Cordova Chronicles: Mt. Eyak Ski Hill memories

Bright sunshine and untracked powder spell another special day on the slopes of Mt. Eyak. Photo courtesy of Dick Shellhorn

The snow is piling up, and it looks like we are in for another fabulous ski season. 

The Mt. Eyak Ski area is truly one of Cordova’s finest recreational facilities, and not enough can be said about those that helped develop it, as well as those who continue to maintain and expand it.

Skiing has always been a popular Cordova winter pastime, dating all the way back to the “Golden Stairs” leading up to one of the city’s first reservoirs, located below Mt. Eccles a mile out Whitshed Road.

Many may not know that those “golden stairs” were actually horizontal logs stripped of their bark by construction crews using them to slide building materials up to the site of that reservoir.

Enterprising skiers discovered they were an easy pathway to the boundless meadows that were popular in the days of massive wooden skies and non-releasable bindings.

Those “stairs” have long since vanished, and now cross-country and back-country skiers access that area by hiking up a winding road to the newer reservoir and water tank in that area.

For years, this log ski cabin built partway up Mt. Eyak by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s was a popular stop for Cordova backcountry skiers. Cordova Historical Museum photo

Also long since gone, is a rustic A-frame log cabin that was built part way up Mt. Eyak in the 1930s by Civilian Conservation Corps crews as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s make-work projects to overcome the Great Depression. 

In fact, skiers zipping down a run called “Mambo” in today’s area may not realize they are only a couple hundred yards northwest of what is left of that once popular landmark.

Built of untreated logs from the surrounding area, the cabin gradually fell prey to the elements as well as the stupidity of some nimrods who pried shingles off its roof to use as kindling to start fires in its beautiful fireplace, which was made from nearby natural rock.

Snow piled up in the cabin’s interior, the floor soon rotted away, and the rest of the structure eventually caved in.

Ironically, the only thing left standing today is the fireplace itself, and summer hikers pass by it if they follow the original trail up Eyak.

Right near the old cabin site are several open meadows, ideal for old-school telemark skiers, and leading downward from there is a steep chute now filled with alder that was quite a challenge in the days of “killer bindings” and wooden skis.

Follow that path out, and one ends up right in the middle of all the homes on Cabin Ridge Road. The original Sheridan Ski Club area was located there, and a rope tow ran through it, with one famous piece of terrain nicknamed “The Devil’s Dip” — for good reason.

Also perhaps unknown, is a backcountry route called “Sven and Ole,” which branches off the popular winter trail to Eyak Ridge about a quarter mile beyond the Tripod and connects into the meadows by the old Civilian Conservation Corps cabin.

Be advised, the trail is no longer well marked and requires significant snowfall before it is skiable.

Another tidbit from the past: The top of today’s ski area was originally called the “Tripod” because of a metal radio tower of that shape mounted on the prominent rock outcroppings now filled with numerous tall cell-phone towers.

A 1954 Sheridan Ski Club membership card and a modern-day replica of the original Ski Club patch brought pack a flood of ski hill memories. Photo courtesy of Dick Shellhorn

Incidentally, all this ski history rambling was inspired by a small Sheridan Ski Club membership card recently discovered tucked away in the back of a file drawer.

The ink signatures are barely legible, but it states, “This Certifies that Dick Shellhorn is a member of the Sheridan Ski Club, and has paid dues to 1954,” signed by John Buehrle, President, and Clyde Maycock, Secretary.

When I showed the card to Ski Area Manager Dave Branshaw, he was kind enough to give me a new Sheridan Ski Club shoulder patch that is an exact replica of the one I originally wore as a 10-year old.

Ah, time flies when you’re having fun. And what is more fun than graceful turns in fresh powder and sparkling sunshine on Cordova’s historic slopes.

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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.