Cordova Chronicles: Sheridan Ski Club builds new camping cabin

Rental rates will be similar to USFS accommodations, firewood provided

The Sheridan Ski Club’s new cabin, with a view of Mt. Eyak in the background, will soon be available for overnight campers. Photo by Dick Shellhorn/The Cordova Times

Cordova’s dynamic Sheridan Ski Club is at it again. This time it’s a new trail that branches off the main area not too far up the hill, and leads to a recently completed Ski Cabin that will soon be available to overnight campers.

“We are getting more visitors every year, especially in the summer,” said area manager Dave Branshaw, “so our goal is to improve the recreational options for everyone.”

Hence a brand new cabin on the lower part of the Hidden ski run, with relatively easy access from the base of the ski area.

A recently completed trail with scenic views such as this branches off the Main Area to provide access to the Ski Club’s new cabin. Photo by Dick Shellhorn/The Cordova Times

“There is lots of call for camping, but not extreme camping, in Cordova,” Branshaw said. “We wanted the cabin close enough that families can use it.”

The 12-by-14-foot cabin features a 12-by-8-foot deck that is enclosed with a railing. It is built on 6-by-6 foot posts, includes a small wood stove, and provides a surprisingly remote feel, despite being relatively close to the bottom of the ski hill.

“Dave was the one that picked the location,” said Sheridan Ski Club President Paul Swartzbart. “It has windows on all four sides, with a great view out each. You can see Hidden and the top the mountain, Salmo Point, Orca Inlet and the Heney Range.”

The location catches the sun for much of the day, and Swartzbart could already envision skiers zipping by, as campers enjoyed watching from the deck.

“It will be great for ski in, ski out use when there’s snow,” he said. “We plan on rental rates similar to those for USFS cabins.”

Branshaw’s mini-truck, plus various four wheelers, were instrumental in getting materials to the site of the new cabin. A2Z Construction LLC, with the help of several Ski Club volunteers, did the much of the work.

“They worked in some miserable conditions, and did a great job,” Branshaw said.

Ski club volunteers will complete the project.

“Right now its pretty much an empty shell inside,” Swartzbart said. “We plan on adding two tier bunks, a table and cupboards. It’s the exact same size as the roadside McKinley Lake trail cabin, and will have a similar layout.”

The next project for the Ski Club will be to improve direct access from the bottom of the ski area.

“Our goal is to make the trail and cabin family friendly. We want to make it so you can push a stroller with kids up to enjoy it, and included the railings to make it child proof,” Swartzbart said.

All that remains of the original Ski Cabin built by the CCC in the 1930s is this stone and mortar fireplace. Photo by Dick Shellhorn/The Cordova Times

The new facility will be the second such structure on Mt. Eyak. In the 1930s, the CCC built a log A-frame cabin on the original Eyak trail they had pioneered all the way to the top of the mountain.

Somehow the CCC gang manhandled an automotive engine mounted on wooden skegs up the mountain to a location on meadows that face to the south just below Midway, and used pulleys and a capstan system to drag the logs they fell nearby to the cabin site. Remains of that old engine can be found on a nearby meadow.

“There have been stories that the engine was used to operate a rope tow,” Branshaw said. “But its location and parts make it most likely that its purpose was for construction. They had to move some big logs a long ways to build that cabin.”

“For several years, we thought about trying to build a new cabin at the old site, but access for construction would have been extremely difficult, plus it would not have been adjacent to the ski area and trail system,” Swartzbart said. He spent over a year getting all the permits necessary for the new project.

All that remains of the CCC cabin is a well-built fireplace and chimney that has withstood the challenges of weather for over 80 years. Lying in disarray in front of it, is a pile of rotting untreated logs and lumber.

The remains of an automotive engine on skegs that was somehow pulled up the mountain by CCC workers to build the original cabin sit on a nearby meadow. The fireplace chimney can be seen in the background. Photo by Dick Shellhorn/The Cordova Times

The old cabin was still in use through the 1950s, and campers may recall overnighting there with a rip-roaring fire going in that very fireplace. Sadly, the demise of the cabin began when individuals start tearing shingles off the roof to use as kindling to start fires, of all things. First they tore ones off the outside overhang, and then eventually the roof itself. Once the snow started piling up through the holes in the roof, the untreated lumber and logs were doomed.

Neither Branshaw or Swartzbart had heard of what happened to the historic cabin. But their responses were the same.

“We plan on providing firewood on site, and because of its proximity to the bottom of the hill, will be able to supervise the cabin and its use closely. But more importantly, we hope everyone will respect and enjoy this latest improvement to our ski area.”

Amen.

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Dick Shellhorn, author, reporter, ref and grandpa, can be reached at shorn@gci.net. Shellhorn was born and raised in Cordova, Alaska, and has lived there his entire life. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 40 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016.