Mike and Melani Towle sit in front of their interactive Christmas light display at their Ski Hill property on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023. Photo by Kinsey Brown for The Cordova Times

For the past several years a delightful display has illuminated the drive up to the ski hill. Mike and Melani Towle have built a temporary holiday display at their storage shed near the road where visitors can interact with a show of lights, music and animated decor.  

The Towles first built the special light display during Christmas time seven years ago as a part of their regular holiday decorating. The storage shed near their parking area by the street is the more visible part of their home which sits up a trail and back into the woods. Mike Towle says he put in the effort the first year for their children and then added to it slowly each year with their enthusiastic input. As a seasonal commercial fisherman, it has now become one of his favorite winter hobbies.  

“I say I’m doing it for the kids so I don’t sound crazy. But I really do have fun making it,” he said. 

As the display became larger and more automated, the wider community took an interest as well. The Towles are the last house on the drive up to the ski hill on Mt. Eyak, an area which is frequented by local traffic in the winter months. Mike says he began automating the shows so that more people could enjoy it regardless of if the family was home to operate the elements.  

“At first I wasn’t sure if people were interested,” he said. “But I had a few people say how it really made their day, and the kids loved it so I kept building it.”  

The family has now expanded to decorate the shed area for different themes throughout the year. Past displays have included a bird theme for the Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival, as well as an Aladdin inspired Cave of Wonders during Halloween. All of the displays have an interactive element powered by inner mechanisms in the shed, such as a “name that bird” game. For Halloween, trick or treaters were able to press a button that opened the shed door and began a recorded narrative complete with smoke and lights which culminated in a chest opening to reveal candy.  


The current holiday iteration of the light display features two different “shows” prompted by a button which anyone visiting the property can press to begin the lights. This year features a nutcracker-themed display inside of the shed itself and an animated Santa’s sleigh surrounded by wood cutouts of Santa and penguins. Overhead, a small Santa’s sleigh emerges from the woods and runs along a zipline while festive music plays. Colorful Christmas lights flash rhythmically throughout. According to Mike, the zipline was originally created as a means to haul materials up to the difficult-to-access property during construction.  

Mike says that he often posts on Facebook to announce each display so that people from the community can come and enjoy it.  

“The first few years a lot of people didn’t know it was going on,” he said “But word gets out. Now that we’ve done it long enough people know to expect it.”  

The announcement of each display has become a production as well, often with a video of the Towle children describing the display and games with cinematic elements added to create a movie trailer like effect.  

Mike says that it can take as much as three days to set up each of the intricate displays. Materials and maintenance are factors to be considered as well. This year the Santa zipline needed a replacement cable that Mike said the ACE Hardware in town was kind enough to give him a discount on in exchange for the holiday cheer. Despite the time and effort needed to make the displays happen each season Mike says he doesn’t plan on slowing down and especially looks forward to when his kids are old enough to help out in the actual construction of the pieces.  

“Enough people seem to enjoy it that it always makes the effort worth it,” he said.