Cordova Chronicles: Hopes high for another big ski season

Situated two thirds of the way up the Mt. Eyak Ski Area, the weather sides of the Midway Hut have been covered with metal siding to protect it from continual scouring by high winds. Photo courtesy of Dick Shellhorn

With fresh snow already dusting the peaks surrounding Cordova, local skiers and snowboarders are anticipating another big season.

Last year, the Mt. Eyak Ski Area parking lots were overflowing and the slopes were filled with enthusiasts enjoying great conditions, with the expanded number of runs available one of the reasons why lift lines were not longer.

On several days, the crowd numbered over 250, which is about 10 percent of Cordova’s wintertime population.

This summer, the aging lift was due for a major overhaul involving the replacement of the cable that support the chairs. However, shortages due to the Covid pandemic delayed that process.

“We had hoped to get it done prior to this season, but couldn’t get the necessary materials”, said Area Manager Dave Branshaw. “However, we recently had a major safety inspection, and it was deemed fine for another year in operation. We are counting on getting the cable replaced next year, likely in the fall, when we can perhaps entice the specialized firm from Missouri that does this work with a promise of some great sport fishing as an added bonus.”

Meanwhile, Branshaw has been busy with the usual maintenance that includes cutting brush that springs up on the various runs, plus taking care of facilities necessary for the success of the popular area.

In particular, the Midway Station is in the process of a two-stage overhaul. This popular off-ramp is perched on a rock outcropping about two-thirds of the way up the area, and receives a considerable pounding by prevailing weather from the southeast.

In fact, it took only two years for wind, rain, and snow from those directions to scour off a fresh paint job on the wood siding. Consequently, Steve Vican, one of Sheridan Ski Club’s most talented and dedicated members, recently installed metal siding and trim on the weather sides.

Next year, the plan is to remodel the two non-weather sides, replacing them with new framing that will include plastic encased windows and an improved view of the off-ramp area.

“The windows are in bad shape”, said Branshaw. “In fact, Guido Casciano custom-built the frames for the existing windows and it is amazing how long they have lasted.”

Vican, who has spent many late-night hours helping with the snow making operation on the Beginner’s Slope, has also done numerous other projects on various ski hill facilities, including installing metal on the warehouse that houses the snow-groomer, snow maker, and various other equipment.

“Steve does great work, and we are lucky to have him around to do all these jobs”, said Branshaw.

It just so happens that during big dumps of snow, those amazing lines visible from town that are carved on fresh powder on “The Ridge” are also created by none other than Vican, who often heads uphill early to get first tracks.

Speaking of tracks, the Mt. Eyak Ski area continues to be one of the most popular hiking spots in Cordova, and countless locals of all ages are now enjoying the wonderful fall colors before snow bring hopes for another banner year of winter sports.  

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Dick Shellhorn is a lifelong Cordovan. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 50 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 and 2020, and third place in 2017 and 2019. He also received second place for Best Editorial Commentary in 2019. Shellhorn has written two books about Alaska adventures: Time and Tide and Balls and Stripes. Reach him at shorn@gci.net.