Old-timer Dean Williams first in season's fireside chats

Posted: Friday, January 06, 2006

Longtime Juneau resident Dean Williams leads off the 44th season of the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center's winter fireside chat series tonight with two free hour-long lectures about the early days of Juneau skiing, icefield research and the Taku and Mendenhall glaciers.

The chat starts at 6:30 p.m. and repeats at 8. Doors open at 6.

Williams, 88, has lived in Juneau since he was 3 months old. He was born in Washington state and was practically brought up in the outdoors.

His father, Jay, was a forest supervisor for 43 years. Before that, he worked on the boundary survey between Canada and Alaska. Williams Mountain, in Taku Inlet, is named after Jay.

Dean Williams and his son, 15 at the time, once climbed Mount Williams and placed an American flag near the top.

"I imagine the Taku winds took care of that," Williams said.

Judge Tom Stewart was scheduled to speak tonight about the early days of skiing in Juneau, but he has flown south to be with his critically ill 91-year-old sister.

Williams will take over Stewart's part of the lecture, including a segment about the early days of Juneau skiing on Basin Road. Snow used to cover a giant rock pile near an old mining shaft, creating a short downhill slope. The early skiers even set up a a small, portable rope tow that could take one or two people at a time.

Fireside chats

What: "History of Juneau Icefield Research & Skiing," presented by Dean Williams, the first of 13 free Friday night lectures in the 44th season of the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center's winter fireside chat series

Where and when: Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, 6:30 p.m., repeats at 8. Doors open at 6 p.m.

Other January lectures: Jan. 13, "WHOO'S out there? The Secret World of Owls," with Irene Morris and Michelle Kissling; Jan. 20, "Mendenhall: Our Historic Glacier," with Jim Geraghty; Jan. 27, "Along the Mount Roberts Trail," with Bob Armstrong and Marge Hermans.

For the complete list of lectures, visit: www.fs.fed.us/r10/tongass/districts /mendenhall/index.html

"A big, heavy 225-pound guy got on it one day and stopped it right cold," Williams said.

Stewart and Williams once held a winter carnival in Juneau to raise money to buy an Oola, a snow tractor that could transport skiers to the top of Juneau's old ski hill, high up the Dan Moeller Trail in Douglas.

The carnival included a pageant, a dance, sled and ski races and ice skating on the old frozen, flooded ballfield where the Federal Building stands today.

The Territorial Sportsmen contributed $5,000. Dr. Rude, an old Norwegian doctor, kicked in another $3,000. The carnival quickly raised enough money for the Oola, which could haul 30 to 35 skiers. It made three to four trips a day, often breaking down on the way.

"We had no way of getting up there before that except put your skis on your shoulder and walk up the trail," Williams said.

Williams will start both programs by screening "Alaska Icefield Experience: Summer Institute for Glaciological and Arctic Science," a 14-year-old, 18-minute orientation film used by the Juneau Icefield Research Project.

Williams and his wife, Edna, have been associated with the icefield project since Dr. Maynard Miller began the program in 1946. In July 1949, Williams and two others completed the first crossing of the Juneau Icefield, emerging near the Salmon Creek Dam. A raging snowstorm struck on the first day, dumping 8 to 10 inches of snow just hours after they left main camp.

The party pitched a tent to wait out the storm, and Williams contacted the Taku Lodge with his ham radio.

"I told them we were in a big storm, but that we were in the tent for the night," Williams said. "They could hear the wind flapping the tent, and the people that ran the lodge in those days were entertainers in the wintertime at the Baranof Hotel. So they serenaded us for a half hour on that little radio speaker."

Williams taught skiing in Juneau for more than 35 years and has raced all over the state. He hopes to set up a slalom course on Mount Roberts when he turns 90. Williams also plans to slalom ski in Nevada later this winter.

"We used to race slalom with those great, big 215 centimeter skis," Williams said. "I don't know how we even turned with those."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com

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