The Hatcher Pass Ski Resort That Never Was

Just before the new year, I was working with some additions to our collection of records from the Alaska Pacific Consolidated Mining Company, the company that ran Independence Mine at Hatcher Pass.  Tucked into an oversize folder at the end of the collection, I found this gem:

Proposal for Hatcher Pass Ski Resort, from the Alaska Pacific Consolidated Mining Company records (UAA-hmc-0023-pt4-1)

This photo is a proposal for the development of “Hatcher Pass Ski Area,” an alpine ski resort that would have been built at Hatcher Pass just south of Independence Mine.  (Click the image for a larger version of the photo.)  The document is not dated but likely was made sometime in the 1970s, since you can see Hatcher Pass Lodge — the A-frame building built by Hap Wurlitzer in the late 1960s that he still runs today — where the photo is labeled “Hotel Main Lodge” on the right side of the image.   The proposal calls for a 6,300-foot Riblet ski lift to be built from the road up the southern slope of the Hatcher Creek drainage to the top of Hatcher Pass itself (see the black line running diagonally up the mountain slope in the center of the photo).  According to the proposal, the lift would have brought skiers to the top terminal at a rate of 990 skiers per hour and would have eventually connected with a chair lift or gondola from the Willow side of the pass.  A base parking lot would have been built at the site of a former airstrip (where a parking lot does exist today), and a day lodge at the base area would have contained restaurant facilities, as well as apartments and dormitories for ski resort employees.

If you’ve been up to Hatcher Pass today, you know that this proposal never came to fruition, nor has any alpine ski area been built in that location.  It is unclear who wrote this proposition or why it was never built.  Perhaps the cost of maintaining and repairing the road to the lodge, a concern voiced by the proposal, were too much for the state.  Perhaps the avalanche danger of the drainage was too high.  Or, perhaps, the real costs of the project were just too steep; the estimate, printed on the top of the photo, is a mere $650,000, a number that seems absurdly low for the project’s scope.

Skiers at Fishhook in 1939, taken by Russ Dow (UAA-hmc-0396-14f-548)

Whatever the reason, this photo reminded me that Hatcher Pass does have a rich skiing history that often gets overshadowed by the region’s mining history.  According to the wonderful website, “Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project,” the earliest ski area at Hatcher Pass was a rope-tow built by Jim Turner that operated in the 1930s and 1940s on the slope behind Fishhook Inn at Mile 12 on the Hatcher Pass Road at Fishhook Creek.  (See photo at left.)  Shortly thereafter, Victor and Jim Cottini built another rope-tow at their Little Susitna Roadhouse (now the Mother Lode Lodge), which was likely operated until the 1960s.  But the most popular place for alpine skiing at Hatcher Pass was at Independence Mine.  Mine employees skied the surrounding mountains both for recreation and travel, as it provided a convenient way to reach Palmer when the road was impassable.  When mine operations ceased during World War II, the area became an increasingly popular destination for skiers from Anchorage, who could take a 3-hour bus ride from the city to the pass and stay overnight in the  mine buildings.  Skiing largely took place there on the slope from the main mine complex up to Gold Cord Mine, where a 500 vertical-foot rope-tow and T-bar lift were built in the 1960s and a private contractor ran the mine bunkhouse for lodging and meals.  The U.S. Army Biathlon team was also based at Independence Mine during the 1960s, and in the 1970s, the Manager’s House at Independence Mine was converted into a bar and lodge for skiers and snow machiners.

There is no formal alpine ski resort at Hatcher Pass today, though it is still a popular back-country ski area.  However, in the intervening decades since the ski hills at Hatcher closed, there have been many people who have returned to the idea that someday the area might be more developed for alpine skiing.  In 1985, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources commissioned a study  to assess potential sites for an alpine ski area in Hatcher Pass.  The study came up with six locations: Hatcher Pass West (off the Willow Creek Road just west of the pass), Grubstake Gulch, Sidney Creek, Lone Tree Gulch, Tree Gulch, and Government Peak. Notably, the  Hatcher Creek drainage area targeted by the above proposal in our collection was not among the sites studied.  Of those that were, Government Peak, which rises west of the Hatcher Pass Road where the Matanuska-Susitna Valley begins to ascend into the mountains, was determined to be the best site.  Accordingly, proposals for a ski resort in that area began in 1988, when Mitsui Corporation’s proposed a$221 million resort with a golf course, dude ranch, airport, and ski area at Government Peak.  The venture was eventually dropped in 1990, after Anchorage lost several bids to host the Winter Olympics and economic assessments indicated that the resort would not be financially viable.  Similar proposals have  followed in 1992, 2002, and, most recently, 2007, but no ski resort has been built to date at Government Peak or anywhere else at Hatcher Pass.

Some of Our Favorite Things, Installment 4

The Loupe, by Megan Friedel

The loupe is a thing of simple, beautiful functionality.  Want to see what the street sign says in that photo of the 1964 Alaska earthquake in Anchorage? Use a loupe.  Need to see the detail in a 35mm color slide? Use a loupe.  Can’t decipher whether the cramped hand-writing in that tiny diary says 1961 or 1981? Use a loupe.

A loupe is a small, magnifying hand lens.  It’s a bit handier (excuse the pun) than your standard magnifying glass, as loupes tend to come in a slightly higher degree of magnification than a magnifying glass.  Photographers who still work with film like loupes for their portability, price (they can be quite cheap), and ease of use for reviewing slides on a light table.  Archivists use them for the same thing — as well as all the other creative uses I mentioned earlier.  Higher-quality loupes are used in dentistry, watchmaking, jewelery-making, geology, tattooing — any profession that requires fine precision of detail at a micro level.  And I bet you too probably had a loupe in your junk drawer when you were little, maybe with a tiny box attached to it in which you could put leaves, pine needles, or pieces of dirt to marvel over the the bug’s eye view.

My stand-by loupe isn’t anything fancy.  It’s completely made of plastic, with a simple, round lens that magnifies at 10x.  I prefer a round loupe to the rectangular or the square, as they are more adaptable for diverse materials.  I keep one on my desk at work and another on my desk at home.  The one at work gets put to use regularly when I’m processing slide collections, so I can pick out details like where and when the image was taken or who is in it — or just ogle at the dense, rich beauty of Kodachrome magnified just an inch or two away from my eye.  The thrill of magnifying something doesn’t wane, whether you’re 4 or 34.

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You’re Invited to an Open House & Film Screening at the Archives!

In celebration of Archives Month in October, you are invited to an Open House and Film Screening hosted by UAA Archives & Special Collections and the Alaska Moving Image Preservation Association (AMIPA).

WHEN & WHERE: Thursday, October 13th, 2011
Third floor of the UAA/APU Consortium Library (click here to see map)
-Open House from 5-7pm in Room 305
-Film screening of AMIPA’s “Politics of the Past” at 7pm in Room 307

-Come meet the archivists!
-Take a rare behind-the-scenes tour at the Archives & Special Collections vault!
-Explore one-of-a-kind photographs, sound recordings, diaries, and other material documenting Alaska’s history!
-View the final entries in our collaborative exhibit, “Eye of the Beholder 4,” and a special “Alaska politics”-themed exhibit of campaign memorabilia, personal papers, and historical images of great figures in Alaska politics like Jay Hammond, Wally Hickel, Bill Egan, Arliss Sturgulewski, and many others!
-And, last but not least, enjoy a special screening of AMIPA’s “Politics of the Past,” featuring vintage footage of political spots and other humorous, sobering, or downright perplexing moments from Alaskan public life.

Heavy hors d’oeuvres and beverages will be served.

This event is sponsored by Northwest Archivists, Inc. and Alaska Permanent Capital Management.


“Preserving & Identifying Photographs” Workshop

UAA Archives & Special Collections invites you to register for a free all-day workshop on “Preserving & Identifying Photographs”!

WHEN: Saturday October 22nd, 10:30am-4pm

WHERE: UAA/APU Consortium Library, 3rd floor, Room 307

WHAT: Do you have hundreds of family photographs and negatives stored at home in shoe-boxes in your closet? Are most of them unidentified and undated? Do you want to learn how best to store, preserve, and identify them so that they last for future generations? This workshop will be taught by UAA archivists Megan Friedel and Mariecris Gatlabayan and will include:

  • lessons on identifying and dating significant photo and negative types from the 19th & early 20th centuries
  • best practices for storing and preserving a wide range of photographic material, including slides, glass and film negatives, photo albums, scrapbooks, and more
  • a brief introduction to proper scanning techniques and best practices for storing digital images
  • hands-on exercises in identifying the format and subject of photographs
  • one-on-one consultation with trained archivists to help you determine the needs of your photo collection

The workshop is open to the general public, maximum 25 participants.  There is no cost to attend.  Register now, as space will be limited!

TO REGISTER: Contact Megan Friedel at

This workshop is an Archives Month event.  Also join us in the Archives at 5pm on Thursday October 13th for an Archives Month Open House and AMIPA Film Screening! More information on that event to come soon.

Anchorage: Almost home of the Winter Olympics

Anchorage was almost the home of the Winter Olympics.  Twice.

Artist's rendering of proposed Olympic stadium, from the Anchorage Organizing Committee records

Our fair city was the U.S. Olympic Committee’s choice as a the host site for both the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on who you ask), both times the International Olympic Committee chose another location: Albertville, France for the 1992 games and Lillehammer, Norway for 1994.

Behind Anchorage’s bids for the Winter Games was the Anchorage Organizing Committee (AOC), an organization formed in 1984 and led by local advertising executive Rick Mystrom, whose sole purpose was to advocate for and prepare the city’s proposals to serve as

Artist's rendering of proposed ski jump facility from the Anchorage Organizing Committee Olympics records

host city for the Olympics.  Mystrom and the AOC saw incredible potential in Anchorage’s mountain location, in its reputation as a home of word-class skiers, and also in the amount of undeveloped real estate in the city that could potentially be used to construct the necessary Olympics facilities.  The AOC spent an incredible amount of time and energy preparing detailed presentations and proposals — not only to sway the U.S. and International Olympic Committees but also to convince Anchorage residents to support the dream of an Olympics in their hometown.

Though none of Anchorage’s Olympic bids ever came to fruition, Rick Mystrom held onto the records of  Anchorage Organizing Committee and recently donated the committee’s records to Archives & Special Collections.  Included in the collection are video and slide show presentations, photographs, detailed brochures and prospectuses, maps of proposed stadium and Olympic Village locations, and many other documents.  But undeniably the most visually stunning material in the collection are the large-format art renderings of proposed Olympics facilities that would be built in the city should Anchorage have won any of its bids.  Three of these renderings are displayed here: visualizations of what the proposed ski jump, stadium, and skating facilities might have looked like, had they ever been built.  These original, hand-colored drawings were produced for the AOC by the Austin Company, an international design-build firm, for a June 1985 presentation, most likely relating to the AOC’s first bid for the 1992 Winter Games.

Artist's rendering of proposed skating facility, from the Anchorage Organizing Committee Olympics records

To learn more about the Anchorage Organizing Committee Olympics records at Archives & Special Collections, see the preliminary guide to the collection online on the Archives & Special Collection website.  For all reference queries about this collection, contact us by email at, by phone at 907-786-1849, or visit us in person to browse through the collection during our public hours.




Preservation, Care, & Identification of Manuscripts and Photographs

Just a few weeks ago, I had the great fortune to travel to Nome, Alaska with members of the Alaska State Historic Records Advisory Board (ASHRAB) to help teach a full-day workshop on caring for archival records.  The whole experience was wonderful.  From the moment we got off the plane, everyone we met was warm and welcoming, and we had a packed house for the workshop at Old St. Joe’s Hall with twenty or so engaged participants.  I also relished the chance to explore Nome, where history is literally visible all over the landscape, with other historians, curators, and archivists who were equally geeking out over all the old gold dredges, the Cold War-era White Alice communications system site on Anvil Mountain, and the great exhibits at the Carrie M. McClain Memorial Museum.  One of the workshop participants even invited me over to her house during the lunch break so that I could help her identify an odd “gold photograph” she and her husband had found in an old book in their collection (it turned out to be an engraving plate).  It was a treat to visit a community where people so obviously care about the living history all around them.

I taught two sections of the day’s instruction sessions on “Care & Storage of Manuscript Materials” and “Identification, Care & Storage of Photographs in Archives.”  There are PDFs of both of these presentations now available on the ASHRAB website:
Also check out the other presentations by my co-instructors, which cover a range of topics from film and sound recordings to grant-writing to historic preservation.

If you’re in need of a refresher in best practices for care of your materials or just curious, take a peek.  And let me know if you have any questions — there are always a few things that get lost in translation between the in-person presentation and reading it on the screen!

I’m Going to College (Year 3)

This was the third year that Archives and Special Collections has participated in “I’m Going to College,” a day of classes and workshops for fifth and sixth graders held at UAA to give them a taste of what college is like.  Mariecris Gatlabayan had taught our portion of the workshops in 2009 and 2010, but I took over this year to channel the ghost of my former career as a teacher.

This year, I worked with two awesome groups of sixth graders: Team Arctic Fox from Clark Middle School and Team Harbor Seal from Fairview Elementary.  I say “awesome” because they all arrived hot and sweaty after a 10-minute trek from all the way across campus, and yet they were still engaged, active, and enthusiastic participants!

The first thing we did was have a group discussion about what an “archives” was.  I showed them pictures of different things we had in the archives and asked them to identify them.  They all easily picked out the movie reel, “old letters,” and photographs but had a little trouble identifying the diary.  (One of the students identified it as “paper with writing on it” — and I had to give him credit for it, since that was technically correct!)  We briefly talked about why these things help us understand history, especially the history of Alaska.

Then we moved on to the main exercise.  I broke each group up into six teams.  Each team got a worksheet with three questions on it: “What do you observe?” “What do you think you see?” “What do you want to know?”  Then I showed them two photographs, and each team competed to write down as many observations, assumptions, conclusions, and questions about the photographs as possible.  There was a lot of friendly competition here, and I was thrilled with how worked up they got trying to beat each other with observations about the photos.

Eleanor, Katherine, and Alice, schoolgirls at Savoonga (UAA-hmc-0562-19a)

The two photographs I chose were ones that Mariecris had used in the past two years of “I’m Going to College,” photographs taken by O.C. and Ruth Connelly, a husband and wife who were schoolteachers at the village of Savoonga on Saint Lawrence Island from 1938-1940.  They’re great photos because they have a lot going on in them without giving away where and why they were taken, and the kids seem to relate to them because they depict kids their age at school.  The first photograph (at left) was of three girls in front of the schoolhouse at Savoonga, and the second photo showed a boy packing Arctic fox furs into sacks inside a classroom in the school.  Once time was up, I asked each group to present one observation, one conclusion, and one question they had about each photo.  Most of the students correctly identified that the images had been taken at a school, that the photos were from the early twentieth century, and that they depicted Alaska Native children.  They were stymied, though, by the photo of the fur-packing; they wanted to know why the kids appeared to be making pillows in the classroom.  A lot of great questions got asked, like “What were the names of the girls?” and “Why do they have beads in their hair?” and “What does the writing on the chalkboard say?” We spent the last few minutes of class talking about what kinds of other sources they would use in the library to figure out the answers to these questions (and I was personally gratified that not all of these answers started with “Google”).  Then I did the big “reveal” and told them when and where the photos had been taken.  Team Arctic Fox thought it was especially cool that the second photo showed their namesakes.

Team Harbor Seal from Fairview Elementary

This exercise is a great way for students to learn to dissect a photograph for its historical significance.  However, because of time constraints, I had to cut out another exercise that might have been even more fun: a team competition to put pieces of a photograph back together that I had cut up like a puzzle.  Once completed, the photo would have shown a view of the Park Strip in downtown Anchorage on March 28th, 1964.  What’s significant about that date? It was the day after the great Alaskan earthquake hit south-central Alaska and devastated much of the western side of the city, and the photo, an aerial view taken by pilot Frank C. Fox, shows buildings along the park strip sinking into a fault line.

I ended the workshop by taking a photo of Team Harbor Seal to “put in our archives,” like the photos they’d worked with.  Team Arctic Fox ran out too quickly (they are foxes after all!) for me to capture them on film.  Congratulations to both teams for a great workshop and competition! We hope we’ll be seeing all of these students in the Archives in the years to come.