortunately, pare(illegible) chromatic film blocked out red – and photos of that sign read: oose ass tore.  I think most of those 5,000 troops trekked out to Moose Pass to take a picture of that sign so their folks back home could have a good chuckle. 

I hope this fills in a few gaps of the history of the “Glacier Ski Lodge” – which was our name for it.

I received a lovely Christmas card from Oscar and Nell and they said he is making a nice recovery from his stroke and your letter confirms it.

If there are any other questions regarding the lodge, I’d be glad to help if I can. 

Sincerely Yours,

Virginia Schuster .

P.S.  I never heard any details of the fire that destroyed the cabin – I’ve no idea if people were there or how the fire started.  

[Virginia Schuster  - 21 February 2006 letter to Seth DePasqual]

Note: This letter was received on February 21st, 2006 after sending Virginia a package containing site information related to the Glacier Ski Lodge (SEW-1273).  Virginia and her late husband Gentry managed the Lodge from 1942 to 1955.  Gentry built the lodge.

Dear Mr. DePasqual;

I thank you for the material you have sent regarding the Glacier Ski Lodge.  It does represent a lot of work to have assembled such a collection.  And I’m glad the lodge is now an “Historical Site.”

I was surprised to see that so much vegetation now covers the site because Gentry picked the site for its lack of trees and stuff for skiers to run into.

The piling supported the west end of the building, and a little farther on stood two “out houses.” “Ski-she’s” and “Ski-he’s” so said the signs Gentry nailed onto them.

The root-cellar was used for canned-goods storage, though we had a problem: the mice chewed off the labels so at the hut we weren’t sure which we were opening – peaches or tomatoes. 

There were marvelous blueberry bushes just north of the Lodge.  In the summer we always picked enough for a big cobbler. 

I enjoyed reading of Ollie and Cecilia’s experience at the hill, and was sorry to hear of the vandalism they experienced, for as long as we were there, we had none of that.  But then, they had much larger crowds than we had.

Thanks again for all your effort you have put into assembling this collection.


Virginia Schuster 

 In December 2005, Seth DePasqual, an archaeologist with the Chugach National Forest, interviewed Oscar Watsjold and Oliver Amend.  The the following is not an official transcript of the interview, just notes and the facts that pertain to piecing the story behind the Manitoba Ski Area together:
[Oscar Watsjold - 14 December 2005]

Oscar described how the Manitoba Ski Area show operated. When Gentry ran the place, people from around the peninsula skied up the mining road to the cabin. Bunks were provided for those desiring to make a weekend out of the excursion. The rope tow was powered by an old Model A engine.  Gentry was a big pilot in the area. He would fly his super-cub with supplies up to the flat bench above the lodge. This is how he got the fuel up for the rope tow. Oscar also mentioned a unique tramway that Gentry set up just south of the cabin. I guess this was how he hauled other supplies up from the mining road to the cabin.

Gentry moved to Anchorage to tend to his business (Safeway Airlines) at Merrill Field.  Oliver Amend takes over, but this time he offers trips up to the lodge in an old Army surplus snow-truck-tractor type of thing. He continues for a few years until it becomes too expensive, interest wanes, etc. The operation is abandoned. Some time later (Oscar didn't know when) the cabin was torched in the summer by vandals.  Oscar mentioned that the same fate met the Divide Ski Area near Seward.

Oscar was great. Despite a recent stroke he was able to provide vivid details of his past here on the peninsula. A very amazing character.

[Oliver Amend - 15 December 2005]

This phone interview of Oliver Amend, operator of the Glacier Ski Lodge, took place on December 15, 2005.  It was conducted by Seth DePasqual.     

The Glacier Ski Lodge burned in the spring of 1960.  This is why the operation was shut down.  This also explains why the permit card stops after 1959; renewals occurred in the summer.  He had problems with the place being vandalized during the week when he was working in Seward.  It was strictly a weekend affair.  Apparently the GIs from Seward would come up during the week and take residence at the cabin without asking.  They would use up all the wood that Oliver had chopped and at one point they even started burning the healthy supply of skis that were on site.  He suspects that they were extra careless one day and caught the place on fire.  He flew up the day he heard about it and by the time he got there it was gone.  So ends one of the peninsula's finest weekend getaways.

Oliver took over the operation in 1955 when Schuster  decided to put most of his time into Safeway Airlines.  The current switchback trail was built by Oliver himself.  He mentioned a lot of paperwork and red tape that had to be tackled in order to break ground and said that the first summer’s work was hard due to the regulations.  He convinced a buddy with a D-8 to help him with the effort.  The dozer threw both tracks before the project was completed thus “straining” his relationship with his friend.  Oliver used three "Weasels" to haul people up in a sleigh.  The Weasel was a tracked, military surplus vehicle run by a Studebaker engine.  Oliver lamented that he had to change the bearings every week.  The hauling sleigh once belonged to the Seward Dairy and had been hauled by horses for the "milk run".  Oliver cut the top off and installed two long benches so that it could accommodate a group of skiers.  Sometimes he would haul wood to an old miner who lived in the area.  He mentioned that the guy was very reclusive.  People at first parked their cars along the highway.  Eventually the highway department constructed the Mile 48 turnout to accommodate the increase of traffic to the area.  This is the same turnout that skier use today to access Manitoba Mountain.

At first there was one rope tow about two hundred feet long.  Eventually a second and third were installed so that at one time, three tows were actually running.  The longest tow was 300ft.  The tows were powered by Model A engines.  Oliver would fly gas up on the weekends and drop 5-gallon Jerry cans with ribbon attached so that they could find them in the snow.  He never tried landing up there himself as his plane was too fast, but had heard that Schuster  might have.  He said that "if anyone could do it, Schuster  could".  Oliver stated that he used to take his trumpet up to the top of the hill and make enough noise that avalanches would roll down all over the place.    

Oliver would do all the shuttling and maintenance while his wife Cecilia did the cooking.  The young guys would get free days if they helped set up and take down.  Folks helping out would be invited to stay.  Apparently it wasn't really a guest lodge unless you happened to be the "helping" kind of guest.  Charges were $2 to get you up the hill, $3 to ski all day.  So $5 was all it took to fill out a day from the bottom.  A bunch of military GI skis were acquired for the operation.  The Amends recalled one weekend when between 200 and 300 people came out to ski. Oliver remembers the weekend vividly as a fan blew out during one of the shuttles thus causing quite a headache. 

One individual worthy of mention was “Cowboy George”.  Oliver said the guy couldn’t ski so they rigged up an old car hood so that it could be pulled as a sled by one of the Weasels.  A rebar was welded across the top so that it would run straight.  This car hood was located at the lodge site in 2005.   

The lodge was heated by an oil heater and a barrel stove.  There was one huge room which had tables and chairs as well as the kitchen area.  Three separate rooms provided bunks and an attic was used for storage.  Oliver remembers storing the rope in the attic during the summer.  He also recalled that there was somewhere around 12 bunks in the lodge.  Some of those were doubled up.  This number corresponds to what was found in 2005.  He recalled how one summer the cabin was totally stripped of all its fixings.  The culprits took off with the bed linings and the stove.  He suspected some local miners and had heard from a friend that the items were seen in a miner's residence.  He called the sheriff who said that nothing could be done unless they had identifying marks on the item.  Oliver mentioned that those days were kind of "edgy" and folks didn't really go around accusing each other of too much.   As a result he never trusted too many of them. 

Oliver recalls using dynamite to "shape" some of the area up on Manitoba.  Apparently he was doing enough blasting to raise the brow of the local mining community.  He remembers one day when a fellow showed up with $30,000 cash.  He was hoping Oliver would sell as there was bound to be something good in the rock to justify all the blasting.  It took some time for Oliver to convince the fellow otherwise. 

Oliver's main beef was with the Seward GI community that was taking advantage of him during the week.  They would even use his Weasels that he parked at the bottom to get to up the mountain.  Oliver tried chaining the road but it didn’t help.  He started pulling the rotors out during the week but eventually they figured it out, and would simply plug in another.  So towards the end he started parking the Weasel's at the Summit Lake Lodge so a friend could watch over them.  Before long, the fools burned the place down. 

Separate Contacts provided by the Amends

Bob Stanton – now resides in Bellingham, WA.  Bob and Oliver taught each other how to fly.  Taught Oscar Watsjold as well. 

Terry Turner – now resides in Anchorage, AK.  Well known Anchorage attorney who used to frequent the Glacier Ski Lodge.  Oliver says this guy loves to talk about the early days of skiing on the Peninsula.  Apparently they used to fly helicopters up to Turnagain Pass and ski the slopes.


Chugach National Forest Special Use Permit Cards for the Manitoba Ski Area

(Click on any image to enlarge)

~  MAPS  ~

This topo map show the location of the Manitoba Ski Area, east of mile 50 of the Seward Highway.  If you expand this map you will see that the 'Glacier Ski Lodge' is even identified.  The datum of this map is 1952.

(click on this map to expand it)


This 1997 aerial view shows the location of the Manitoba Rope Tow site in relation to Lower Summit Lake (mile 47.7 on the Seward Highway).

(click on this aerial view to expand it)

terra_manitoba.jpg (100049 bytes)

Zooming in on the ski hill, you can see where it is estimated that the rope tow and lodge existed.

(click on view to expand it)

terra_zoom_manitoba.jpg (108176 bytes)


Manitoba Cabin (not Glacier Ski Lodge) Pictures from the 1940s
Near the start of the old cat trail that leads up to the Manitoba Ski Area site is the Manitoba Cabin.  This hut has been used on and off in recent decades by the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage and was originally the McHenry/Shell cabin that was built for housing the miners that worked a claim on nearby Mills Creek.

[Photos courtesy of Theresa Zimmerman]

Research Correspondence 
[Seth DePasqual - 22 November 2005 email excerpt] 

Just spent yesterday scouring the CNF files in Anchorage. I managed to turn up Gentry W. Schuster 's Special Use Permit (SUP) card for his "Ski Hut and Tow". A brief description reads: On the mountain above timberline at Mile 50 of the Seward-Hope Highway, as shown on blueprint attached to permit. The date of application is 7/11/42 and the date of issue is 9/22/42. A payment record on the back of the card itemizes a payment history from 1942 through 1959. No gaps between years. It appears that no payment was made in 1959 as the "date of payment" was not entered. On the front of the card a stamped print reads: CASE CLOSED 7/8/59. Maybe the hut burned in 1959. This little gem unfortunately does not include the blueprint or original permit application.
[Paige Spencer - 22 November 2005 phone conversation with Tim Kelley] 

Paige skied at the Manitoba Rope Tow in the early 1960's [likely 1960].  She remembers the Weasel (tracked vehicle) with the long rope that skiers would hold onto to get pulled up to the ski area.  Paige said the route the Weasel would take was not the switch-backed mining road that goes past the site.  But rather a northerly route that would use a gully get to the ski area.  When the skiers got to the area they would fire-up the rope tow.  She remembers the hut had a row of windows on the back side and a barrel stove with a pot of chili available for the skiers.  According to Paige's mother Eloise: cost for skiing was a $2.00 donation for gas.
[Seth DePasqual - 27 February 2006 email excerpt, notes from an interview with Oscar Watsjold] 

He [Oscar] said that the Divide and Manitoba resorts never operated simultaneously. The Manitoba operation was essentially an upgrade and as efforts shifted from one resort to the other, so too did related interest.
[Tim Kelley - 07 October 2007] 

Here is a view of the slopes of Manitoba Mountain, where the ski area once existed, from the Seward Highway at Lower Summit Lake.

[Tim Kelley - 20 February 2011] 

A group called the Mountain Riders Alliance is proposing a project to build rope tows on Manitoba Mountain.  Read more ...
[Tim Kelley - 25 October 2012] 

Clark Fair wrote an excellent historical article about the Manitoba Ski Area for the Redoubt Reporter.  Here is a link to the article.

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