Behind the Douglas wall of skis

Pat Harmon's hobby became a tourist attraction, used parts store and historic monument

Posted: Tuesday, March 03, 2009

For Pat Harmon, bigger is better. His wall of skis on North Douglas highway is certainly no exception.

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Abby Lowell / Juneau Empire
Abby Lowell / Juneau Empire

More than 250 pairs of alpine skis sit affixed vertically to a treated lumber frame to make up the 20-foot, three-level high wall that sits just off the shoulder of the Douglas highway near his home. This past fall, Harmon added a shrine - a fitting addition to what has seemingly become a homage of sorts to the skiing deities.

But upon closer inspection, the wall isn't just a wall. What began as just "something to do" is now a tourist attraction, a used parts store and a historic monument to skiing in Juneau.

"In the summer buses will stop in front of the house here so the tourists can take pictures of the wall," Harmon said smiling.

Just last fall, a group of Europeans in town for a helicopter skiing excursion stopped by to borrow a pair of Harmon's spare skis. Shelly, Harmon's wife, said the gentleman had broken a ski and needed a loaner. The couple was happy to help.

Harmon said skiers looking for a spare pair of bindings or skis will often come by hoping to replace their "old-school" pair that finally broke. He lets them root through his stockpile of hundreds.

And if you look closely, it's easy to spot skis on the wall that once belonged to local Olympic silver medalist Hilary Lindh. There's also a pair of Olin Comp TRX skis that once belonged to Bill Corbus, president of Alaska Electric Light & Power Co.

It's an ongoing project that has been in the works since 2001. But Harmon, who has lived in the area his entire life, admits his collection of skis began long before that.

"With the kids racing, being active in the ski club and the ski sale, there were always straight skis that didn't sell," Harmon said. "There became a problem with getting rid of them."

Harmon took home unwanted skis at first, but then he began paying $5 or so for a pair. The proceeds of each sale helped fund the Juneau Ski Club and the Juneau Ski Patrol - a fair price for a good cause. But before long, the skis began to add up.

"The next thing you know I had 20, then 40, then 60 pairs of skis," Harmon said.

Perhaps it was his love of skiing, both Nordic and alpine, or maybe it was his family's time spent at Eaglecrest ski area that drove Harmon to continue adding to his collection. But Harmon attributes his father with passing along his over-the-top gene.

"I'm from a long line of bigger is better, I guess," he said.

Harmon said his father, a shop teacher during his working years, was known for the annual holiday decor of the family's home. Each year, a variety of plywood creatures graced the yard.

"It was a big thing," Harmon said.

Now with hundreds of skis stacked neatly against his shed, Harmon wonders what to do with the rest of his collection. He's dabbled in furniture - a bench here, an Adirondack-style chair there. But he doesn't seem interested in mass producing these items for sale.

"I'm looking for suggestions for phase five," he said. "I'm thinking about an arch over the walkway or maybe a mural of a skier - something big."

Whatever Harmon decides, it will certainly be eye-catching and quite possibly memorable. He said a woman visiting Juneau posted three photos on her Web site to sum up her trip: one of Mendenhall Glacier, one of the Shrine of St. Therese and one of Harmon's wall of skis.

When the snow melts, Harmon said he plans to give his wall, which has developed a dingy grime, a good scrubbing.

"She's gonna really shine," Harmon said.

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