Ski season lifts off at Hatcher Pass

The Hatcher Alpine Xperience, a nonprofit created to provide a safe outdoor recreation, has been grooming and clearing trails, free for public use. However, riders have to hike up in order to use them.

Liam Floyd, mechanical engineering major and skier, was able to hit the slopes the beginning of November.

“I really enjoy Hatcher Pass because it’s not too terribly far from Anchorage and there’s no fees or membership costs associated with going there to ski,” Floyd said. “The drive up was a little sketchy due to the fog, but definitely worth it. The snow was phenomenal.”

Not only is the Hatcher Alpine Xperience clearing trails for public use, but to prepare for a potential chairlift.

“We found refurnished chairlifts in new Hampshire that we’ve got our eyes on, it’ll be a triple chairlift and it’ll give us about 30 skiable acres, compared to Hilltop, and 300 feet of vert[ical],” Louisa Branchflower, board president of the Hatcher Alpine Xperience, said. “We’re fundraising for the lift now, we’re optimistic they can get the money by the spring, build next summer and then have a chairlift the following winter.”

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A map of the future chair lifts at Hatcher Pass. Photo credit: Louisa Branchflower

Branchflower explained that the Matanuska-Susitna Borough has been trying to build a ski area at Hatcher Pass for about 40 years.

“They’ve failed throughout the years multiple times for various reasons, but it set the table for us to come along and swoop in and do it as a community in a grass roots way type of building,” Branchflower said.

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The Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly has invested money over the years for infrastructure, development planning, environment impact assessments and electricity for the site in hopes of a big contractor to do something with the area.

When no contractors wanted to fix that area, the south-central community decided to form the Hatcher Alpine Xperience and do it on their own.

“[The Mat-Su Borough Assembly] had a lot invested and they put out money to go towards marketing to try and get a big developer to come out again, but they changed that to, ‘Okay let’s just have it open for somebody to do something with it,’” Branchflower said.

In November 2015, the Hatcher Alpine Xperience applied to become a non-profit and were approved the summer of 2016.

“It’s been really awesome to see how far we’ve come in two short years and we’ve come a lot further than anyone else who has come before. I think that the community is pretty stoked that we are a nonrofit and that we are keeping it small, want to keep ticket prices low and affordable and just give more opportunities,” Branchflower said.

Jenny Johnson, Wasilla resident, has been participating in fundraisers for Hatcher Alpine Xperience after learning about the organization in 2016. She believes the lift will allow her youngest daughter to further her snowboarding skills.

“While my teen has enjoyed snowboarding at Hatcher for years, experiencing all aspects of the area, his younger sister has not been able to do the same because of her age, lower skill level and experience. A chairlift will change all that by giving her a safe environment to improve her abilities with more practice. While we enjoy Hilltop and Alyeska, a local ski lift is much less time consuming to get to and saves us on gas as well,” Johnson said.

Along with the excitement of the chairlift comes the fear of high ticket prices.

“I’m excited at the prospect of getting a lift and some newer equipment up in Hatcher Pass. Though, the only thing that would worry me are the potential costs that would be needed in order to maintain the facility,” Floyd said.

Although riders will need to purchase a ticket in order to ski or snowboard, there are many opportunities to volunteer at the Hatcher Alpine Xperience for ski passes.

“All of us want to keep this something that is affordable, so we’re not looking at turning it in to an Alyeska. We are going to have a lot of volunteer based opportunities, similar to Arctic Valley, for people to volunteer in exchange for tickets,” Branchflower said. “There will be opportunities of having the local kids and children a way to be able to afford and partake in one of the coolest sports there is.”

Branchflower wants to share her love for Hatcher Pass with the community by giving back the same opportunities she had.

“Hatcher Pass is arguably one of the most beautiful places in the world I think, in the summer and the winter. It’s just absolutely breathtaking. I grew up skiing in Washington and it’s been one of the most impactful things in my life, it changed the course of my life significantly,” Branchflower said. “It gave me an appreciation for the outdoors, mountains, for the sport, for the environment, I totally attribute the love of skiing with all that it’s shaped me to be and I want to be able to give that to the people of Southcentral Alaska.”

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Board member Dave Hendrickson poses with the snowcat that the Hatcher Alpine Xperience is using to groom trails. Photo credit: Louisa Branchflower

For more information on how to donate and volunteer, the Hatcher Alpine Xperience has a number of ways community can help: from tasks as simple as liking the nonprofit’s Facebook page and telling a friend, to becoming a member and volunteering.