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Portage Glacier Fly-In Skiing

1960's to 1980's

Name of Skiing Area: Portage Glacier
Location: Portage Glacier and Portage Lake in Portage, AK
Type of Area: A glacier, one that has receded immensely since the days fly-in skiing was done here
Dates of Operation: 1960's to 1980's
Lifts:

A Piper Super Cub

Elevation:

Base: ~50', Landing Area: ~1500' (unknown)

Facilities: None
History: This is not a true lost ski area, though much of this former skiing terrain has been lost due to glacial melting.  There are accounts of commercial fly-in skiing operations on Portage Glacier in the 1960's to 1980's range.  These ski trips were based out of Girdwood.  See the 'Sources' section below for more information.
 

Excerpts from "True Tales from the Top of Mt. Alyeska", by Loverne Bercee, pages: 32-34:

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Herman "the German" and "Polka Dan" used to take Japanese groups on Ski Tours.  One night Herman shows up at the [Double] Musky [Inn], all charged up and elated! - "Today we made twelve Japanese skiers real happy about their trip here", he said.

"We took them to Portage Glacier, and they all fell into a twelve foot crevasse!" Then Herman related the story. --

"Al Curtis landed the group of about fifty Japanese skiers on the top of Portage Glacier, where Polka Dan and I proceeded to guide them down.  I went out ahead to check the terrain, and about half way down, I spotted this deep crevasse!  I hollered up to Day - "Keep to the Left!"  Dan responded - "Right, I'll keep to the Left!"

"But, sure enough, he got it wrong! He thought I meant MY left, when I meant HIS left!

Naturally, twelve of the skiers landed right into the deep crevasse!  Well, we scrambled around and lowered down ropes to get them out!  Fortunately, no one was injured or hurt!"

Al Curtis was waiting below on Portage Lake, a rope tied to his small plane, and when we got down, the skiers grabbed onto the rope and stood firmly, hanging on as the plane ferried them across the Lake.  The bus was waiting there to take them back to Alyeska."

"We were invited to be big celebration party at the Nugget Inn - the skiers presented Polka Dan and I with gifts and hugs and cheers - a real happy group!"

"The 'unlucky twelve' that fell into the crevasse turned out to be the luckiest after all - they had an exciting experience to take back and talk about for the rest of their lives, when the reminisce about their Ski Trip to Alyeska!"

--------

In the early beginning days of the Resort Era, there was a daredevil glacier pilot, Jim Cassidy, who would land the skiers at the top of the many glaciers around the area.

Loverne [Bercee] recalls - "One time, Jim invited a group of about ten skies on a trip the top of Portage Glacier.  ... It was a sunny Sunday morning in early April.  Jim hauled the skiers to the top of Portage, two at a time.

When everyone was up there, we started the long ski down, taking a route around the crevasses that was generally safe.

...everything went well, and it took about three hours to read the Lake.  Jim was there waiting.  Jerry Bernas was our guide, and he tied a rope securely behind Jim's plane.

The skiers line up one in front of the other, grabbed hold of the rope with both hands, and the plane started slowly across the lake.

Suddenly, we could feel the water building up under the thawing ice and it got rougher and rougher!

Then someone at the front of the rope lost his footing, - down he went into the cold watery ice, with everyone behind him falling one by one like dominos!  Of course, our guide was at the very back, and stepped aside, only getting his feet wet, - but us novices were soaked!

We got back up on our skis, and Jim coasted very slowly to the far side of Portage Lake.  We were all soaking wet as we piled into our cars and headed straight for the Double Musky [Inn]!"

Sources of Information:

"True Tales from the Top of Mt. Alyeska", by Loverne Bercee; "Alaska's Perfect Mountain: Stories from Girdwood and the Alyeska Resort" by Lana Johnson and Randy Branson; Fred Trimble; Tim Kelley

~  PHOTOS  ~
 
Photo from "Alaska's Perfect Mountain: Stories from Girdwood and the Alyeska Resort" by Lana Johnson and Randy Branson

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This 1966 picture shows a Super Cub towing skiers back across Portage Lake to the parking lot.  Prior to this picture being taken these skiers were flown up onto the glacier and then they skied down to the lake at the terminus of the glacier.

 
Portage Glacier Photo - April 2008
[Photo Credit: Tim Kelley]
Portage Glacier has incurred massive glacial recession over the last several decades.  Much less ski-able terrain exists on the glacier as compared to the 1960's.  Now (2008) it would be very hard to find a safe route to get novice skiers off the glacier and onto Portage Lake.

~  MAPS  ~

This is a 1972 topo map of the Portage Glacier area.  The approximate 2008 terminus of the glacier is shown to give an idea of how much recession has occurred, and skiing terrain lost, on this glacier.  The exact location of where skiers were landed on Portage Glacier is presently unknown to ALSAP.

This satellite map shows the location of the Portage Glacier relative to Anchorage, AK.

Research Correspondence 
 

 

 

Do you have further information, stories or pictures that you would like to contribute about fly-in skiing on Portage Glacier?