ANCHORAGE, Alaska — "This is the best thing that's happened to Alaska since statehood and the oil pipeline."
That's how the people of Anchorage and all of Alaska feel about the announcement that their Alyeska Resort and Ski Area has been selected on the first ballot by the U.S. Olympic Committee as America's candidate to host the 1992 Winter Olympics.
Chris Von Imhof, vice president and general manager of Alyeska and a founding member of the Anchorage Olympic Organizing Committee for 1992, told us as we talked in his office at the resort: "This means that beginning right now, every visitor who comes to Anchorage, with or without skis, is going to get the feel and spirit of an Olympic city."
Olympic-caliber ski facilities are also ready for this winter of 1985-86. Anchorage proved to the U.S. Olympic Committee, in the winning presentation keynoted by Alaska's Sen. Ted Stevens, that Alyeska has all the basic facilities to host the Winter Olympics right now, even without the additional ski-slope and resort expansions that will be made within the next few years.
Realistically, Anchorage and the U.S. Olympic Committee concede the possibility that it could be 1996 rather than 1992 before the Winter Olympics come to this Alaska resort and city; the 1988 Winter Games are set for Calgary in Canada, and traditionally the committee tends to vary the continental venue every four years.
This means that the 1992 winter competitions could go to Europe and that North America would not be given priority again until 1996.
"We're going all out to get the Winter Games for 1992," says Von Imhof, "but we'll certainly settle for '96, and then skiers and other world travelers will really be astounded by all that will happen here during the next 10 years."
Even when I first came here with my wife to ski, five winters ago, the English language shared the slopes and apres-ski action with Japanese, German and French.
Signs on the slopes were printed in Japanese as well as English. Von Imhof, who comes from Austria, explained at the time that while most German and French travelers could cope with directions in English, the Japanese felt more comfortable with signs lettered in their own language.
The "Anchorage 1992" presentation made clear to the U.S. Olympic Committee that if Anchorage were chosen, the Winter Games would be coming to a cosmopolitan city.
"Native arts (in Anchorage)," the presentation points out, "open a window to Alaska's history, revealing the life story of the Eskimos, Indians and Aleuts in many art forms--ivory carvings, basketry, beading and hides.
"In addition, Anchorage recently completed a $25-million expansion to its Fine Arts and Historical Museum to showcase the state's past and focus on its future. In 1987, a $57-million performing arts center with three theaters will be completed."
Meanwhile, the Alaska Repertory Theater offers a range of plays from the drama of Shakespeare to the comedy of Neil Simon. The Anchorage Civic Opera and Anchorage Symphony present outstanding local talent and internationally acclaimed artists. No fewer than 75 cultural groups add to evening entertainments with a lively array of visual and performing arts.
Visitors this winter will find Anchorage more of a boom town than could have been possible in Gold Rush days. From a population of 150,000 in 1972, it has grown to about 250,000 and continues to grow at about 1,000 residents a month. The major oil companies have new headquarters here, and the service industries are calling for more skilled people.
The only possible direction of growth is southerly, toward Alyeska 35 miles away, and Anchorage has already embraced the town of Girdwood at the base of the ski slopes. The highway from the city to Alyeska was repaved last year at a cost of $8 million.
The $27-million George M. Sullivan Sports Arena was completed two years ago and is ready for Olympic hockey, ice-skating and figure-skating events.
Our first ski trip here in 1980 came just after the resort had been sold by Alaska Airlines to the Seibu Group, Japan's huge leisure company conglomerate.
The Alyeska Nugget Inn at the foot of Mt. Alyeska includes 113 condo suites, 32 deluxe hotel rooms and dining with a panoramic view of the ski runs. Twenty more acres are set for development and will provide additional condo suites for visitors.
One ski run, served by a double chairlift, has been groomed and graded so beginners can enjoy top- to-bottom skiing. Four other double lifts serve slopes for intermediates and experts. When you're in a mood to test your Olympic aspirations, Chair 2 is 3,500 feet long and has a vertical rise of 1,275 feet. It begins in the bowl and rises to a crest in front of Alyeska Glacier.
Another lift is 6,000 feet long. Within two years a super lift will go to the top of the glacier. The mountain now has one of the longest night-lighted runs in North America. Skiing usually begins the first week in November, and the mountain has a new snow-making system.