You've seen the bumper
stickers: "Eagle River: My Home Town," "I
(Heart) Eagle River," and "Eagle River: The
Aspen of the North."
sketch shows what downtown Eagle River
may have looked like had Eagle Valley
Resort become a reality in the 1980s.
Illustration courtesy of Rogner
The Aspen of the north? Say again?
Once upon a time, Eagle River dared to
picture itself as one of the world's premier ski
destinations. Back in the 1980s, when excitement
was high about bringing the Winter Olympics to
Anchorage, an Austrian developer named Robert
Rogner began planning a huge project. The Eagle
Valley Resort would sit on and below Harp
Mountain, just out Hiland Road (and inside
Chugach State Park). Rogner envisioned a place
with nine ski lifts, two hotels, 900 condo
units, an indoor pool and athletic center, a
convention center, a movie theater and even a
Russian Orthodox church.
The developer constructed a mock-up of the
resort, and people streamed through the Eagle
Center to get a look at it. "It was a standard
ski resort arrangement with the lifts on one
side and down below would be a village that
would be patterned on a gold rush theme," said
Lee Jordan, founder and former publisher of the
Chugiak-Eagle River Star, now the Alaska Star.
The state's economy had bottomed out, and the
Eagle Valley Resort would reportedly provide
employment for 2,000 residents. "The promise of
local jobs was one of the most exciting parts of
the project," said Eagle River real estate agent
Eva Loken. "That and the idea that Eagle River
could be a good place for a ski resort."
Jordan agrees that residents initially were
thrilled by the idea. "The big thing was the
potential for putting Eagle River on the map,"
Rogner planned ski runs that would meet
Olympic standards and attract World Cup races,
particularly early in the season when other
locations lacked snow. And residents hoped the
area would bolster Anchorage's bid for the 1992
and later the 1994 Winter Olympics.
State officials worked quickly to grant a
concession allowing the ski operation to exist
within Chugach State Park. One official promised
the state would be supportive and suggested the
resort could transform Eagle River into "the
Aspen of the North."
Flies in the Ointment
As Rogner moved ahead, costs mounted. His
$170 million estimate mushroomed to $250
million. A year into the project, Rogner asked
the Alaska Industrial and Economic Development
Authority to guarantee $150 million in loans.
Loken says this was Rogner's mistake, and it
marked the beginning of the end for the Eagle
Valley Resort. Before the state would agree to
guarantee loans, it required a feasibility study
to determine if the resort could succeed. A
Seattle consultant conducted the study and in
March 1989 announced the project was not
economically viable, and there was no
international market for Alaska skiing.
Loken contends the study was deeply flawed.
Specifically, she says, European travel agents
were polled about how many clients had requested
a ski vacation in Alaska. "But we didn't yet
have a place to go skiing in Alaska," she said.
But others in the community saw an entirely
different scenario. Pete Panarese, Chief of
Field Operations for Alaska State Parks at the
time, felt it was Rogner's development plans
that were flawed. The project had the potential
to leave the state with long-term operational
and infrastructure costs, he says. "It went from
being one of, 'Give us permission to proceed and
we will bring $150 million of investment into
your community,' to one of, 'Guarantee our $150
million investment and we will build a ski
resort and condominium project for you.'"
Panarese also saw the project as a real
estate speculation deal. "The ski area
development was secondary," he said. "The
developer brought us lots of drawings of
buildings like condos and shopping malls at the
base of the ski area, but had no knowledge of
property ownership or snow conditions." Soon
after Anchorage lost the Olympic bid, Rogner and
his staff pulled up stakes, Panarese said.
Rogner's representative, Klaus
Ressman, stayed in Eagle River for about four
months after the state declined to guarantee the
loans. His aim, he reported to The Star, was to
work toward increasing international demand for
Alaska skiing. But Rogner soon summoned him back
to Vienna to work on other projects. In July
1989, the state canceled its agreement allowing
the developer access to Chugach State Park. The
project was officially dead.
it become a reality, Eagle Valley Resort
would have challenged skiers of all
Illustration courtesy of Rogner
How would Eagle River differ today if the
resort had been built? It depends on who you
talk to. Many people feel the state's
feasibility study was valid. Some point to the
poor snow conditions we've had in recent years
and wonder if the resort could have stayed open
long enough each season to turn a profit.
Perhaps the Eagle Valley Resort would be our
town's white elephant.
Others feel more positive. "It would have
been the biggest snowmaking operation in the
world at the time," concedes Chugiak-Eagle River
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Susan
Gorski. "But there was a good water source, so
that didn't frighten away the developer."
Loken believes the resort would have helped
create a more vibrant downtown. With the
expansion of Alyeska in the 1990s and the
potential for development at Hatcher Pass, the
Eagle Valley Resort would have been ideally
situated within driving distance of both and
would have attracted international visitors to
the area, she says.
Eagle River is unlikely to see another
project like the Eagle Valley Resort. Land
status has changed dramatically over the past 20
years. But our neighbors to the north may have
better luck as hopes for a Hatcher Pass ski
resort live on.
This article published in The
Alaska Star on Thursday, November 9, 2006.