Skeetawk ski lift

Metal structures are already installed for the Skeetawk ski lift, they are just waiting important parts from the Lower 48.

WASILLA — Thanks to the support of Mat-Su CHARR and the community, Hatcher Pass Alpine Xperience was able to raise $7,000 during a fundraiser at the Tailgaters bar, Thursday, March 5, fueling their efforts to open the lift at Skeetawk, the Valley’s first alpine ski area.

“It went excellent. Yeah, they did a great job, had a great turnout, a lot of support,” Hatcher Pass Alpine Xperience Board Chair Butch Shapiro said.

Mat-Su CHARR hosted the fundraiser. Executive Director of Mat-Su CHARR Michele Shapiro noted that while many people across the Valley know about the Skeetawk project, a lot of the previous events have been in Palmer, so this event was a great way to broaden their outreach.

“It created a little more awareness from the Wasilla side,” Michele said. “It’s not like people hadn’t heard of it. They were aware. Yeah, they were excited. I mean, people were coming up to me, putting money in my hands going, ‘I want to donate. What can I do?’ So yeah, people are very supportive.”

Skeetawk is nestled within Hatcher Pass and ran by Hatcher Pass Alpine Xperience, a nonprofit organization working to bring lift-access to the Valley for the first time, facilitating downhill skiing, snowboarding and other alpine sports and recreational activities.

The original HAX board members started this historic, grassroots project in 2015 as a labor of love to benefit the whole community. Their hard work inspired donations and it helped them form a massive army of volunteers and community partners to help make this longtime dream a reality.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Butch said.

To date, HAX has raised around 1.3 million dollars.

“It’s been incredible. The community is so behind this,” Butch said.

Despite the widespread support from the community, the organization ran into several roadblocks trying to get the lift open Hatcher Pass open earlier this year, namely funding.

Butch said they’ve encountered unanticipated costs. They need to raise additional funds to keep up with the general operating costs, looking at $8,000 to 10,000 a month.

“It’s very expensive,” Butch said.

Mat-Su CHARR offered to host Thursday’s fundraiser after the board decided a complete ski area with a lift will ultimately bring a lot of visitors to the Valley; who will in turn, will spend money at local bars, restaurants and other businesses, benefitting their partners and the overall economy.

Dozens of people showed up to enjoy a silent auction, door prizes, food, games and a chance to win a Skeetawk season pass.

Attendees donated $5,000 and Mat-Su CHARR donated an additional $2,000. Butch said the public’s enthusiasm and overall support was very encouraging.

“People have seen all the challenges we’ve had,” Butch said. “Even after that, there hasn’t been a cross word.”

Butch said they had to let former Executive Director Amy O’Connor go because they couldn’t afford to keep her on and still be able to open the lift at this point. He said it was a very hard decision, and that her countless contributions and pioneering efforts have paved the way for the final realization, still on the horizon.

“She did a great job,” Butch said. “She was a catalyst for bringing people together to get the project moving along. We miss her,” Butch said.

Despite the financial hurdles still ahead, Butch said everyone’s pushing through to get the lift open as soon as they can. He said their deep pool of board members and volunteers with various skills and pervasive passion for the vision has got them this far and will get them to the finish line.

“We have some great talent to get us through this time without an executive director,” Butch said.

Butch said they hope to open the lift within the year, even if it’s just for a “week or two.”

“I guarantee next year, we’ll be running a ski area in Hatcher Pass,” Butch said.

HAX is looking for donations of all sizes. Those who can make hefty donations— like sponsoring a chair at $7,000 or even the lift itself at $600,000— will have their names etched on whatever they decide, on top of other gifts like the chance to host a dinner inside the Skeetawk yurt.

For more information, visit skeetawk.com.

Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@frontiersman.com

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