Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The first date for any couple can be exciting, but for Craig and Barbara Lindh their ski outing on the Juneau Icefield in 1968 paled next to their flight off the ice.
“We went on an airplane that put skis on the floats. But on the way back, the pilot wasn’t able to get the skis to lift up and we had to land near the airport out in the brush," Barbara said.
She said getting outdoors was important in their relationship.
“We were a family that was outside almost every day doing something. Hiking, skiing, biking, you name it, but Eaglecrest was the focal point of our early married life," she said.
Craig Lindh died on March 1 in Whitefish, Montana. He was known for many things but in the Juneau ski community he is noted as one of the principle players responsible for bringing Eaglecrest to fruition.
On Saturday, Eaglecrest’s annual community race will be held and hence-forth known as the Craig Lindh Memorial Town Downhill. The race takes place on “Hilary’s Run,” named after the Lindhs' daughter, who began a professional ski career at age 14 and became an Olympic silver medalist.
"Eaglecrest is enthused to work with the Juneau Ski Club to bring back the Town Downhill Race and to now be able to honor one of the original founders of the ski area," Eaglecrest General Manager Dave Scanlan said. "Craig is one of the true legends of Eaglecrest. If it had not been for the vision of Craig 45 years ago we may not be blessed with such a world class ski area."
Barbara Lindh said "It is pretty exciting that the people of Eaglecrest remember Craig and want to honor him in this way. I think he would love having something named after him and he was extremely proud that ‘Hilary’s Run’ existed at Eaglecrest. It was not one of my favorites because it was a pretty difficult run but we used to all point to it and show our friends.”
Craig and Barbara met the year before their first date but she left for Europe.
“When I came back I thought he looked pretty good,” she said.
Before Eaglecrest became the Lindhs' passion, early Juneau skiing included a 1,000 foot quarter-inch rope on Alexander "Sandy" Smith’s mining claim along the upper Perseverance Trail which, in Smith’s front yard, became the first ski hill in 1932. Smith would become the first Juneau Ski Club president.
When the Douglas Bridge was built in 1935, the U.S. Forest Service put in the Dan Moller Trail. Smith’s tow rope was moved over to the first and second meadows. Forest Service shelters, First and Second cabins, were built.
In 1945, Judge Tom Stewart, among others, brought in a heavy duty rope tow powered by a 1945 Dodge truck engine. Stewart was a former U.S. Ski Troops and 10th Mountain Division member. Ski jumping became popular at Second Cabin and a race went down the Moller Trail.
In the 1950s, the tow was moved to the Douglas Ski Bowl past the Moller Cabin and a warming hut called Third Cabin was built. A snowcat transported over 40 skiers in a sled caboose. Local Al Shaw started the Kaw-wah-ee Ski Co. Ink Ingledue started a snowcat operation.
“When I was growing up Second and Third Cabin were really popular,” Barbara Lindh said. “You had to ride a snowcat, which you usually had to get off to push half way up the mountain it seemed like or you hiked up.”
She was part of the late '50s early '60s ski club and they often boot-packed up the hill to get one run in a race and then skied down the rest of the way to West Juneau.
The early days of Eaglecrest were a transition in the late 1960s of the Third Cabin skiers (such as Delbert Carnes, Sig Olson, Ron Dippold, Denise Blefgen, Tom and Helen Laurent, and Dean Williams) and the beginning of people returning to skiing. Craig Lindh, a Forest Service employee, was involved with every aspect of the development of Eaglecrest, including helping select the Fish Creek drainage area, along with Bob Janes; writing the first prospectus to try to get investors to helping build the first chairlift; serving as first pro patrol leader; selecting the land for the state and city; serving on the board and serving as a volunteer ski patrol member before it switched to an all pro staff.
When Lindh and Janes chose Fish Creek Drainage out of five sites they saw the accessibility, variety of terrain, exposure and the fact that a transportation system could be put in without avalanche-path danger.
The Forest Service had put some money aside on the Dan Moller Trail near the Second and Third cabins for a road but it would have ended in a wide meadow with avalanche danger.
“When Craig was first introduced to that, he thought there had to be something better with all the mountains here,” Barbara Lindh said.
Many others were involved with substantial efforts, such as Alaska Supreme Court Justice Robert Boochever (Barbara’s father) and attorney Fred Eastaugh.
In 1971, Alaska’s congressional delegation obtained an appropriation of $950,000, which was matched by the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, and road construction started in 1973.
In 1974, ski club members were able to sell Juneau voters on the idea of building the area with monies raised through a 1% sales tax increase.
Barbara Lindh said those early years were busy with people trying to make things happen.
“We had very little grooming when it first opened,” she said. “I remember I followed a set of tracks that I had no idea where to go. Turned out, I was following Bob Janes Sr. and he didn’t know either. I went probably a half of a mile somewhere that probably wasn’t even a run, but slowly and surely Eaglecrest came together. We got groomers going, the whole community, not just skiers, backed Eaglecrest by helping pay for it with a 1% on the sales tax, and that has been something that has been ongoing for all the improvements at Eaglecrest. We have been really fortunate to have so many enthusiasts that see the value of winter and summer recreation.”
Lift construction began in 1975 and when the season of 1976-77 rolled around, Eaglecrest Ski Area was up and running with a day lodge, one chairlift and a surface lift.
Craig, who helped build the Ptarmigan Chair which took two seasons to build because the first had too much snow, received the first ski lift ride.
“He got the first chair and Hilary (age 7 at the time) was definitely the first child,” Barbara said. “And I think I kind of had to fight it out to be the first woman, I think Silvia Gard beat me to it.”
Barbara Lindh said growing up being a Third Cabin skier and having so many adults involved in putting races on and teaching her how to ski came full circle when she was able to serve on the Ski Club.
Hilary Lindh said she was a bit of a pest for the people Craig worked with while growing up on the Eaglecrest slopes.
“I think they were tolerant to an extent, and then I would get thrown in the snowbank,” Hilary Lindh said. “But it was a really fun place to grow up and I loved hanging out with the ski patrollers and the guys working on the lifts. It was a great place to have your childhood.”
She had taken a lesson at Alyeska at age five before Eaglecrest opened.
“They put me in a lesson so they could ski and they took off,” she said. “I remember coming down to meet them at the end of the day. Before the lesson I did not know how to turn. So I went straight for them, thinking I was being really funny, joking that I was going to hit them and then I turned at the last second. I have a clear memory of that. I don’t know it they thought it was funny but I did.”
The Lindhs saw her passion as she advanced through the Eaglecrest Mighty Mites and race programs.
Hilary gradually became faster than her parents and when they rode the lifts together, they would be meeting her at the bottom as she started going back up.
Craig and Barbara chose to let Hilary move to Utah to attend a ski academy and she was named to the US Ski Team at age 14.
“Hilary always had a dream in her head of where she was going to go as a skier,” Barbara said. “The year she moved Eaglecrest did not have a ski coach so it was kind of upsetting to her.”
“It was one of the years we were closed at Christmas,” Hilary said. “It was green on the slopes.”
At 16, Hilary won the downhill title at the 1986 national championships and became the first American to win the downhill at the World Junior Championships. She won a Silver medal at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, a bronze medal at the 1996 World Championships, and a gold medal at the 1997 World Championships in Sestriere, Italy.
Barbara remembers a 2 a.m. phone call from Hilary’s coach during her runs in France and the news of the medal touched off a dancing spree and community support that touched their hearts.
Hilary said her father was proud of those results but also wanted her to chase her other dreams.
Craig was into the natural science world and forestry, including selecting lands for state Mental Health Trust. Those professional pursuits influenced Hillary to obtain a bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Utah, and a master’s degree in conservation ecology in Canada.
“His pride in me wasn’t limited to skiing,” she said. “I think he was just as proud of those things. We went on canoe trips, and hiking and camping. The fact that I could put up my own tent and pack my own sleeping bag and all that sort of stuff I think he was just as proud of."
Hilary Lindh said her father was enthusiastic about all he did and that rubbed off on others.
“He was always outside doing something,” she said. “His approach to doing those things, even if it was the crappiest of Southeast weather, was always a good lesson for the people around him."
There is a secret Eaglecrest East chute called ‘Lindh’s Chute,’ a favorite for Craig, one he would go to before others.
Barbara thanked the community for an outpouring of memories about her husband.
On the first powder day of this season, a group of skiers made sure the first chair went up as Craig’s only and with a resounding cheer. A video was sent to the family.
“It meant a lot that all of those people would remember him,” Hilary said.
She said she remembers a photo from an early town downhill when she was 12.
“My dad was gate-keeping and I was running the course,” she said. “The photo is of me in the foreground and him in the background, and he has got this huge grin on his face just watching me fly by. That is what I think about when I think of the town downhill.”