The History of Tsaina Lodge
How the Tsaina Lodge grew to a world-wide destination in a six year period from conception, to construction, to the most publicized ski resort from 1991 to 1994 is not a straight line. It took many interesting turns and twist and the drive of the Valdez community to put the Tsaina and Chugach Mountains in the minds of skiers around the world.
Tsaina, which is an Alaska Athabascan term, means “river of little fish”. There is a very good reason why the Athabascans named the river of little fish. The Tsaina river flows into the Tiekel River around mile post 50 on the Richardson Highway in Alaska. The Tiekel flows from the north, just short of the Copper River Valley Basin. The Tiekle is a short river and has large water falls (V+ rating) on it as it flows down to the Copper River 20 miles away from the highway through deep wilderness. The Copper River has a tremendous Salmon run but due to the waterfalls on the Tiekel no salmon or fish can swim up the Tiekle river and therefore the Tsaina River as well.
The only fish are small grayling that can survive in the frozen river through the cold interior winters. Very good eating too. There are no fish for Grizzles or even the Athabasca people in the Tsaina Valley. The snowfall in the Tsaina forces all the moose north to Mount Billy Mitchell and closer to the Tiekel lodge at Mile 56. Hence the name “river of
If you are looking for Grizzles the Tsaina Valley is not the best spot to go looking.
No indigenous human population had ever lived
in the Tsaina valley area. The local Athabascans survived 40
miles north of Tsaina in what is call the Copper River Valley
because of the fish, wild game and lower snowfall.
On the left is a picture from about 1934 of the Tsaina bridge crossing at mile 36. This old bridge wouldn’t suport the eighteen wheelers running from the refinerys to the pipeline terminal in Valdez.
The Tsaina, located at Mile Post 35 on the Richardson highway was a great sleepy Alaskan Roadhouse operated by Don and Josephine Johnson who built it in 1949. The lodge was built in an avalanche safe zone located at the bottom of the North side of Thompson Pass. The Tsaina was considered a safety location by the State of Alaska for travelers because it was located between avalanches zones on the Richardson Highway. Many people spent days and nights stuck in at Tsaina in the early days due to avalanches and winter storms. The original dirt road and primitive snow removal equipment meant travelers would be stuck at the Tsaina for days. Because of the unique and yet needed sanctuary at the Tsaina during winter snowstorms the State of Alaska ran a single phone line over 10 miles from DOT camp on top of Thompson Pass to stay in touch with those trapped from time to time. That was a long phone line and the only modern amenity Tsaina had. The Tsaina had its own water well, power generation and septic. The Tsaina is off the grid.
This is a picture taken in 1970’s the oil companies got together and built the Alyeska Pipeline which actually touches Tsaina Property. This picture is just north of Tsaina and east of the highway.