As Cordovans look forward to opening day on the slopes, focus turns toward maintaining Mt. Eyak’s chairlift

Anticipation is building in town for the upcoming ski and snowboard season at the Mt. Eyak Ski Hill after major maintenance during the offseason. 

This past summer the Sheridan Alpine Association (SAA), the nonprofit that operates the ski area, presented information to the Cordova City Council regarding the budget for the hill, a season synopsis, and updates regarding infrastructure upgrades. There, SAA Manager Dave Branshaw and Board Member Paul Swartzbart explained what they say are the much-needed updates to lift, as well as maintenance that will still need to be completed.  

The chairlift, built in 1939, is a major focus of maintenance updates as it needs to comply with modern Aerial Tramway Standards. This includes an annual inspection by a certified agent.  

Swartzbart said it’s a major challenge logistically and financially to keep an antique piece of equipment running so well.  

“It’s kind of like driving a Model T Ford on the highway,” he said.  

During the summer, essential repairs were made to the chairlift through the Chairlift Cable Replacement Project. According to Dave Reggiani, the project — funded through a partnership between SAA and the city, which threw in $83,000 — costs roughly $140,000 to complete.  


The new cable took two years to arrive from its manufacturing location in Switzerland. It measures just over an inch in diameter by 1.5 miles long and weighs approximately 15,000 pounds. Branshaw said work on the lift and its 16 supportive towers is ongoing.  

“That’s a job that’s never done,” said Branshaw. “We’re up to the task and whatever needs to be done we get it done.” 

The 2024 season is already underway. Crews strung the rope tow cable to prepare for the bunny hill opening and began snow making on Nov. 18. And apart from the updated infrastructure, this season will also open with a new board, an expanded fee schedule, and new hill policies. 

While prices have not changed, an additional option for uphill passes was added — mountain access costs $15, with discounts given to children and senior citizens. A regular season pass for uphill access costs $50, and memberships to the SAA are required for season passes.  

Despite lack of funding, members of the board feel strongly about not raising ticket prices.  

“We are trying very hard to keep skiing from becoming an elitist sport,” Swartzbart said. 

Members at the SAA’s ski swap and informal membership meeting on Dec. 2 readily agreed that one of the best parts of Mt. Eyak is how financially accessible it is to all. Swartzbart said a major factor to keeping the hill running and affordable is the massive volunteer efforts of trail crews, ski patrollers, and local mechanics who volunteer their time.  

“We’re not Vail,” he said. “They don’t have what we have – this community spirit where the people feel they own the ski hill.” 

Tickets for the ski area include access to the many activities the hill has to offer, including cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. This season both the cross-country track and bunny hill were expanded to offer more opportunities at the base of the mountain. In addition to the expanded ticket access options the SAA will also enforce a new public policy at the hill this year — requiring everyone under 18 to wear helmets, which can be purchased at the hill in the rental shack. Other public policies will remain in effect for the regular season as well such as the requirement to leash dogs and accompany children onto the lift.  

Memberships to the ski hill and season passes went on sale starting Dec. 2 at the Mt. Eyak ski swap last weekend at the Cordova Center.  

There Cordovans were able to renew their memberships, vote for board members, and swap snow equipment while mingling in the lower atrium area. Following the meeting, the film “All Time” by Warren Miller was shown in the North Star Theater. Local Points North Heli Ski guide Jim Fritcsh led a drawing for several prizes in the theater for those who attended.   

Board seats were contested this year, which required a vote by members. Six people were listed on the ballot for an available three seats. The results of the election seated John Williams, Chelsea Haisman, and Heath Kocan. Board members serve three year terms.