Ski coach Peter Bibb, took this photo when I was in middle school. He called us “The Little Monsters” and recruited us from 2nd Cabin to be on the high school team . L.to R. Annie Boochever (Annie B), Patricia Pittman (Twiggy) Guyce Lafavour, Gordy Williams, Don Thomas, and Mary Ann Parke in the front.
The Juneau-Douglas ski team was a diverse crew of teens who opposed the norm, choosing to ski over the all-time favorite Alaskan sport, basketball. In those days skiing was the only sport that allowed girls. There were a handful of us and about a dozen boys. Skis had changed. The days of wooden skis had given way to the new world of P-tex bases and metal edges. They were still long and straight as a stick. While the kids on the team came to the sport from different skill levels, we all shared a passion for being outdoors and flying down the mountain with our feet locked into bindings, secured with ‘long-thong’ leather straps, attached to our new fangled metal-edged skis.
No more 2nd Cabin for me. My new slog up the mountain took me past the old cabin, about three-miles through forests and muskeg meadows into the high alpine, about 1800 feet above the ocean, past another forest service shelter known as 3rd cabin to the ‘Chalet’. Built by the high school shop class under the tutelage of teacher and ski coach Peter Bibb, the spiffy one-story building was heated with a propane stove and boasted big picture windows. It proved to be the perfect place to warm our toes, eat our sack lunches, and gear up for the day. The new rope tow carried us up the steepest 800-foot portion of what was known as the Douglas Ski Bowl. From there, we could hike a high ridge that, on a clear day, offered dizzying, spectacular views of mountain ranges overlooking the Gastineau Channel and Admiralty Island below.
A key piece of ski area infrastructure was an old ‘ski cat’ called “Oola, (Norwegian for Strong One) The Juneau Ski Train” that, on those days it felt like working, would pull 40 – 50 skiers on a sled caboose up the mountain. For a brief couple of years, when the Oola broke down, and the weather cooperated, Mr. or Mrs. Livingston, of Livingston Copters would fly us up the mountain for $5.00 a piece. (Nancy Livingston Stratford was the first and only female helicopter pilot in Alaska at the time.) Otherwise, we hiked up the mountain, often with no tracks to follow. The first person had the toughest job of “breaking trail,” punching through the surface snow with every step. “Postholing” we called it. All this while carrying a pack plus skis and boots on our shoulders. I was proud of my new, black Head skis, and even prouder of the callous that formed on my shoulder where I balanced them during the miles of hiking. If you didn’t give-in to the pain and switch shoulders, the callous developed sooner.
The highlight of the year was the big downhill race. Mt. Troy, named in 1952 after Territorial Governor John Weir Troy, faced the rope tow side of the Douglas Ski Bowl, with the Chalet nestled in the valley between. With no lift on the Troy side, we hiked the 1,200 feet up in our ski boots, thus “boot-packing” the entire course the day before the actual race. That way it could set-up overnight, or as often happened, it would snow and we would start all over again.
We spent the night in the Forest Service shelter now known as the Dan Moeller Cabin, built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corp, with support from the Juneau Ski Club and the Forest Service. The cabin has since been rebuilt and enlarged but when we stayed there it was pretty basic. A log cabin 16’ X 20’, with a couple of single and double wooden bunks, a table and bench, wood stove, outhouse, and a rickety ladder leading to a loft that stretched the whole length of the cabin.
And what a loft it was. Room for at least a dozen of us to spread our sleeping bags…boys AND girls. Okay, we usually had a parent or two and a coach along.
A trip to the nearby outhouse was breathtaking, partly because of the freezing temperatures, but more so, the sparkling white wonderland that glowed under the full moon, or the crackle of northern lights that shimmered around the stars overhead. Back in my sleeping bag, sleep came all too soon.
The next day we hiked to the top of the course several times more continuing to “pack it out”, a process that would take all morning. After lunch we started the race. In those days, other than Skinner’s Hardware Store, Juneau had few sources for ski equipment. Since none of us had the required downhill race helmets, the local National Guard graciously donated their discards. Once that helmet was on, everything we said echoed, and anything anyone else said was indecipherable. Somehow we all found our way to the starting gate.
5,4,3,2,1, GO! We must have looked like crazed aliens in our oversized gold helmets, as we peeled off the mountain one at a time. “AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHRRRRGGG! We screamed and yelled our way down the entire course! This alien smoked, sometimes managing to take first place for the girls.