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Mount McKinley Army Recreation Camp
Mount McKinley Army Recreation Camp

Early 1940's to 1953

Name of Ski Area: McKinley Park Hotel, Mount McKinley Army Recreation Camp
Location: McKinley Park.  Main ski slope on south slopes of Mount Healy, north of the McKinley Park Road.  A smaller ski hill ("bunny hill") existed to the west of the McKinley Park Hotel.  And at a later unknown date this small hill rope tow was moved to a location up the McKinley Park Road called "6 Mile" (road mileage markers have changed over time and the exact location of this third ski area is still being researched).
Type of Area: Ski Hills (a total of 3 different areas with tows)
Dates of Operation: The hotel opened on June 1, 1938 (unknown if ski slopes were built at the same time).  From 1942 to 1945 the hotel and ski slopes were used exclusively by US Army soldiers.  In 1946 the hotel and ski slopes were reopened to the public.  In 1953 winter operations of the hotel were ceased.
Who Built It?: The US Government built the McKinley Park Hotel to promote tourism in Alaska.  It is unknown who built the ski hills, though it is likely the US Army built them. 
Base/Vertical Drop:

Main Ski Slope: Base: ~2100' / Vertical: Unknown

Lifts: 2 Rope Tows for 3 ski hills.  The rope tow for the small hill near the hotel was "portable".  In the spring it would be brought out to the " 6 Mile" ski site.
Facilities: Warming house (with hot coffee, sandwiches and candy), heated transport trucks, one hundred sets of ski equipment available for free use.  Nearby luxury hotel.
History: During 1937 and 1938 the US Government built the luxurious McKinley Park Hotel, to promote Alaskan tourism, near the southeast base of Mount Healy (at the start of the McKinley Park Road).  The Alaska Railroad ran the hotel.  During World War II tourism ceased due to the war so from 1942 to 1945 this hotel was turned into an off-duty recreational camp for Armed Forces personnel.

After a long tour in the Aleutians or remote Alaskan outposts, servicemen and War Department female employees were offered week long R&R (rest and relaxation) trips to McKinley Park Hotel.  When the train arrived at the McKinley station, the guests would be greeted by a hotel hostess that arrived on dogsled.  According to a Life Magazine article (see below) female guests, often employees of the Army Engineering Corps, would be chaperoned by two Army hostesses.

A Mount McKinley Army Recreation Camp brochure is the source of much of our information about this ski facility (see below).  However, the brochure (which is believed to be dated to 1949) talks in the future tense about some facilities.  So it is not certain how many amenities were put in place prior to the Army closing their camp operations.

The hotel was reopened to the public in 1946.  One source said the rope tow may only have been in place and operated for one year (1950-1951).  In 1953 winter operations of the hotel ceased and the Alaska Railroad turned the hotel operation over to the National Park Service, who contracted with a concessionaire.  The McKinley Park Hotel was severely damaged by fire on September 3rd, 1972, though it was immediately rebuilt as a temporary structure.  The 'temporary hotel' served the visiting public until September of 2001, when the entire structure was removed. The site of the McKinley Park Hotel is now being used for a new group of structures including the Denali Visitor Center, due to open in summer, 2005.

Sources of Information:

Mark Moderow (the camp brochure and LIFE magazine scans below are courtesy of Mark), Jim Mahaffey, Sheri Forbes "Denali Trails", Jane Bryant; Tim Kelley; Frank Norris; Bob Powers; Eleanor Pollack; Kenneth Alden; Pamela Gott; Lee Whitney; Levi Ballard


Does anyone have old pictures of skiing at the McKinley Park Army Recreation Camp (or current pictures of the vicinity) that they would like to contribute to alsap ?

~  PHOTOS  ~

Skiing photos from the Denali National Park and Preserve Archives
Jane Bryant, the Cultural Anthropologist of the Denali National Park & Preserve, searched the Park's photo archives for old skiing photos from the era when Mount McKinley Army Recreation Camp was in operation.  Jane hit a gold mine of photographic history and we are very grateful that she allowed these images to be shared with others on ALSAP.

All of the following images (the ones with captions that start with "DENA") are the property of the Denali National Park and Preserve.

(Click on any of the following images to expand them)

Photos from the small ski hill near the Hotel

DENA 30-2, Skiing at Hotel, Feb 27, 1950 DENA 30-3, Skiing at Hotel, Feb 27, 1950 DENA 30-8, Ski tow east of Hotel
DENA 30-9, Ski tow near Hotel DENA 30-10, Ski class at Hotel DENA 30-11, Skiing at Hotel
DENA 30-7, Skiing East of the Hotel DENA 30-4, Skating at Hotel, Feb 27, 1950
* See Eleanor Pollack email below for info on this picture
DENA 30-13, Ice skating at Hotel
* See Eleanor Pollack email below for info on this picture
Photos from the main ski hill on the slopes of Mount Healy
DENA 4843, Ski run from near the top DENA 4845, Half way up ski run, Hotel DENA 4842, Ski run looking up towards Mt. Healy
[Right] DENA 3548, Charles Ott Photo, Denali National Park and Preserve, McKinley Park Hotel Ski Slope, 3-1954
DENA 4846, Trail to ski run, Hotel    
Photo of the "6-Mile" Ski Hill
DENA 30-1, Denali National Park and Preserve, Ski Run Mile 6, March 1944  

1943 Pictures Courtesy of Levi Ballard
Ski hill with Mt. Healy in background.      
      Skiing the Park Road.
  Packing the ski hill.  

1951 Pictures Courtesy of Bob Powers

Bob was stationed at Eielson AFB and went to the McKinley Park Army Recreation Camp from February 23-27, 1951

One of the ski slopes, with hotel in center Skating rink beside the hotel
Another ski slope (not same one as on top row) Ronald T. Rascop, an Air Force friend of Bob Powers that went to McKinley Park at the same time for R. & R. (Rest and Recuperation) View from the ski slopes

Mount McKinley Army Recreation Patch Courtesy of Pamela Gott

[Pamela Gott - 19 March 2009 email]

Dear Tim & Dave,

I found your emails at the ALSAP web site.  My Mom, Velma Montague (Gott) was one of the few women who worked with the Army Corps of Engineers as they built the Al-Can Highway.  She did this before she married my dad, and went on to have us three kids.  But she would tell us stories of what it was like in Alaska all those years ago.

She passed away three years ago, and while going through her things, I came across a patch for the Mount McKinley Army Recreation Camp.  It is in amazing condition.  More recently, I Googled the MMARC to see if it still existed, and I found your site.  So, I scanned in the patch, and have attached it to this email.  Hope you can use it!

Thanks for the good work you are doing!

Pamela Gott

1952-1953 Photos and Document Scans Courtesy of Ken Alden
Jack Wills (left) from N.Y., Rod Butler (center) from Ill. and Ken Alden from Maine on hill behind McKinley Hotel McKinley Park rope tow Ken Alden jumping at McKinley Park
Ken Alden giving a skating demonstration    Ski jumpers training
1952 Rest and Recreation Staff.  Ken Alden in first row, second from right Hotel dining room staff in 1952. Mt. McKinley reflected in Wonder Lake.
Pages from a 1952 Air Force Rest and Recreation Center brochure (click on page image to expand it to readable size)
cover forward Page 1 Page 2-3 Page 4-5 Page 6-7
Page 8-9 Page 10-11 Page 12-13   Click on image above to open PDF document.  


Mark Moderow has a brochure from the Mount McKinley Army Recreation Camp.  He scanned several pages of the brochure for ALSAP.  The first two images below are the logo for the camp and the cover of the brochure.

McKinley_logo.jpg (33604 bytes)

McKinley_page2.jpg (507128 bytes)


Two pages from the brochure are shown below (click on them to expand for reading) ...


This 1938 photo shows the McKinley Park Hotel under construction.  The center ridge in the background was where the ski slope was.

(Click on this photo to enlarge it)

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

Dow_McKinley_1938_hotel.jpg (225394 bytes)

Here is a 1940s view of the completed McKinley Park Hotel.

(Click on this photo to enlarge it)

[Photo credit: Anchorage Museum of History and Art]

AMHA_McKinley_1940s_hotel.jpg (246745 bytes)

The cover of the January 3, 1944 LIFE Magazine had a picture of Barbara Brubaker holding skis while on vacation after military duty at the McKinley Park Hotel.  (Note: Mark Moderow recently (2004) bought this copy of LIFE off of ebay.  Thanks Mark!)

(Click on this image to expand it)

LIFE_McKinley_1944_cover.jpg (75729 bytes)

 To view the pages of this LIFE magazine article, you can click here.

Warning:  This is a big Adobe Acrobat file.  You will need Adobe Acrobat installed on your computer to read it.  And the file is 1418 KB in size.  Also - the scan quality of this document is not the greatest.


From Page 34 of the January 1947 Alaska Sportsman Magazine

The caption for the bottom picture says:

I Like Close-Ups

Jack Van Gilder, of Ketchikan, while skiing at the McKinley Lodge saw a large black wolf about 200 yds away.  He moved within 75 yds of it to get a picture.  It wasn't until after he had taken the picture and checked the range that he realized that while he was focusing the wolf had approached to within 15 FEET of him before being chased off by another skier!

(Click on the image at the right to expand it to full size)


Crown Jewel of the North: An Administrative History of Denali National Park and Preserve, Volume I

by Frank Norris, National Park Service Regional Historian; Published: 2006


Frank Norris' "Crown Jewel of the North ..., Volume I" was published in 2006.  Mr. Norris makes reference to the Army skiing facilities.  On page 108 he mentions: "and during the winter of 1943-44, Army personnel rigged up a ski tow and warming hut at Mile 6 of the park road and offered skiing from December through April."  The Superintendents Monthly Reports (SMRs) for the winter months of 1943-44 are the reference for this information.

Page 124 has this skiing related passage: "beginning in the winter of 1950-51, the military offered a ski run and toboggan slide on the slope just west of the hotel.  ... the military's "skiing activities", in the spring of 1951, temporarily shifted to Mile 6 on the park road due to the lack of snow at McKinley Park Station."  SMRs are also the source of this information.


2005 Site Photos by Tim Kelley

[Left] Here is a shot of the spring skiing "6 Mile" ski hill.  A portable rope tow would be set up here in the spring after skiing near the McKinley Park Hotel ran out.

[Right] For comparison, here is a 1944 Denali National Park and Preserve archive shot of the "6 Mile" ski hill.

This view from the Parks Highway shows where the main ski hill on Mount Healy was located. The Denali Park "Spring Trail" passes by the base of the "6 Mile" ski hill. Ski tracks on "6 Mile" hill.  Was this the first ski run down this lost ski area in 40 or 50 years?

Here is a panoramic view from near the top of the "6 Mile" ski hill site.

~  MAPS  ~

This large scale topo map shows the location of McKinley Park ... it's the settlement at the beginning of the McKinley Park Road that runs west into Denali National Park.  The location of the hotel's main ski hill and the "6 Mile" ski hill are shown.

(click on this map to expand it)

The estimated location of the ski slope is indicated by the red ellipse.  The road that leads up to the base of the ski area is now part of the Mount Healy Overlook Trail.

(click on this map to expand it)

topo_zoom_mckinley.jpg (110331 bytes)

On this Denali Park Entrance Trails map you can see the Mount Healy Overlook Trail map.  You can see how the first section of the trail follows the old road grade (see map above).

(click on this map to expand it)

trailmap02.gif (20795 bytes)

Research Correspondence 
[Mark Moderow - 06 December 2004 email excerpt]
"Denali Trails", written by Sheri Forbes and published by the Alaska Natural History Assoc. (of which I am currently Chair), describes the area around the scenic overlook approx. 1 mile up the Mount Healy Overlook Trail which starts near the former Denali Park Hotel site: "As the trail ascends from the ridge, very small spruce give way to a dense thicket of alder, the later creating a swath heading straight up toward Healy Overlook.  During World War II, Denali was turned into an off-duty recreational camp for Armed Forces troops.  This trail zigzags through what was then a ski slope!"   This puts it approx. 1 mile WNW of the old hotel site (the hotel having been demolished or moved over the last two years).  The "Denali Trails" book is being reprinted by ANHA and updated due to the front-country construction of  the Murie Science and Learning Center (now open) and new Visitor Center and related facilities scheduled to open next summer.
[Mark Moderow - 29 December 2004 email excerpt]
Got the 1944 Life issue on the Mount McKinley Recreation Camp with a couple of good skiing photos.  No detailed info on location or pictures of the tow, but the cover shot and several interior pictures show skiing.  One shows what appears to be the Hotel's entry with ski racks, probably for storage while waiting to go to the hill.  The others show skiing, but without a large perspective. 

[Mark Moderow - 24 January 2005 email excerpt]


...two more ski tows/areas!  Jane Bryant talked to Bill Nancarrow, a long-time ranger at Denali, and in fact there were two rope tows near the old hotel.  We've correctly identified the main hill up on Mt. Healy, but there was apparently a "bunny hill" right adjacent to the hotel...probably where the Life photos were taken.  Then, at some time, the small rope tow was in fact moved out to "6 mile".  Still working on when, exactly where.  Remember that the road miles have changed over the years.

More later....

[Eleanor Pollack - 13 October 2008 email]

I tripped over your web site while looking for the location of the old hotel, which is where I spent the first 6-7 years of my life. 

See DENA 30-4:  My Dad, John F. Whitney (at the time known as John Witkoski) was part of the Alaska Railroad team managing McKinley.  Dad arrived fall of 1946.  Dad was in the Army Air Corp teaching flight navigation in Florida and his Colonel (last name of Johnson) was with the ARR.  Colonel Johnson offered my dad a job if he was interested in coming to Alaska when he got out of the service.  My parents returned to Pennsylvania in 1955-56.

Behind Dad to the left is my mother Martha (nee Yuskoski) Whitney.  Martha was a federal territorial nurse. 

They also did some work at Healy Fork and lived alternately at the hotel in Healy as well as the hotel at the park.

DENA 30-13 shows a figure of a woman skater in the back left.  We are sure that is Mildred Yuskoski who followed Martha to Alaska in 1948.  I believe Aunt Milly worked as a territorial nurse in the Whitehorse area but I no longer have a way to check that.

My Dad died 10 July 1964 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery; my mother passed away 30 January 2008.  I am planning to spend several weeks in Alaska June-July 2009 and will be returning some photos and mementos to Alaska.

FWIW, I do not recall my parents speaking of skiing so I will look thru what remains of the old photos.

Eleanor Whitney Pollack

[Ken Alden - 21 November 2008 email]

My name is Ken Alden and I was stationed at the Hotel from the fall of 52 until April 53 to serve on the skiing and ice skating outdoor team  I was a ski jumping champ in high school, Edward Little, Auburn, Maine in 1950, and was chosen because of experience.  I was the ski and ice skating instructor and all the miscellaneous duties that went with it.  I cherish  those memories and have a large assortment of black and white pictures taken while I was there including some staff pics. Etc.  From the park I was stationed at Naknek for the summer of 53 until rotation in the fall to a radar station in Maine, just lucky I guess.  I skied Curry on St. Patricks day 53 when a local boy was caught in an avalanche.  I made a jump on the discontinued jump with slalom skis while there.  I am still skiing  mostly on Saddleback Mt. In Rangeley Maine as often as possible.  At 76 I have slowed it down some but still enjoy the runs.  I was surfing for Curry when I found you site and I am delighted!!!!!!   My dream has been to go back some day but hasn't worked out , yet...  I also drove a tour school bus for the G.I's to take pictures and owned my on car and drove many hundreds of miles out to "Overlook?"   I would  be more than willing to send you pictures with captions as much as I can remember.  We were all AF at the hotel, approx. 50.

Kenneth L. Alden   ex A/2 airman
Leeds, Me.

[Lee Whitney - 15 September 2010 email excerpt]

Dear Tim and Dave -- I found your web site while doing genealogy research.  As I read through the postings you had received, I came across one by Eleanor Whitney Pollack dated 13 October 2008.  She mentions that her father, John F. Whitney, who was known at the time as John Witkoski, worked at the Mt. McKinley Park Hotel from 1946 to 1955.
John F. Whitney may be my uncle and Eleanor may be my cousin.  My father, Leo T. Whitney, told me when I was very young that he spent a summer or two in Alaska working at a hotel where one of his brothers worked.  
Just as John F. Whitney was known at the time as John F. Witkoski, my father was known earlier in his life as Leo T. Witkoski.  He grew up in Mt. Carmel, PA, in the anthracite coal mining region, and had brothers named Ed, John and Hank, and a sister named Eleanor. 
Before my father died, he gave me a saucer (see attached photos) with markings of the United States Department of Interior, Mt. McKinley Park Hotel and Alaska Railroad.  He said he had kept it as a souvenir of his time there.  I thought you might like to have the photos for your web site. 
Lee J. Whitney 



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