On Oct. 21, 2023, volunteers carry 70 pounds of gravel in buckets to improve the Mt. Eyak ski hill trails. Photo by Dick Shellhorn

Every year the chair lift at the Mt. Eyak ski area goes through a variety of safety protocols, including a load test.   

Basically, this means putting five-gallon buckets full of gravel on each chair to simulate the weight of skiers to make sure it can safely handle a lift packed with snow enthusiasts when the white stuff arrives. 

As one can imagine, filling all those buckets and putting them on the chairs requires considerable work. And gravel. Ten yards to be precise. 

Area manager Dave Branshaw and his crew recently completed the task. 

And Branshaw, whose continual goal is to create a world-class year-round recreation area at Mt. Eyak, puts all that gravel to good use by improving the maze of trails that are available to hikers. 

While the original Mt. Eyak trail built by Civilian Conservation Corps workers back in the 1930s is still in surprisingly good shape, the many ramps added in recent years by Wilson construction heavy equipment are still strewn with loose coarse rock that can make for hazardous trekking. 


So, after the load test is completed, the gravel is used to gradually fill in rough spots. This year it was stockpiled near the top station. 

On a sunny Saturday, Oct. 21, I was surprised when reaching the top station by hiking up the ramp system to see an energetic group of over 30 people carrying buckets of gravel to be dumped and spread over the coarse rock on the ramp I had just traversed.  

It takes a lot of buckets to move ten yards of gravel to improve trails near the top station of the ski hill. Photo by Dick Shellhorn 
On Oct. 21, 2023, volunteers show that moving gravel in the sun is fun. Photo by Myaliesa Bingham 

Of every age, and trucking merrily along, many carrying two buckets of gravel at roughly 35 pounds a bucket, were volunteers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Several were working up quite a sweat. A pair of youngsters had a competition going and were racing bare chested in a nippy northern breeze. A little toddler in a bright pink snow suit was standing on a knoll enjoying a cookie and bottle of water while watching the bucket brigade.  

They had already filled in several hundred yards of trail, with the pathway marked off by bright yellow spray paint. 

An added part of the task was carrying the empty buckets back to the pile so they could be refilled and carried back to the gradually expanding trail. 

“This is great crew,” said Branshaw. “I can’t believe how fast that ten-yard pile of gravel is disappearing.” 

I asked Dave Branshaw about the volunteers.   

“Actually, this is the third year they’ve done this,” he said. “One year they cut brush; the other time it was moving gravel.” 

“Many people at our church use the ski hill year round, and it’s fun to do a service where you can enjoy the fruits of your labor,” said Myaliesa Bingham, who organized this year’s project. “In the past we have cut down alder trees to clear runs nearer to the bottom of the lift. This is the first year we got to ride the lift up. It was such a treat because the weather has been amazing.” 

“We sure owe them a big thank you,” said Branshaw. “It’s just one more example how volunteers make Cordova special.”