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UAF Ski Hill

Late 1940's to Early 1980's

Name of Ski Area: University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Ski Hill, Skarland Jump
Location: Fairbanks, UAF Campus, next to Patty Gym
Type of Area: Ski Hill, Ski Jump, Ski Trails
Dates of Operation: Late 1940's to early 1980's - likely the 1982/83 season, possibly until 1986 based on the "Ski Operators" note on the inside of the old ski tow building (see picture below).
Who Built It?: UAF
Base/Top/ Vertical Drop:

Base: ~300' / Top: ~600' / Vertical: ~300'

Lifts: Single rope tow
Facilities: On the campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, next to gym.
Miscellaneous: A 30 meter jump was at this ski site, and it was called the Skarland Jump.

This ski area was closed by the University after a fatal sledding accident.

Every September the runners of the Equinox Marathon become acquainted with UAF Ski Hill.  The race course starts by immediately climbing this hill.

According to Harvey Turner, former UAF ski team downhill, jump and xc skier, campus cross country ski trails were much more expansive back in the 1950's, even though trails were set by skiing them in.  This is because there was not the surrounding development in areas to the north of campus that there is now.

Sources of Information:

Merritt and Liz Mitchell; John Estle; Roger Evans; Larry Freeman; Harvey Turner; Donn Huber Family; Bevinne McCann Morse; Phil Jordan; Chuck Johnson; Daniel Osborne

Photos: Does anyone have pictures of skiing, sledding or jumping at the UAF Ski Hill (or current pictures of the site) that they would like to contribute to ALSAP ?


~ Photos  ~


UAF Ski Hill Pictures from the late 1940's

[Photo credits: Bevinne McCann Morse]

Skier in front of campus main building (left) and Elysian Hall (right). U of A Jump - 1948. Ski team member Sylvia McCann at the U of A Ski Hill - 1949. Action at the U of A Jump - 1948 - 1949.


UAF Ski Hill Pictures from the 1940's
These pictures are UAF Archives photos from the Alaska's Virtual Library and Digital Archives (ViLDA).  The date and author of these pictures are unknown, though the slalom racing pictures are likely between 1946 and 1949.  The rope tow pictures are believed to be at the UAF Ski Hill.  This was likely the first UAF rope tow, and was decommissioned and replaced by another tow at a later date.

[Photo Credit: Archives, UAF] [Photo Credit: Archives, UAF] [Photo Credit: Archives, UAF] Laila Thorsen

[Photo Credit: Archives, UAF]
Sylvia McCann

[Photo Credit: Archives, UAF]
Sheila McSpadden Zagars

[Photo Credit: Archives, UAF]
John McCall

[Photo Credit: Archives, UAF]
Sylvia McCann, jump in background

[Photo Credit: Bevinne McCann Morse]


UAF Ski Team pictures from the 1950's

1950's photos show skiers on the University Campus Ski Hill.  On the left are members of the women's ski club.  Al Paige is shown skiing on the right.

[Photo Credits: Merritt and Liz Mitchell]


The three pictures below show [left] Liz Mitchell, [center] Merritt Mitchell and [right] Al Paige running slalom gates on the University Campus Ski Hill in the late 1950's.

[Photo Credits: Merritt and Liz Mitchell]

[Left] Al Paige starts a downhill run at the University Campus Ski Hill in the late 1950s.

[Photo Credit: Merritt and Liz Mitchell]

[Right] Harvey Turner practices on a slalom course in 1950.

[Photo Credit: Harvey Turner]

UAF Ski Team 1950-51, Donn Huber on the far right.  If you know names of others in this picture ... let us know.  Thanks.

[Photo Credit: Donn Huber Family]

 Donn and Connie Huber pose in front of the 1950 Fur Rendezvous skiing trophy that the powerhouse Fairbanks squad took home from Anchorage.  The pride, purity and enthusiasm of this Alaskan skiing era shines brightly in this great picture.

[Photo Credit: Donn Huber Family]

 Donn Huber, a UAF four event skier from back in the days when skiers "did it all" - downhill, slalom, cross country and jumping.

[Photo Credit: Donn Huber Family]


Early 1950's pictures of jumping at the Skarland Jump

Jump on UA campus in 1950

[Photo Credit: Harvey Turner]
Harvey Turner jumping off the Skarland Jump in the early 1950's

[Photo Credit: Harvey Turner]
Harvey Turner takes off.  Notice the rustic construction of the jump.

[Photo Credit: Harvey Turner]
Jumper taking flight on UA campus in 1950s

[Photo Credit: John Sigler Collection, UAF]
  George Rae - 1955

[Photo Credit: Phil Jordan]


Early 1950's Cross Country Skiing

[Photo Credits: Harvey Turner]

The UAF campus trails have a long tradition of cross country ski racing.  The UAF mens' ski team back in the old days did all ski events in ski meets: slalom, downhill, jump and cross country.
Merritt Mitchell Professor Ivar Skarland.  According to Harvey Turner, Ivar would win local cross country skiing races when he was 60 years old. Ivar Skarland, Harvey Turner, Merritt Mitchell
Not much for set tracks back in the 1950's. UAF skier Leonard Gau heads down the trail in 1955. 1952 Gold Nugget Meet XC results.

(Click to enlarge to readable size).

[Right]  This is a 2005 picture of Harvey Turner and the 9 foot long skis he learned to ski on.  His uncles that mined in the Cleary/ Chatanika area in the 1910's brought the skis up from Colorado.  When Harvey started cross country ski racing he used cut-down military skis with sneakers screwed to them.

The results above refer to "Big Harvey Turner" as the winner of the race.  Harvey might be considered the 'Juha Mieto' of UAF cross country skiing, in reference to the legendary, very tall and strong, Finnish xc hero.  And that is a BIG compliment.

[Photo Credit: Tim Kelley]



1976 Skiathlon Pictures - Courtesy of Chuck Johnson

1949 aerial view of ski hill and trails 2007 aerial view of ski hill and trails Start of 1976 Skiathlon
Margaret Johnson In the forest north of campus Skiathlon racer passing UAF musk ox farm. Finisher.
  Skiathlon patch  


2002 Photos of the Ski Tow Building
(Before it was dismantled)
[Photo Credits: Anonymous]

Ski tow house Ski tow winch Inside view

"Ski-tow Operators
  Neal Scholey - 1983-1984
  Jim Leory - 1984-1985
  Larry Bolton - 1986"

Warning signs at ski hill



[Right] Start of the 1975 Fairbanks Skiathlon at the base of the UAF Ski Hill

[Photo Credit: UAF]

[Far right] Start of Skiathlon in 1972.

[Photo Credit: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner]

 This 1966 aerial photo of UAF shows the ski hill in the distance at the middle right of this shot.  On the right is a zoomed in segment of the aerial photo - where you can clearly see the outrun of the ski jump.

[Photo Credits: UAF]

UAF_SkiHill_1966_aerial.jpg (56532 bytes)


~  Maps  ~

The 1975 topo map to the right shows the location of the UAF Ski Hill in Fairbanks (click on this map if you want to enlarge it)

topo_usafskihill.jpg (195684 bytes)

The 1998 aerial photo to the right provides a good view of the old UAF Ski Hill (click on this map if you want to enlarge it)

terra_uafskihill.jpg (60462 bytes)

Research Correspondence 
[Roger Evans - October 2004 email excerpt] 

The university ski hill was open in the 50's through the late 70's, until a drunken sledder died after hitting a tree, then they took it all out.  it had a single rope tow and maybe 300 vertical feet.  there was also a 30m nordic jump in the 50's (and maybe sooner), the profile is still there in the brush, but it is fenced off as well.

[Tim Kelley note - October 2004]

Roger mentioned that closure of the UAF Ski Hill occurred in the 70's due to a drunken sledder having a fatal accident on this hill.  Possibly the ski area closed in the 1970's and this sledding accident actually occurred in 1988.  There is mention of this incident in the Supreme Court of Alaska brief on the University of Alaska vs. Shanti (6/30/92).  Here it states that the estate of the deceased sued UAF because the accident happened on a site that was ONCE an improved site.  Even though it was no longer in use.

[Roger Evans - 02 January 2005 email excerpt]

by the way.  you can see the old jump at the uaf in one of your photos.  the one with a bunch of skiers in a field.  the mound in the trees by the new athletic center is the old landing hill you can see the shape there.  if you tried it now, you'd crash into the building.  it went straight down from that mckinley viewpoint pullout on the road above.  you can see a narrow trail there on your aerial view.  i drew a line on the old landing hill mound at uaf.  [see below].

[Larry Freeman - 23 November 2005 email excerpt]

As far as the UAF ski hill's demise, my first winter was 1982-83, and I believe that the rope was still in place on the hill, and may have operated that winter.

[John Estle - 19 December 2005 email excerpt]

When I came to UAF in the fall of 1982 as the Ski Coach, the rope tow was still there and still running. One of my job responsibilities was to hire an operator to run the tow. I can't recall how many more years the tow ran after the 82-83 winter, but I would guess it was between zero and two more years, and I'm leaning toward zero.

The "lift towers" (utility poles) were removed shortly after the hill ceased operation, and the hill became a sledding hill. The hill was created in a manner that did not follow the fall-line exactly.

After sledding became the predominant use of the hill, the University placed large signs in many locations around the hill saying that it was NOT a sledding hill and that users used it at their own risk. I have to believe that the people involved in the sledding fatality started their ill-fated run within a few feet of one of these signs. When the University lost that case, a number of fences were erected crossways to the hill, so that it would be impossible to sled from the top -- well, not impossible, but it you did, you'd have a high-speed encounter with a chainlink fence.

The lower portion of the hill is still a high-use sledding hill.

[Dermot Cole - excerpt from a 26 March 2006 article in the Fairbanks Daily News Miner entitled: "In 1950s, local skiers took flight from Fairbanks ski jumps"

For full article click here

Their site [ALSAP] contains some great accounts of the ski jumps at the University of Alaska and on Chena Ridge in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The UAF jump was on the hill just beyond the Patty Center, while the Chena Ridge jump was up on the hill above the Pump House restaurant.

Harvey Turner, who now lives in Anchorage, and Merritt Mitchell, a resident of Homer, were top competitors for the university in four events in the late 1940s and early 1950s--slalom, downhill, cross country and ski jumping.

Mitchell grew up in Minnesota and had been going off ski jumps since his childhood. Like Turner, he was a World War II veteran, and he enjoyed the thrill of the campus ski jump.

"It was something to do between classes," he said. "It was a good way to get the cobwebs out of your head because there wasn't much else for recreation."

Mitchell and Turner, now both in their 80s, estimated that skiers would be airborne for about 40 or 50 feet on the campus jump. It was built of poles and scrap lumber. The top was about where the road to the West Ridge is today.

Skier Donn Huber and others built a larger ski jump in the mid-1950s on Chena Ridge. Also made of trees cut from the site and scrap wood, the Chena Ridge jump allowed skiers to go about 90 feet in the air, Turner estimates. The jumpers would pack down the snow by walking sideways up the hill and zoom down and go off the end and up into the air.

"It was a thrill. It gave you a sensation that you just couldn't otherwise experience. You couldn't see where you were landing when you first took off, so that made it interesting," Turner said.

They said 10 to 20 people, most of them UA students who were World War II veterans, went ski jumping in those years. When they had competitions, dozens of spectators would attend.

Turner once broke a leg on the campus hill. It was not because of the jump or the landing, he said, but because his ski hooked a tree while he was slowing down.

Huber, who still lives in Fairbanks, said the jumpers did not try to get flat over their skis while airborne, the way jumpers do today.

"We used to do a lot of windmilling, leaning forward and moving our arms to keep from going too far forward," he said. "The biggest concern we had was falling forward and going head over heels."

The jumpers today look far more graceful, he said. He said that UA President Terris Moore used to park his airplane near the top of the UA hill. Sometimes the president would ski down the jump with the students. He didn't have a good takeoff at the bottom, but that didn't matter.

"We always admired him because he tried," he said.

[Chuck Johnson - 17 January 2011 email]
During the 60s I trained with the UAF Ski Team.  I wasn't a student at UAF and couldn't ski for him but Coach Jim Mahaffey invited me to train with them.  He did this for a lot of us.  His office and the training facilities were in the newly built Patty Building that is right at the bottom of the old Ski Hill.  The old wooden jump was gone by then but we ran gates on the Ski Hill and skied up it to access the cross country trails on the University Land north of the campus.  I think it was about this time that the trails were named the Skarland Trails in honor of Ivar Skarland who was one of the pioneers of cross country skiing and racing at UAF in the early 30s.  In the mid 60s Jim (Whizzy) Whisenhant Lathrop High School Ski Coach started the 20K Skiathon that started and finished at the bottom of the Ski Hill.  It went up the Ski Hill, through the Skarland trails and off UAF Property into the hills to the north through what is now called the Musk Ox Subdivision and down past the University Musk Ox Farm and back to the bottom of the Ski Hill.
I've attached pictures from the Skiathon and aerial photos of UAF from the years 1949 and 2007 (see above).
[Daniel Osborne - 12 January 2014 email]

I was a lift operator and down hill skier at UA (NOT UAF) in the late 1960's.  I worked in the tower and was the human safety, that is I was supposed to turn off the rope tow before someone who did not let go or could not let go of the rope went thrugh the pulling sheaves. 

There was also a rope "fence" that one would go through before the pulling sheaves and when someone got tangled in the fence it would pull a normal two prong AC plug that opened a relay that also stopped the motor.  The plug just had a simple shorting wire that would let the starting motor relay click in and start the pulling motor.  {Heaven help some idiot who would plug the shorting plug into a normal outlet.}

Most times I just watched and hoped the next day (my off day) would also be good skiing. 

 However most beginners would hang onto the rope and pull it way off to the side when exiting the two and snap the rope.  Then the rope would slap the fence and the tow would stop.  In addition, those who wanted a clear ski run with out anybody on the slope,  would also snap the rope.   The hill saw short and quickly cleared of all but the slowest skiers., Then they would wait for the hill to clear of skiers and go down. 

So my job was mostly to go down and reset the fence, then hit a reset button.  then climb back up to the tower where I could start the rope again. 

I do not believe The rope two was never at UAF, UAF came later, the rope was always at UA. UAF came after the rope was long gone.

[Tim Kelley note] Daniel is correct, the ski tow was part of the UA (University of Alaska, Fairbanks campus) originally.  The UAF (University of Alaska Fairbanks) renaming occurred in 1975, according to the UAF wikipedia page.

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