Mat-Su officials consider nordic ski proposal

Posted: Monday, July 07, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Matanuska-Susitna Borough officials are polishing a proposal to build a nordic ski center in the foothills of the Talkeetna Mountains near Hatcher Pass.

If voters approve a $150,000 bond for seed money this fall, the project could begin to take shape next spring.

''We'll start with a small day-use area and a series of trails, but we definitely want to end up with a world-class facility like Kincaid'' in Anchorage, said Ron Swanson, the borough's director of community development.

The borough for years has tried to sell developers on building a downhill ski resort at Hatcher Pass, but that project has never taken off. The nordic center would be developed independently, Swanson and other people said, but could be linked by trails to the downhill resort, if it is ever built.

Hundreds of Anchorage skiers got a taste of the Talkeetnas last winter when scarce snow sent high school athletes to Hatcher Pass to train.

A borough online survey also indicated interest. More than 25 percent said they would ski Hatcher Pass six to 10 times a month if Anchorage did not have good snow. About half said they would make the trip one to five times even when the trails were freshly groomed.

''I think it would be a huge asset,'' said Ja Dorris, an Anchorage resident who teaches at Chugiak High School and coaches for the Eagle River Nordic Training Center. ''It seems to have more dependable snow, and it's not very far away.''

Jim Turner, a former borough assembly member, was part of a group that sued the borough to block ski resort development plans in 2001. Recently, Turner said he generally supports building a nordic center. But the center should reserve a corridor for snowmachiners to access popular sledding areas at Hatcher Pass, he said.

Turner also said governments should not operate recreational facilities. Many public facilities are poorly run and end up costing money, such as the Brett Memorial Ice Arena in Wasilla and Eagle Crest, Juneau's downhill ski area, he said.

''If the private sector could do it, I'd much rather, but I'm open to see what their proposals are,'' Turner said.

The entire project is expected to cost $500,000 to $750,000 and to be built over two years, according to Borough Manager John Duffy.

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