Designated driving for outback skiers

There are many Alaskan wintertime sports. I always preferred cross-country skiing over downhill, but my son, Patrick, is the other way around. The Hatcher Pass Mountains in the Matanuska Valley are a winter playground for skiers, snowboarders and snowmachiners. During his high school years, Patrick and his friends loved to downhill ski in the area, mostly because it was close and there was no lift ticket expense, not to mention the abundance of white fluffy powder.

The absence of a chair lift or even a rope tow did cause a slight problem. I had been told there had been a rope tow of some sort in years past. And all during the 15 years we lived in the Mat-Su Valley the first time (1984 through 1999), there was continued talk and plans for development for ski recreation, but with no results.

Of course, there was a solution to the problem. One vehicle and driver were needed to haul as many boys and ski gear that could fit. The vehicle was taken up to the pullout about a mile past the Mother Lode Lodge, where all the skiers piled out, quickly attached gear, and headed down the rocky slopes. The driver then drove down to a tiny pull-off about a half-mile below the lodge. Many times, the boys arrived before the vehicle and were already waiting. All aboard and back up the hill to repeat the process.

As Patrick's mother, I frequently was the designated driver. Skiing days were usually snowy with poor visibility. The road was narrow, windy and steep and of course, I had to watch out for all the other designated drivers going up and down. After about the 10th round trip of the day, I would be ready to call it quits. Hopefully the boys were worn out too. By this time, there was a build up of melted snowy slush inside the car, steamed up windows, and a wet dog smell. Unusual noises, silly jokes and other adolescent boy activity was a given.

When our son got his driver's license, I thought my chauffeur job would end, but Patrick didn't want to miss out on all the skiing by being the driver and we didn't want to trust our car to the driving of all the other boys taking turns. My husband, Gary, helped out when he could.

Only once did we let Patrick and his friends take our car, a silver 1983 four-door AMC Eagle, by themselves. When they returned that evening, there was a big chunk broken out of the front grill. Patrick told us that a large raven hit the grill and broke it. When questioned, the other boys all backed up his story. To this day he sticks with that explanation.

Another time (without our vehicle) they all got in a great deal of trouble for skipping school in favor of skiing at Hatcher Pass. Patrick was very frustrated that day when he came home with only one ski. The other had popped off on a jump and disappeared into the snow. He spent hours trying to find it. The next spring a special "find the lost ski" trip did not locate it either. Perhaps skipping classes wasn't such a great idea.

When the boys gradually acquired their own vehicles, I was no longer needed as a designated driver and was relieved to be relieved of my duties. Years later I was surprised to find myself missing those days and occasionally wished I was needed for the job once again.

However, designated drivers are no longer necessary. After years of hard work on the part of numerous people, Skeetawk opened with a (triple seat) chair lift in 2019. More development phases are planned for this new ski area, located at Mile 10.6 Hatcher Pass Road. Additional Information is available at

Maraley McMichael is a lifelong Alaskan currently residing in Palmer. Email her at

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Maraley McMichael is a lifelong Alaskan now residing in Palmer.

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