By Clark Fair
Oliver Amend was working in Seward in the spring of 1960 when he heard that his ski lodge on Mount Manitoba was on fire. As soon as he could, he fired up his single-engine airplane and flew over the mountains to check things out.
By the time he arrived, the Glacier Ski Lodge was gone.
Amend had been given the lodge five years earlier by its original builder, Gentry Schuster, when Schuster decided that he was too busy with his Bush-flying business, Safeway Airways, to bother any longer with an alpine skiing business.
“He just turned it over to Oliver Amend to operate — no sale — just a ‘you take it,’” said Schuster’s ex-wife, Virginia, in a 2006 letter published on the Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project website.
Mount Manitoba is located along the Seward Highway near the confluence of Mills and Canyon creeks, about three miles north of Summit Lake Lodge. When Schuster built the Glacier Ski Lodge in 1941, no Seward Highway existed, so the road designation was Mile 50 of the Seward-Hope Highway.
By the time Amend took control in 1955, the Schuster marriage was ending, and neither Gentry nor Virginia continued with the lodge in any capacity. Amend, a resident of Seward who had a regular job during the week, ran the place as “strictly a weekend affair,” according to the ALSAP website.
Whenever he was gone from the mountain, however, problems occurred. While the lodge was vacated during the weekdays, it was left vulnerable to uninvited and often destructive visitors.
These vandals — Amend blamed Army soldiers then stationed at Seward — took residence at the lodge during the week without permission. They often burned through the firewood that Amend had stored there for the weekend, and one time they apparently began incinerating
wooden skis for warmth when they exhausted the supply of stove wood.
According to ALSAP, Amend suspected that in the spring of 1960 the vandals were more careless than usual and caught the whole place on fire. The Glacier Ski Lodge was never rebuilt, and its special-use permit with the Chugach National Forest was not renewed.
Before disaster struck, however, Amend had put in considerable work to make the lodge an enjoyable place for recreation. The current
switchback trail along the base of the mountain’s southern flank was created by Amend with a D-8 Caterpillar and a willing buddy.
He used tracked military-surplus vehicles called “Weasels” to haul skiers in a sleigh up the mountain, and he would fly up to the mountain with ribbon-festooned Jerry jugs full of gasoline and drop them into the snow so he could retrieve them later with Weasels and fuel up the Model A Ford truck engines that powered his rope-tow system.
He also used dynamite, according to ALSAP, to “shape” the ski slopes up on Manitoba:
“Apparently he was doing enough blasting to raise the brow of the local mining community. He remembers one day when a fellow showed up with $30,000 cash. He was hoping Oliver would sell, as there was bound to be something good in the rock to justify all the blasting. It took some time for Oliver to convince the fellow otherwise.”
From 1955 until the demise of the Glacier Ski Lodge, Amend did all the shuttling of skiers and all of the maintenance, while his wife, Cecilia, did the cooking. Skiers who volunteered to help set up equipment at the beginning of the day and help take it down at the end were able to earn “free days” on the mountain. Otherwise, the Amends charged $2 for a ride up the hill and $3 to ski all day.
But the lodge would never have existed if it hadn’t been for Gentry Schuster.
On Oct. 22, 1941, Schuster applied to the Forest Service to build a ski tow and a “ski hut” above
timberline on Mount Manitoba. On Nov. 25, he was granted a permit to build, and he paid a $5.40 first-year fee.
By the summer of 1942, he had constructed a rough tram system to haul his building materials to timberline and was busy framing the structure, with physical and financial assistance from his friend, Dick Blissner.
“We had intended the place to be for the use of ourselves and friends, but World War II put about 5,000 troops in the Seward area, and a great many of them were skiers, so we just welcomed all who came up,” said Virginia Schuster.
The lodge had two bedrooms, a dormitory that slept eight, and a loft with open space for
numerous guests with sleeping bags. Although no liquor was allowed in the lodge, Virginia said, the GIs sneaked in plenty of booze.
“After the war, when Gentry entered the loft, he was annoyed to find thousands of beer ‘empties’ and spent the weekend clearing out the loft,” she said.
Downstairs, the lodge had a boarded-off area that had a large, cast-iron wood stove and served as the kitchen.
“One Sunday,” Virginia said, “I served a roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy and coleslaw
lunch to 67 persons. Since the table seated (up to) 20, that meant setting it four times and washing dishes in melting snow — no sink. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, and thereafter lunch consisted of cold cuts, cheese, canned fruit and cookies.”
Like Amend, Gentry Schuster was a weekend lodge operator. (He was chief operating officer of the Seward dock during the week.) Unlike Amend, he suffered no vandalism, according to Virginia.
But the lodge was not without conflicts. Virginia indicates that Gentry may have had his fingers in too many proverbial pies:
“During the war, a pilot wandered into town in a Taylorcraft, and Gentry learned to fly and as
soon as he could bought a small plane and, with a private pilot’s license, bought a Bush operation,” Virginia said. “Starr Airways of Anchorage went into receivership upon the death of the owner, and Gentry bought their place from the bank, and that become our Anchorage headquarters. He had the Harley-Davidson franchise for Alaska from about 1936, and just as he was in Jack Haven, Penn., to pick up a new plane (Piper) he’d purchased, the Piper Co. had a default by the then-distributor in Alaska, and in disgust they asked Gentry if he’d like the franchise, and of course he said yes.”
Gentry was also a lieutenant in the Alaska National Guard during the war years. Eventually, his other interests took precedence over managing a ski lodge, and he dropped the Manitoba operation into the lap of Oliver Amend.
Remains of the Glacier Ski Lodge can still be viewed in the summer in the hemlocks at
timberline. Chugach National Forest archaeologist Seth DePasqual performed an archaeological study of the lodge site during the summer of 2005, and some photos from the relics he discovered are available on the ALSAP site.