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Extreme Skier Takes on Alaska's Abandoned Military Deathtrap

The old Buckner Building in Whittier is full of asbestos, jagged rubbish and collapsed walls – in other words, a perfect place to do a little skiing.

Skiing in the open mountains can get so tiring, what with the rushing winds and whispering pines and gorgeous views into arctic-blue infinity. Why can't someone build a ski slope that's a little more interesting – something with dark, confined spaces and bits of rusty metal like tetanus injectors?

Someone has, in Whittier, Alaska, a seaside town about 60 miles southeast of Anchorage. Last year, winter-sports enthusiasts Matt Wild and Logan Imlach spent a week designing a maddening ski course from snow packed onto rubbish inside the Buckner Building, a huge military base abandoned after the 1964 megathrust earthquake. Then Imlach ascended to the top floor, plunged through a darkened doorway and skied through five floors of the rotting structure, hydroplaning through hallways of frigid water and popping out of windows like a luckless Prague official in the throws of defenestration.

The duo's footage of "Five Floors of Fury" has blown up this last week, partly due to Imlach's ballsy tricks but also the eerie setting of the Buckner, a true building of ghosts. Built in the '50s, the complex was meant to buck up America's defenses against Russkies invading through Alaska. It was bomb-resistant and utterly huge, big enough to contain thousands of able-bodied soldiers as well as a pool, rifle range, jail, library, movie theater, bowling alley and a mysterious "High Radiation" area. After the earthquake and attendant tsunami took their toll, the comples decomposed into a warren of fallen walls and twisted metal. Here's how one photographer describes it today (more creepy photos here):

It has been abandoned for over 40 years and time has taken its toll. The building itself is quite sturdy, the interior is another matter. In October there was still water everywhere, you can hear it dripping throughout the building. The ceilings are falling down as well as the light fixtures. Unfortunately, people have tagged the building and although some of the art work is nice, there are swear words, signs of the devil and witches, marijuana and various other sayings and symbols. 

Vandals have broken anything the could get their hands on. There were broken pieces of the sinks and toilets throughout the living quarters. It was a sad sight that a once impressive building is now in shambles.

The town won't tear it down because of the costs associated with asbestos removal and debris transport. So it's likely there could be a sequel to Imlach's fantastic journey sometime in the future, perhaps after a couple floors cave in due to heavy snowfall. Skip to 1:45 if you want to see the money jump (but the whole thing really is worth watching, as is this free-skiing saga in a poisoned Russian wasteland):

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.