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Russian Jack Ski Hill

1968 to 1979 / 1983 to 2003

Name of Ski Area: Russian Jack Ski Hill, Russian Jack Ski Jump, Russian Jack Springs Ski Hill
Location: Anchorage, to the north and south of Debarr Road, to the west of Boniface Parkway.
Type of Area: Ski Hill, Jump
Dates of Operation: Rope Tow: 1968 to 1979 (when original lodge burned)/ 1983 (date new lodge was built to 2003.  Ski Jump: 1968 to 1971.
Who Built It?: Anchorage Parks and Rec built both old and new lodges.  The jump was built by Anchorage Parks and Rec, Manpower Training School of the IBEW and the Nordic Ski Club (Lou Strutz and Ralph Anderson were involved in this project).
Base / Vertical:

Base: ~125' / Vertical: ~100'

Lifts: 1 Rope Tow, rope tow served both the ski hill and the ski jump
Facilities: 25 meter jump (until 1971).  Lodge for warm-up, food, rental and ticketing.  The tow engine was enclosed in the lodge.
Miscellaneous: The original rope tow for the RJS ski hill was moved from the Forest Park Ski Hill in 1967 or 1968.  The 1958 Onan gas engine for this tow operated until 1971 when it was replaced by the current tow engine.

In 1979 the Russian Jack Springs lodge burned.  The tow engine was in a separate shack that did not burn.  In 1983 the lodge was rebuilt and a tow engine room was incorporated into the building.

After the snow-less winter of 2002-2003 ski lift operations at RJS were ended.

The takeoff ramp of the ski jump at RJS was constructed out of telephone poles in 1968.  The jump was removed in 1971 due to use conflicts and liability concerns.

Sources of Information:

John McCleary (Municipality of Anchorage, Department of Parks and Recreation); Ronn Randall (Municipality of Anchorage, Department of Parks and Recreation); Tim Kelley; Adem Boeckmann; Michael Robbins; Dan Lane; Randy Sauder

Photos: Does anyone have pictures of skiing or jumping at the Russian Jack Ski Hill or Jump that they would like to contribute to ALSAP ?

~  PHOTOS  ~

Fall 2005 photos from the Rope Tow Room in the lower level of the Russian Springs Chalet

Photos by Tim Kelley. Thanks go to Ronn Randall of the Municipality of Anchorage, Parks and Recreation Department for allowing Tim access to the rope tow room.

(Click on any picture to enlarge it)

The rope tow power plant is well built, engineered for safety and in excellent condition. The tow rope itself is also in great shape. The rope would send and return through a slot in the building's wall.
Grooves in the dive wheel hold the tow rope. The drive wheel is likely a military surplus truck wheel.  Possibly a "deuce and a half", 2 1/2 ton, Army truck.  
The axle differential is connected to a gearbox which is driven by an electric motor. All rotating parts are covered by diamond grate for safety. The gear box.
The electric motor.   The last State of Alaska rope tow inspection: October 1997.
Electrical boxes for starting the rope tow motor ...    ... and stopping it.
All of the ski area signs are preserved in this room. Prices like these helped make skiing an "every-person's" sport.  And that was a good thing.  
    Behind the front desk there is a great view of the ski hill and rope tow.  And a rope tow safety control switch is an arm's-length away.

Plus - a few Fall 2005 photos of the Ski Hill and Rope Tow Towers

Rope tow tower and the Russian Jack Springs Chalet - a very nice public parks building owned and run by the Municipality of Anchorage. The "slot" in the chalet where the tow rope enters, to the power plant, and exits. Rope tow towers leading up to the chalet, with the ski hill on the right.  As far as beginners' ski hills go - this facility was just about perfect.  Many Anchorage-ites took their first ski runs here.


This large scale topo map shows the location of Russian Jack Springs Park in Anchorage.

(click on map to expand it)

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This 2002 aerial view shows the location of the Russian Jack Ski Hill.  During the summer the ski hill is park of a golf course.  Russian Jack Springs park is a gem of a park in east-central Anchorage, it spans to the north and south of Debarr Road. 

terra_rjs.jpg (119398 bytes)

Zooming in on the aerial view, red lines depict the rope tow emanating from the lodge, and the former location of the ski jump (a shadowed clearing in the trees is the far extent of the jump outrun). 

 On the right is a 2008 picture of the old ski jump landing hill and outrun.  A fence is placed at the top of the hill to discourage sledders from using this hill, as several sledders have been seriously hurt here in the past.

[Photo credit (right): Tim Kelley]

terra_zoom_rjs.jpg (90841 bytes)


[John McCleary, MOA Dept. of Parks and Recreation - excerpt from 29 November 2004 email] 

The original Chalet was built in 1968.  The rope tow was operational as early as the 1968 season by my records. By a letter from the Recreation Superintendent dated July 18, 1974, it sounded like the rope tow engine was moved from what he called the Forest Park Ski Hill after the 1966-67 season to RJS.  Downhill skiing may have been occurring just prior to this without a tow.  The rope tow and shack was at the top of the hill separate from the Chalet.  The tow served the downhill skiers and jumpers.  After the chalet fire, the location for the replacement chalet was moved to the top of the hill, incorporating the tow engine room, ticket shack, warm-up and rental functions into one facility.  The tow operation ended after the miserable winter of 2002-2003.

The RJS ski jump hill was built 1968 jointly by Anchorage Parks and Rec, Manpower Training School of the I.B.E.W. and the Nordic Ski Club.  Materials were donated by Chugach Electric Assoc, M.L. & P. and AK. R. R.  It was a 25 meter jump constructed from telephone poles.  Due to use conflicts and liability concerns, the hill was removed in 1971.

By a letter from the Recreation Superintendent dated July 18, 1974 ...  He states that the 1958 Onan gasoline engine had broken down in the spring of 1967.  He also stated that the idler wheels were too small and that the tow rope kept slipping off and would not stay on.  He indicated that it remained in operation at RJS until 1971 after which when lack of replacement parts required it to be replaced and sold at public auction.  A new tow engine was purchased and is the one currently installed.

During my information quest on the RJS jump, found a memo dated March 7, 1963 from Council Person, Sewell Faulkner, an advocate of downhill skiing and jumping.  He requested that the Parks and Recreation Department investigate the possibility of construct a 25 or 30 meter jump and constructing a separate 10 meter jump by diverting the $5,000 approved P&R budget item for a warm up hut at the Romig Hill.  The author stated that the hill for the past 5 years [Romig Hill] (placing the hill starting around 1958) was a victim of weather and winds resulting in poor snow conditions.  He felt that the new warm up hut would receive limited use and that jumping would bring more users and would help pay for the city operations of the hill/new jumps.  A drawing was attached showing a tower near to the top of the hill and the jump about mid way on a modified slope.

[Adem Boechmann - 23 November 2007 email excerpt]

I ... have recently purchased the Russian Jack Springs rope tow from Anchorage, hoping to start up the [Nome, Alaska] Newton Peak rope tow again.

[John McCleary, MOA Dept. of Parks and Recreation - 22 September 2008 email excerpt]

It is true that the RJS rope tow power plant was removed last year and sold as surplus, to who was not shared with us.  The poles were not part of the sale and are still standing.

[Michael Robbins - 02 March 2010 email]

I just found this site this evening.. and probably should have looked at the content a lttle more..
Russian Jack Springs was my first Alaska Ski area ever..
In 1977 as an Air Force Family we were transferred from the desert area of Idaho (it was a very long drive back then to Sun Valley from Mountian Home AFB.)
Russian Jack was only a mile or so from my home on DeBarr so I got to spend quite a bit of time there.. Starting on Cross Country Ski's (they were cheaper than downhill and I was not allowed to go up to Arctic Valley alone...  yet... another story
From this site I have learned something about Russian Jack...  
  Our old sled hill was at one time a ski jump?   Where on earth did they land? from what i remember of the place even at current standard hill levels you landed in the trees in the photo on your page..
Our worst ever mistake.. at what I know now was the old Russian Jack Ski Jump Area  ..sledding 101 not..
We took two old front ski's from a Polaris Colt 340 and built a frame to hold them together..more or less in line. Prior to this we had never made it into the woods in all of our sledding days. but this time..  this time was another story altogether.. 
After announcing the run and clearing the hill..  And launched from the chains at the top of the run at the parking lot with three people pushing.  The pilot was an airman first at Elmondorf.. he almost earned his wings that day. Half way down the hill.. he ejected. I am not now and will never be sure how fast he was going.. I do know that the pines at the bottom were no more that 40 feet tall at the time. The sled hit the end where there was a "hump' built in and sailed almost 100 feet into the woods over the first few pines.
After many years.. while watching the olympics I saw my first real Luge sled..  this thing.. that we made.. weighed 150 pounds on it's own...  It took all of us kids several hours to pull that contraption back up the hill in several parts.  as my mother watched...
A real luge.. weighs maybe 20 pounds and is about the same length. The runs are not as steep.. one can only imagine and cringe at what might have happened if the pilot had not ejected when he did. it's no wonder they closed the slope to sledding.. it just might be our fault..
Michael Robbins  Age 46.5 03/02/2010
Bartlet High Class of  198# something...

[Dan Lane - 14 November 2010 email]

I was sad to hear about the demise of the rope tow at Russian Jack. I learned to ski there in 1970. My dads company (Alascom) signed up with Sports outfitters down town. They taught the old GLM(Graduated Length Method) method which used extremely short skis and no poles. I think my first school skis were just short of three feet. They were red and white with a glm logo. The bindings were Olin and they issued heavy black leather ski boots.

The old rope tow would eat through mittens in two sessions. My dad took me to Army-Navy surplus and we tried some military issue mittens, they lasted three sessions. That old rope rope was tough.

I remember the lodge had a cool seventies vibe and was nice until they closed the snack bar. The cool kids used/abused the upstairs section though.

The "sled hill". We called it suicide hill because somebody was always hitting a pole or tree at the bottom. I have seen at least three people hurt there. Later on someone tied a mattress to the light pole and that seemed to help.
Hope you can use this.
Dan Lane
Longview, WA

[Randy Sauder - 14 April 2013 email]

Russian Jack holds a special memory for me.  In 1968, my school classmate David Dunkin and I were skiing at Russian Jack on a Sunday afternoon.  This was close in time to when Russian Jack first opened.  On that particular day it so happened that both Lowell Thomas Jr. and his world famous father, Lowell Thomas Sr. were also skiing.   The year before we moved to Anchorage, I (as a ten year old) had seen Lowell Thomas, Jr. in a television interview talking about his house being destroyed in the great 1964 earthquake.  Now four years later, David and I ended up in the Russian Jack ski line with both he and his father, Lowell Thomas, Sr..  We introduced ourselves and skied the hill with them a few runs.  By that time, Lowell Thomas Sr. was world renowned as an explorer, writer, radio and TV personality.  Among other things he hosted the first-ever TV news broadcast in 1930.  Thomas Jr. would later make his own mark as a bush pilot, film and TV producer and as Alaska’s 6th Lt. Governor.   When this chance 1968 meeting took place, my family had just moved from Anchorage into our new home by the pond at the top of O’Malley Road.  In an interesting twist, years later Lowell Thomas, Jr. built his retirement home next door to our house on the very same pond.

Below: Lowell Thomas, Sr.



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