One of the first ski tows on the Kenai Peninsula occurred with the construction of the rope tow at Olsen Mountain just north of Homer. At the time, Olson Mountain was an active U.S. Air Force Station. The primary mission of the base was the surveillance of the old DEW Line, early warning system that stretched across Alaska. The purpose was to monitor any activity coming into our air space from the U.S.S.R. At the time Homer had an active downhill and cross country ski club. The high school also had a cross country and downhill ski team. The Homer Ski Club wanted to develop an improved ski area, through a joint effort by utilizing private funds and funds from the recreational account of the Air Force Station the Olson Mountain Ski Area was developed and remains in operation today.
This picture was likely taken the same day as the above picture, the skier identified is Bert McLay, Uncle to John McLay.
Prior to the completion of the rope tow at Olsen Mountain, several other courses were developed on the face of the bluff that parallels Kachemak Bay. The one which was utilized the most was the Svedland-McLay Hill. This course ran from the Olson Mountain Road at the top of the bluff down to East Road. The course ended in the field at the home of Jake McLay. The high school team also practiced on this hill. The adult skiers would take turns, when a car load of young skiers reach the end of the course, they would load them up into a car and drive them back up East Hill Road to the starting point of the course.
This skier is on the Svedland-McLay Hill, it must have been approaching spring as a lot of grass is starting to show. The skier is identified as Woody McLay, Uncle to John McLay, however, from the profile it appears to me that it could possibly be Val McLay, John's father.
If you are wondering if these small town skiers, that did not have the modern ski equipment or even improved courses, ever developed into competitive skiers? During my youth, there was two groups of downhill skiers that were well known throughout Alaska. The McLay brothers and the Martin brothers. Woody McLay was one of the great skiers that came out of Homer, winning most of the state skiing competitions and going on to ski in the Junior Nationals in Squaw Valley, Idaho. In those years, the two skiers to watch was Woody or Val McLay, they always finished well at the top of the leader board. In later years, their younger brother Bert would also excel in skiing. Tad Martin would followed in the footsteps of his older brother Lee and become the top rated skier in Alaska. He would represent the United States on the Olympic Ski Team in the early 1970's. He graduated from Ft.Lewis College in Durango, Colorado in the early 1970's. The majority of these skiers from the early era of skiing in Homer continue to live in the Homer area. Bert McLay passed away at an early age, but he will always be known as one the skiing McLay boys.