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Murphy Dome AFS Rope Tow

1950's to Late 1960's

Name of Ski Area: Murphy Dome AFS (Air Force Station)
Location: Fairbanks, on Murphy Dome, 18 miles northwest by road from the center of Fairbanks.
Type of Area: Ski Hill, Sledding Road
Dates of Operation: Late 1950's to Late 1960's.  After the rope tow stopped working, skiing continued into the 1970's at this Air Force Station.
Who Built It?: The United States Air Force
Base/ Vertical Drop:

Base: ~Unknown' / Top: ~2990 / Vertical: Unknown

Lifts: Rope Tow, Motor Pool Shuttle (truck), Snowmobile, Track Master
Facilities: An Air Force AC&W (Aircraft Control and Warning) Long Range Radar Station, a camp that supported over 100 servicemen.

This base was originally shared with the US Army for their Nike missile defense system.  Today this site supports a scaled down, minimally attended Long Range Radar Station.  In 1984 the current radar was brought on-line to replace the original large radar station complex, much of which has been razed.

Sounds like some wild sledding was done on the road leading up the the Murphy Dome AFS.  From the www.radomes.org/museum site Douglas R. Head has this quote:

"Our maintenance guys built heavy steel four man sleds that we used to race down our ice packed roadbed on Sunday afternoons in late winter. I always rode in the front and had the challenge of steering at 40 or 50 mph with ice crystals and snow pelting my face. Another high-risk venture but a great adrenaline rush. I loved the thrill." 

According to John Borg, in the late 1960's they were not able to get the ski lift engine running.  So they would ski off the southeast side of the site down to the road.  And then a guy from the motor pool would give them a ride back up to "the Domes".

Sources of Information:

The Online Air-Defense Radar Museum - www.radomes.org/museum/; Henry "Hank" Brand; John Borg; Frank Raishart; Bruce Talbot (State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources); Steve Hornung; Chuck Lilly; William Wolfe

~  PHOTOS  ~

You can see why they call these airmen ... "air" men!  Back in 1967 John Borg (left) and Frank Raishart (in uniform no less) take to the air off a jump to the southeast of the Domes.  A guy from the motor pool would give them a ride back up.

[Photo credits: Frank Raishart and John Borg]


Photos Courtesy of Chuck Lilly, Murphy Dome AFS 1963-1964

[Chuck Lilly- 11 May 2009 email]

My name is Chuck Lilly and was at the Dome in '63 and '64. The ski tow was working when I was there. Used it as often as we could get someone to man the engine. By the end of the first season, the rope had lost half of it's diameter from dragging in the snow. Took some good tumbles and twisted my knees a few times. Have some pictures that I will have to find if you would like to have them. Was there when Kennedy was killed and for the big earthquake. It was a good year.

Ski tow had just been installed before I got to Murphy Dome. It was the first time I tried sking. The snow usually had a hard ice on top. Couldn't always find someone to run the tow whiled we skied.


Photos Courtesy of Henry (Hank) Brand, Murphy Dome AFS 1963-1964

Hank Brand took these two pictures of the rope tow shack during his Murphy Dome AFS tour in 63-64.  From the looks of it the rope tow had been discontinued at this point.  There is no sign of a rope or rope towers.  But it looks like folks still skied here in the 60's.

MD AFS - tow shack.jpg (32271 bytes) MD AFS - ski trails.jpg (38058 bytes)

Hank noted on this 1963 aerial photo of the Murphy Dome AFS where the rope tow was located.  It was on the north side of the radar station.

MD AFS - 1963 - photo.jpg (52651 bytes)

Hank also noted on an recent aerial view (about 1996) where the rope tow was located.

MD AFS - 1996 photo.jpg (46020 bytes)

Here's a picture of the gentle hill that was once serviced by the rope tow.  You can see the top of the rope tow engine shack down the hill.

Thanks a lot to Hank for these pictures !!

MD AFS - summer slope.jpg (24843 bytes)



(All Courtesy of The Online Air-Defense Radar Museum, www.radomes.org/museum/)

(click on any image to expand it)

The document on the right is from the 1962 "Guide to AAC Remote Stations".  This was a "promotional brochure" in helping servicemen decide what station to apply for.

At right is the patch of the 744 AC&W Squadron that was based at the Murphy Dome AFS.


MurphyDomeAAC62.jpg (65124 bytes)
On the left is a 1957 aerial view of the Murphy Dome radar and Nike missile defense station.  At right is a 1960-61 view. MurphyDomeAFSAK1957.jpg (39309 bytes) MurphyDomeAFSAK61site1.jpg (34705 bytes)
The 1963 view of the Murphy Dome AFS shows the starkness of this mountain top outpost.  At right is the helicopter that would bring "mail and movies". MurphyDomeAFSAK1963aerial.jpg (33162 bytes) MurphyDomeAFSAKVertolH-21.jpg (21155 bytes)
Steve Hornung, in the center of the picture, is holding a plastic banana.  A base tradition was to give the newest arrival the plastic banana to wear at all times he was in uniform.  Caught without the banana would mean the new guy would have to buy the other a drink at the NCO club.  Steve has a detailed account of the infamous banana in the research correspondence section below. MurphyDomeBananaCrew1971.jpg (18422 bytes) MurphyDomeAFSAKsign1.jpg (15544 bytes)

~  Documents  ~

To the right is an excerpt from the 1982 State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources study entitled: "Ski Potential: Fairbanks Area".  Murphy Dome was studied for potential as a downhill ski area at that time.

~  MAPS  ~

This large scale topo map shows where the Murphy Dome AFS is located relative to Fairbanks.

(click on this map to expand it)

topo_murphydomeafs.jpg (159509 bytes)

A zoomed in view of the topo map shows where the radar station is situated - on top of Murphy Dome.  This map will be updated with the location of the rope tow when this information is obtained.

(click on this map to expand it)

topo_zoom_murphydomeafs.jpg (154173 bytes)

A zoomed in view of the a 1998 aerial view of Murphy Dome shows what is left.  As you can see, comparing this view to site photos above, the majority of the old radar site complex was razed.

(click on this view to expand it)

terra_murphydomeafs.jpg (119894 bytes)

Research Correspondence 
[Henry Brand - 29 December 2004 email]


I was stationed at Murphy Dome AFS outside Fairbanks from Sep '63 - Sep '64 and there was skiing on the radar site. I may have a photo of the ski tow used there. Tow included the use of old car wheels as pulleys. Was not a skier. Also, was there when president Kennedy was assassinated and the Great Alaskan Earthquake.


[John Borg - 16 March 2005 email excerpts]

I served the 744th as Rdr Rpmn from May, 1966 to May 1967.  I am the Airman (ski jumper) in the picture, taken by Frank Raishart (a better photo taker than jumper*), and you have my permission to use it.  We tried to get the rope tow on the North side of The Dome to work, and failing that, used the South-East side of The Dome for our many ski runs.  Our pal in Motor Pool would pick us up and drive us to the Domes for another run.

We “maintenance guys” (Ravens) built two very fast sleds that season, crashing the first one – throwing some members of the crew into the trees just off the road at a bend further off the Dome.  The “old man” insisted we have the site ambulance present at our future runs, and so I later put the 4-wheel drive ambulance into a 720-degree look-at-the-landscape while trying to chase down the Raven’s. 

Hey! We’re coming up on our 40th anniversary of the `66-67 season of the 744th Follies - - - when some extremely enterprising individual came up with the idea to fly contestants of the Miss Alaska Pageant to the Dome – and we threw an outlandish party for them at the NCO Club.  Good thing the Ruskies didn’t know about that.  We were totally unmanned that night!

[Steve Hornung - 03 February 2007]
Hi!  My name is Steve Hornung.  I wanted to comment on a photo you have on your website ALSAP.  You have a photo depicting an individual holding a plastic banana.  That person holding the bananna is me.  LOL!  I also contributed the photo to radomes.org.  The photo was taken during start of my first tour there at Murphy Dome, which would had made it around March of 1971.  I don't know if you were stationed there or not, but the story you told is close but not completely accurate, or at least during the time that I was there.  The plastic banana was not at the time I was there a base tradition, but was instead rather a "B" (Banana) Crew tradition.  The newest person assigned to the crew had to wear that banana whenever in uniform, and if caught not doing so, that person would have to buy the person a drink from the club.  During the time that I was there the base had something similar going for the newest person on the hill.  In their case it was a moose hook, which the newest person would have to wear around the site whenever not in uniform.  Once again the price of not doing so was a drink from the club.  As for the plastic banana, I have no idea as to how long the tradition might had been.  All I know is that the banana was new when it was presented to me.  A chain, much like that used for dog tags was attached to the banana, and that was how we wore it.  When presented the banana, that person would sign their name on it, eventually showing all those who had the honor of wearing it.  LOL!  For what ever reason, I was presented the banana at the end of my tour there.  By that time there were several other names on it.  I traveled to my next assignment, which was the 20th AD in Fort Lee, VA.  The vice commander Lt Col Durio followed me to Ft Lee shortly there after.   I worked in the Identification Section, and Lt Col Durio was the Senior Director, both assigned to Bravo Crew.  Some time after his arrival there, he asked me if I still had the banana, which I said that I did.  He told me that he wanted to continue the tradition for one more person there at Ft Lee.  Hearing his plans, I agreed to go along with what he had in mind.  He then ordered to the Senior Director's dais, the newest person on the crew.  In this case it was a female airman from my section named Beverly Hood.  He ordered her to wear the banana for one day.  Although quite shocked by his orders, she wore the banana.  LOL!  Afterwards, I got the banana back, and still have it to this day.  (smile)  I would return to Murphy Dome AFS for another tour several years later, but don't recall seeing either the banana or the moose hook.  (frown)  Seeing the photo brought about memories I thought that I would share with you.
I also did some skiiing up there while stationed at Murphy Dome.  Not only did I ski on the radar site, but also Cleary Summit, Ski Boot Hill, University of Alaska, Fort Wainwright, and Eielson AFB.  I suppose of the group, I probably went to Fort Wainwright more than the others.  When I arrived at Murphy Dome, the tow lines were gone.  The poles, pulleys, and motor houses were still there but the lines were long gone.  The primary means we used to bring us back to the top of the hill was normally being pulled behind a snow mobile.  Occasionally we would use a truck or a track master.  I believe I might have some photos of us skiiing, and if I find them I will pass them along to you.  The first time I ever went skiing was at Murphy Dome, and in doing so I continued to ski many years since. 
I enjoyed your website.  I think you have done a good job with it.
Thanks for the memories,
Steve Hornung
[William Wolfe - 17 January 2022]
 I was an Airman First Class (A1C) stationed for six months from January to late June 1973 at Murphy Dome Air Force Station. I was a "Scope Dope" Aircraft Control and Warning (AC&W) Radar Operator (MOS 276) at eighteen years of age. 

I was assigned to the 744th AC&W Squadron, Alaskan Air Command which reported to the United States Air Force Air Defense Command (ADC).

I remember a frigid winter arrival in Jan 1973 at Murphy Dome. My first assignment was to shovel snow away from outside entrance doors. Snow banks stood higher that me, 5 feet 7 inches. I remember cold, windy nights on Murphy Dome where the outside air temp was 30 Below zero. Northern lights observed were green and/or purple. In summer the midnight sun shone on the horizon for 24 hours of the day with no darkness. Airmen assigned to the base lived in barracks connected by hallways to avoid outside exposure. A environmental unit building provided steam, radiator type heat for all the interconnected site buildings. My second duty was to spend a month waxing and buffing the miles of interconnected dark grey linoleum hallways. The First Sergeant who assigned the work was all business, no nonsense, never smiled, type you didn't want to disappoint. In order to progress to our assigned radar work, you had to submit to the grunt work first or get disciplined, maybe shipped somewhere else.

We eventually rented overly-long alpine skis from the base recreation department and went down on the base mail truck to US Army Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks to ski the groomed trails. I never skied at Murphy Dome. I recall pointing downhill without any instructions or control at all. Hit a rack of skis at the bottom of a slope at Wainwright as I recall. 

Our job was to search, detect, and intercept Soviet (USSR) "Bear" Tupelev TU-95 Bombers as part of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line which ran from Alaska, across Canada, Greenland, Iceland, to England. One time in early morning darkness in the Spring of 1973, three, unknown targets appeared on our scopes over northwest Alaska. Turns out that the targets were three Soviet Bear TU-95 Bombers. We caught them. They didn't attack us, turned around and flew back to wherever, maybe Siberia or Russia. We practiced thermal nuclear warfare during numerous exercises, fully expecting to pay the ultimate sacrifice if necessary. The Soviets had the means in the event of war to lock onto our radar and blow us off the face of the earth 

Some personel didn't adapt very well to the "Remote" assignment and one of my technical training classmates assigned to different Alaska radar site attempted suicide due mandatory separation from his wife. Neither  Enlisted or Officers were suppose to bring wives or dependents to Alaska Remote tours of duty. Some broke regulations and did it anyways at their own expense, made bootleg arrangements say in Fairbanks somewhere. 

Murphy Dome was staffed by around 120 military personnel with a number of civilians who maintained the radar. The assignment was limited to a year. I only served six months because I received an appointment to the United States Air Force Academy Preparatory School in Summer 1973. My life was about to get incredibly more difficult with much more mental pressure than I ever imagined.

As a point of interest, a Lieutenant with the last name of Murphy was said to have fatally crashed an early model helicopter into Murphy Dome sometime back in the 1940s to early 1950s. There wete still visible twisted metal remnants back in 1973. The rumor was that a ghost of either a deceased miner or pilot haunted the hallways of Murphy Dome Air Force Station. Although I am not superstitious, I never lingered in the hallways when headed to and from the radar control room whether late at night or early in the morning. 

Best regards,

William Wolfe, Airman First Class Retired 



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