For centuries, traveling across snow on skis has been a common way to travel in Alaska. Given that history, it’s not surprising that one of Homer’s oldest and still active recreational clubs is the Kachemak Ski Club, the organization that has operated a succession of rope tows on Diamond Ridge and off Ohlson Mountain Road. Founded in 1948 as the Homer Ski Club, in its day alpine skiing was one of Homer’s major winter activities.
“There would be days you’d have a free ski day, and there would be 100 people back when the town wasn’t very big,” said Chris Moss, 61, a 1971 Homer High School graduate who was one of the last members of the Mariner alpine ski team.
Skiing in Alaska dates back to the late 18th century. According to “History of Skiing in Homer,” an article by Dave Brann, in one historical account for 1796, Russian fur hunters, the promyslenikki, skied from Kenai to Lake Tazlina near Glennallen. Similar fur hunters established a trading post at Alexandrovsk, now Nanwalek, in 1784, so it’s possible that skiing in the Kachemak Bay and lower Cook Inlet area goes back 230 years.
More recent settlers in the 20th century also used skis. Brann notes that in 1910, one Seldovia resident, Nick Elxnit, made skis from herring barrel staves that he strapped to his feet with rubber straps. In the 1940s, homesteader school children in Homer Heights, the Diamond Ridge and Crossman Ridge area, skied to school at the Homer Heights School above the Bridge Creek Reservoir.
According to the club’s history by Bob Moss Sr., the Homer Ski Club was organized in 1948 with 18 members. In 1958 the territory of Alaska recognized the club as a nonprofit organization.
“The original focus of the club was toward children and young adults,” Moss wrote. “This has not changed over the past five decades.”
The ski club built its first rope tow on the Ed Herndon homestead on Diamond Ridge below what’s now the Kachemak Nordic Ski Club parking lot. Poor snow after the winter of 1955 forced a move uphill to near Mile 1 Ohlson Mountain Road. A few years later the rope tow moved to its current site on the Fred Harbison homestead about a quarter-mile past the Lookout Mountain Nordic ski trails.
“They didn’t ask Fred if they could put it up there,” Chris Moss aid. “They just put it in and took over the hill.”
Harbison didn’t mind, and eventually deeded 40 acres of his homestead to the ski club. The club also later bought two lots from the Strutz family. In the 1960s a gas engine on a truck frame ran the rope tow. It’s now run by an electric engine. Homer Electric Association has been a long-time supporter of the ski club, said HEA spokesman Joe Gallagher, and gives an annual monetary donation to the club to use for power.
Moss, then 11, was at the ski lodge on March 27, 1964, when the Great Alaska Earthquake hit.
“I looked out and those trees were whipping back and forth. The ground was in these giant rollers like a wave,” he said.
Alpine and Nordic skiing had both been big sports in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District up until 1968, Moss said. Brann writes that Jake McLay, a big booster of the club, even convinced the district to have every Friday in the winter be ski day, where he’d teach lessons.
If Mariner skiers got selected to the Junior Nationals, the ski club would give them money for travel. When the school district ended alpine skiing as a sport, the rope tow went into a low period in the 1980s and 1990s, Moss said.
Now, the Kachemak Ski Club has a new life, with more young skiers out on the slopes. In a good snow year, the 800-foot rope tow is open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. every Sunday. This year, it’s only opened twice, said George Overpeck, vice president of the club. Both times it’s had a lot of skiers. The popularity of snowboarding and telemark skiing along with traditional alpine skiing has brought new members to the club. Recently the club cut new runs.
“The very steepest part of the hill, we’ve removed the alders. We’ve got some of the pitches that are pretty good steep skiing,” Overpeck said.
The Homer Rope Tow offers local skiing at bargain prices, $10 a day for adults and $5 for youth under age 18. Volunteers with the high school teach snowboarding as needed.
“It’s an alternative. The next closest place you can go is quite a drive or boat ride,” Overpeck said. “For $10 you can shoot up there and ski for a couple of hours.”
Overpeck said the ski club is totally volunteer run and maintained.
“We love to have new people show up, check things out and pitch in,” he said.
Since its low point, the ski club has come back strong, Moss said.
“It’s really gotten new legs and new life,” he said. “I think they’re doing really well now.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at
Kachemak Ski Club
Homer Rope Tow
Ohlson Mountain Road
1958: Certified as nonprofit corporation, Kachemak Ski Club
1948-1955: First rope tow, Ed Herndon homestead, below White Alice Site and current Kachemak Nordic Ski Club parking lot, Diamond Ridge Road
1955-early 1960s: Second rope tow, about Mile 1 Ohlson Mountain Road, Browning homestead
Early 1960s-present: Third rope tow, Strutz and Harbison homesteads, quarter-mile past Lookout Mountain Kachemak Nordic Ski Club trails.
For more history on Homer and Alaska ski areas, visit Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project, www.alsap.org.