[http://www.alsap.org/alsaphdr.htm] ALSAP Vintage Photos of the Alyeska Ski Resort

Vintage Photos of the Alyeska Ski Resort

Alyeska Ski Resort - Girdwood, Alaska
Visit the "Roundhouse at Alyeska" web site for many great Alyeska historical pictures

Bill Wood's mid-1950 Pictures from skiing at pre-Alyeska "Mt. Solar"


[Bill Wood - 29 February 2008 email] I have a few photos of Alyeska before it was Alyeska. I skied there with Ernie Baumann in the mid 50s. He called it Mt. Solar and had some great dreams for it. He lived in an apartment in the basement of one of the hangers at Merrill Field in Anchorage. He was a pretty good mechanic and in the hanger had built a small prototype ski lift that he proposed to construct at the mountain. It consisted of a stationary cable on which the individual chairs moved, each powered by a chain saw engine with a cleverly designed 'fail safe' clutch device. Obviously it never got built. When I left Alaska in 1955 Ernie was touring the Northwest U.S. trying to get some backers for his project. Lost touch with him and my slides that he had borrowed after that. The next thing I knew I read in SKI magazine that Alyeska was being built on Ernies's mountain. Here are several photos taken on the mountain a few showing some skier friends, including Ernie getting ready to make our run at the end of the day, after a several hour climb to the top of Mt. Solar, (Alyeska). Ernie had an old Henry J, a small compact car built by Henry Kaiser. Somehow he had lost the seat back for the driver. We used to flip a coin to see which one of us would suffer the misery of driving it from Anchorage to Girdwood. Ernie was also a pretty good pilot. He flew me up to Talkeetna in the spring of 54 to catch a flight with Don Sheldon, who then flew me to the Muldrow Glacier on McKinley. Don put me down and then went back to McKinley Park to pick up the other three members of our climbing party one at a time. He flew a Piper Super Cub on ski wheels. Quite an experience landing between the crevasses on the glacier. 
Bill Wood

Pre-Surface Lifts "Helicopter-Lift" Skiing Postcard
[Purchased on ebay by Tim Kelley]
   Text on back of postcard.

Old Alyeska pictures from the State of Alaska Visual and Interactive Library and Digital Archives (vilda.alaska.edu)

February 16, 1961

[Photo Credit: Anchorage Museum of History and Art/ Ward W. Wells Collection]

Hotel and Ski Area, Summer late 60's, early 70's

[Photo Credit: Anchorage Museum of History and Art/ Wein Collection]

Day Lodge Area, Late 1960s, early 1970s

[Photo Credit: Anchorage Museum of History and Art/ Christine M. McClain]

Bob Meritt's Alyeska Ski Resort pictures from 1965
    Kneissl 'White Stars' - $100 dollar skis in 1965 ... expensive!  
 Vintage Alyeska Postcards
Nancy Simmerman postcard, Late 1960's Jim Balog postcard, Mid 1960's
  Vintage Alyeska Ski Patches  


Alyeska's Lost Chair Lift

Chair Two, built in 1972, destroyed by an avalanche in 1973

  Anchorage Times article about opening of Chair Two in 1972.  (Note: clicking on this image will expand it to full size, but this image is large, over 4 MB) Map of the Alyeska area.  The arrow points to Chair Six, a rebuilt shorter version of Chair Two.

Report on the April 14, 1973 avalanche that wiped out Chair Two

Mt. Alyeska Avalanche
From "The Snowy Torrents"

April 14, 1973, 1 lift terminal destroyed.  Weather Conditions:  From the first of April until midmonth, unsettled weather prevailed over south-central Alaska.  At Mt. Alyeska Ski Area, it was mostly rain at the base area, mixed rain and snow with high winds at 1,200 feet, and snow and high winds at higher elevations.  From April 6 to 10, 54 inches of new snow were recorded.  On April 11, skies were broken with intermittent snow flurries.  A new storm hit the next day with high winds and continued into the 14th with gusts up to 50 and 60 mph.  One gust of 120 mph was recorded shortly before the power failed on the 13th.  On the morning of the 14th, an approximate measurement showed 28 inches of new snow.  Temperatures at the 1,200 foot elevation level remained fairly constant.  From April 7 through 14, the temperature remained near 30-32 F.  Saturday morning, April 14, brought heavily overcast skies with snow, light winds, and an air temperature of 33 F

Accident Summary:  On the morning of April 7, after avalanche control work, Snow Ranger Chuck O'Leary and Don Conrad, an employee of Mt. Alyeska Ski Area, decided to close the area due to bad weather and hazardous avalanche conditions.  Seven rounds from the 75-mm howitzer fired at Max's Mountain I resulted in five large avalanches.  One, the Slalom Avalanche, came down quickly until it reached wet, heavy snow then rapidly slowed down, almost coming to a stop.  From there the snow moved more like a lava flow than a snow avalanche and finally came to rest about 300 feet above Rope Tow 3.  Watching this avalanche, Conrad became concerned; it was the same kind of avalanche that had run from the upper area through the canyon and into the base terminal of Chair 1 on April 12, 1969 (see "Mt. Alyeska Avalanche", 4/12/69).

Conrad suggested delaying further control work in the upper area until it stabilized.  They fired seven rounds into the Shadows area, releasing four large avalanches and then agreed to delay shooting the upper part of the mountain.  On April 8 and 9, the area remained closed.  Explosives and protective skiing measures were used to release several small avalanches; the shooting of the upper area was again postponed.  On April 10, control work began in the area from the Saddle to Alyeska Chute.  They fired 13 rounds, but no large slabs and only small loose releases resulted.  The snowpack could not be dislodged.  The ski area was opened to the public on a limited basis, but a storm totally shut down the area again on Friday the 13th, and the storm continued into the early hours of the 14th.

At 03:40 hours on Saturday, April 14, the area known as Sunspots released.  A large, hard-slab avalanche accelerated down the cirque wall into the ski area.  Striking the wet snowpack, it slowed rapidly, but this scarcely diminished its destructive potential.  Seconds later, it crashed into the lower portion of Chair 2.

Later that morning, a patrolman climbed the Racing Trail to assess the damage.  He saw that the lower terminal of Lift 2 had disappeared beneath the avalanche debris.  Following control work, O'Leary and others inspected the damage.  They found the cable broken and chairs scattered along the slope.  Although most of the avalanche debris was deposited in the upper part of the canyon, they found one base tower some 1,200 feet down in the canyon.  The avalanche had also snapped the data cable between the wind instruments higher on the mountain and the recorder at the base area.  The data trace stopped abruptly at 03:40, and thus the time of the avalanche was known.

Avalanche Data: This avalanche, classified as HS-N-S-G, started at 2,700 feet in elevation and came to rest at the 800 foot level, a vertical drop of 1,900 feet.  The fracture, estimated
at about 8 feet in height and 900 feet in length, developed underneath the steep rock walls of the west-facing slope.  The avalanche started as a hard slab on the 35-45 degree slope.  It began moving as a wet-snow avalanche near the lift terminal and continued into the canyon.

Comments: A key factor here was the decision on April 7 not to shoot the upper bowls.  O'Leary and Conrad wanted to avoid a repeat of the April 12, 1969, avalanche wherein the base terminal of Chairlift 1 had been damaged.  Avalanche and weather conditions in 1969 had been almost identical to those facing them in April of 1973.  Their dilemma was whether to chance creating a large avalanche or to wait until the lower slopes had stabilized before shooting.  They choose the latter course, and when they did implement control measures on April 10, shooting was ineffective.  Then the area was hit by another large storm.

Following this accident, several changes were made at Alyeska Ski Area.  When Chair 2 was  rebuilt, the lift was shortened and the terminal moved uphill to the toe of the south-facing slope thus moving it away from the mouth of the canyon and out of range of the Sunspots avalanche.  In addition, the canyon itself was slightly modified.  By deepening, rechanneling, and constructing a diversion dam, ski area managers planned to slow down any avalanche headed for the base area. They also began more control work with a larger gun.  The 75-mm howitzer was replaced with a 105-mm recoilless rifle. The more powerful weapon gave the  area the capacity for continuous blind firing during prolonged periods of poor visibility. By preventing large accumulations of snow in the avalanche starting zones, the potential for large, destructive avalanches has been decreased.  Since 1973, no avalanche has run the length of the canyon.

1972 Chair Two construction photos courtesy of Al and June Hampton