HATCHER PASS — “This is not a rumor, this is actually happening,” Amy O’Connor said. O’Connor is the Executive Director of Hatcher Pass Alpine Xperience, or HAX, the non-profit group that decided to take advantage of the Mat-Su Borough’s effort to reinvigorate Government Peak and Hatcher Pass. HAX celebrated three years as a nonprofit in November and provided the first ever feature ski film premiere when they showed Warren Miller’s Face of Winter at the Palmer Train Depot. December has been a busy month for HAX, as they not only secured the funding for the first chair lift in Mat-Su Valley history, but reached a partnership with MTA to provide internet availability at Skeetawk Ski Area.
“There are a lot of firsts to come for Skeetawk we will be the first lift access ski area in the Mat-Su Borough,” O’Connor said.
Three phases are set to be installed in the future, beginning at mile 10.6 of Hatcher Pass Road. The first phase is the triple chair, highlighted in green on maps provided by HAX. At the Warren Miller screening, Rob Wells, Board Director for HAX, presented a check for $7,000, equivalent to the price of sponsoring one single chair on the chair lift. HAX initially formed when the Borough put up $100,000 for a developer to get started on a ski lift that has been a goal for half-a-century. The locals decided that if anyone was going to put a lift in Hatcher Pass, it wouldn’t be the outsiders.
“A group of community skiers kind of said if you’re going to have a developer do it why can’t a community group do this,” O’Connor said.
HAX formed and got to work, naming the ski area Skeetawk the Dena’ina phrase for ‘where we all slide down,’ in February. With the secured funding, HAX expects to open the ski lift for winter 2019.
“I am exceptionally confident that we will have a lift up next winter,” O’Connor said.
HAX received the $100,000 grant from the Borough, a $500,000 matching grant from the Mat-Su Health Foundation, and other monies from the Rasmuson Foundation. Following the construction of the triple chair, or ‘phase 1a,’ HAX hopes to install the high speed quad or ‘phase 1b,’ within the next five years. To help with fundraising, HAX has put on a number of film screenings, including a local film contest. They plan to screen another ski film this spring.
“The second lift is over a mile long. This is the real skiing and it opens up the mountain,” O’Connor said. “Plus, the construction period for a mile long lift is going to be a lot longer. We’re limited by snowpack, water, ice, the mountains, so we’re trying to work with nature instead of against it.”
The third phase would go from the top of the quad to the top of Peak 4068.
MTA recently donated fiber to establish internet connectivity at Skeetawk, a value of about $300,000 on December 19.