A retrospective on Juneau skiing

Posted: Sunday, April 06, 2008

Ever wonder what Juneau skiers did before Eaglecrest?

I asked Bob Janes Sr. for a history lesson on skiing in the Juneau area and he handed me a copy of a February 1993 edition of "Ski Tracks," the newsletter for the Juneau Ski Club.

The newsletter included a history of skiing in the Juneau area, written by Bob as recalled by Judge Tom Stewart. Here's what Bob and Judge Stewart had to say about the "four phases" of skiing in Juneau.

Phase 1: In the early 1930s, rope tows were springing up all over the country, including Juneau. In 1932 a portable tow with 1,000 feet of quarter inch rope was installed in the Upper Perseverance Trail area, on Alexander (Sandy) Smith's mining claim. There was a 200-yard grassy area in his front yard, which became the first real "ski hill" in Juneau. Skiers could be towed 500 feet up the slope for a great downhill run!

Later, Sandy Smith was to become the first president of the Juneau Ski Club when it was formed in 1935.

Phase 2: In 1935 the Douglas Bridge opened, and access to meadow areas on Douglas Island opened up via Dan Moller Trail, which was constructed by the U.S. Forest Service. The little portable tow was moved to these sites, First Meadow and Second Meadow, about one and a half miles up the trail. Forest Service shelters were built, to become known as First Cabin and Second Cabin.

Ten years later, after returning from the U.S. Ski Troops and the 10th Mountain Division, Judge Stewart was responsible for getting the Ski Club's first "heavy duty" rope tow going. It was powered by a 1945 Dodge truck engine purchased in Seward for $50, and it was set up in the lower Second Cabin area.

Ski jumping was on at the time, at "Jump Hill" near West Juneau. Hundreds of spectators would go there to see the action, including a downhill race over the Dan Moller Trail.

Phase 3: This began in the early 1950s. The ski Club's tow at Second Cabin was moved to an upper site which became known as the Douglas Ski Bowl, just beyond the Dan Moller Cabin. A warming hut was built by the Ski Club (by Pete Bibb and his high school students), which became Third Cabin.

Transportation developed, with snow cat operations. Judge Stewart played a key role in purchasing a Tucker Snow Cat from Medford, Ore., at a cost of $10,000. She was christened "Oola," the Juneau Ski Train, and could carry 40-50 skiers with a sled caboose.

Shortly after the Ski Club's tow was moved from Second Cabin, Al Shaw started a commercial rope operation under the name of KAW-WAH-EE Ski Company. So then skiers had a choice of two rope tow areas. Oola served them both, and by noon could have several hundred skiers at each site. Oola wore out in about 10 years, and was followed by a snow cat operation that Ink Ingledue started; then in 1970, the ski club purchased a Snow Master Snow Cat for a price of $3,850. This one kept running right up to the time of Eaglecrest Ski Area.

Phase 4: Where we are today - Eaglecrest, which opened in the winter of 1975-76. But that's another story, and we'll save that until later.

Thanks go to Bob Janes Sr. for digging up this article from a 15-year-old edition of Ski Tracks. In a future edition of Slopeside we'll talk about all the time and energy a handful of dedicated, community-minded people invested in the development of Eaglecrest.

Meantime, join us in celebrating the history of skiing in Juneau at the 3rd Cabin Reunion Day, Saturday, April 12 at Eaglecrest.

There will be some special events, food, audio/video clips from the old days, door prizes and lots of fun. It will be a great chance to hear first-hand from some of the folks that have lived through much of Juneau's rich skiing history. For more details, call Bob Janes Sr. at 364-2471.

• Jim Calvin is President of the Eaglecrest Board of Directors.

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