Wilbur Madsen and WESC

The north face of Odessey Peak was the prime venue for the third event. It was the best day in years with a bright sun and not a trace of wind. As WESC entered its third year, it was becoming the premier ski event in North America. The small group of Valdezeans who had dedicated so much energy were overwhelmed with the growing publicity, the logistics of finding venues, and waiting out “down days” under grey skies, rain or heavy snow. The ski world had become mesmerized by a place in Alaska called the Chugach and they were coming in droves. Skiers were frequently seen hitchhiking to and from Thompson Pass. A ritual was developing.

I hauled my BD Megamid and a Yashica FX-2 chemical camera far above the growing crowd on the lake below. From this vantage point I could hear the skier’s breath as they passed to either side of me on their one test run. I set up camp and acted like a photographer. One of the competitors skied down and joined me. Lending him my binoculars, we discussed some descent option I would never consider. (He did well that day. ) The Odessey Arena was in all its glory.

I leaned back avoiding the shade of the tent and rest on my pack, glassing the summit area as bright bibs disappeared and reappeared above the rocks. Skiers and patrollers came forward to peer into the imposing north face of Odessey. The start was running late as a crowd of hundreds waited on the lake. The fall-line off the summit rolls nicely, slightly corniced into to near vertical rock gardens for a hundred feet. At least a hundred cars lined the highway to watch the event.
No sooner had the first contestant Alaskan Dennis Mattingly entered the course near Pencil Chute, off to my high right I spotted another person sliding on his back, feet first, from just below Odessey’s summit He slid in that position for nearly a 1000’ and did not tumble.. He was wearing a helmet and left a streak of blood in the snow. He eventually stopped directly adjacent to my perch at about 100 yards. Within minutes, a team of patrollers arrived. I could barely hear their conversation and things were not good (see bottom picture).

Wilbur Madsen was memorialized by naming a peak after him near Mile 40.

Tony Bickert and the Vanguard staff, including Mike Jakemic, enjoyed covering WESC and wrote comprehensive multi-page articles . Thanks to the City of Valdez Consortium Library for allowing me access to their newspaper files.