“Alaska Viewmaster Trailer” from Skagway took the People’s and Kids’ Choice medals at a prestigious international competition in Colorado last month. Peter Lucchetti

Big break in Breck for snow sculptors


A team of Skagway-based snow sculptors broke into the big time last month, earning two of the top prizes at the Budweiser International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge, Colo.
Local residents Peter Lucchetti, Bruce Schindler and Ken Graham have been sculpting hilarious pieces the last few years for the Buckwheat Ski Classic and Sourdough Rendezvous. Their work was noticed by some elite sculptors, and they were invited to the prestigious contest in Colorado this year to compete along with a team from the Yukon. Joining the Skagway team were summer residents Steve Stegall and Phillip Clark.
The Yukon team had already made headlines, winning the Canadian championships last year. Even before the Colorado event, Lucchetti was invited to join the Yukon team for a special project in Maine and a trip to the world famous Harbin Ice Festival in China. The Yukon team, with the Skagwegian’s help, took third in the world.
Lucchetti was pretty jazzed from that experience when the Skagway team assembled in Colorado to go head-to-head with the Yukoners and teams from the U.S., Canada, Germany, Bulgaria, China, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland.
They started on Jan. 20 with a 20-ton, 12-foot-tall block of man-made snow. Lucchetti was a little worried when they flew into Denver and the temperature was close to 70 degrees. It was cooler at the mountain ski resort, but there was some slushiness on the back side where the sun hit it. No problem: they were aiming to create something big enough to stand up to the sun for days, even weeks.
They went to work on the design Lucchetti and Graham had come up with: “Alaska Viewmaster Trailer”. A small maquette in front of the large block of snow showed a maquette of a large grizzly bear holding up a small travel trailer. Artists Schindler and Stegall joined in the carving, and Clark was the public relations member of the team. Only four of the five members of a team can carve, so the fifth person helps organize materials and is there to answer questions from the public while the sculptors work.
They were allowed 65 hours over five days to complete the sculpture. Only hand-tools are allowed, so no cheating with a chain saw to get down to the core area.
Lucchetti said each carver had his own specialty. For example, Graham was the “claw man” for the grizzly’s toes. Lucchetti said he did most of the finish work on the faces. There are two, the big grizz, and if you look closely at the bear’s left foot, you’ll see another.
“We were aiming for something big and with a fun theme,” Lucchetti said. “In real life the bear would be 22 feet tall, but he’s sitting down and he mostly looks curious holding up the trailer. And the guy he is looking for is underneath his foot.”
Lucchetti said the crew enjoyed watching the moment of discovery.
“People would look at the model and someone would notice the guy was under (the bear’s) foot. One would scream with delight and point it out to a friend.”
Clark also got to deal with all the Sarah Palin questions. They came up with a great line: “We can see Sarah Palin from our house. You just look for Russian and she’s right in front of you.” Lucchetti said both Palin lovers and Palin haters thought it was funny.
Another surprise was a visit by a CBS reporter from Denver. It turned out to be SHS graduate Stan Bush, who landed a job with KCNC in Colorado last fall. In an e-mail Bush said he had no idea that Team Alaska was a bunch of Skagway guys. His interview with Schindler can be found at: Go to the video library dayport for Jan. 24.
While they did not finish in the top three in the judging, Skagway Team Alaska accomplished its goal of being the Kids’ Choice, and also the People’s Choice winner.
“The guy there told us (the voting) wasn’t even close,” Lucchetti said.
Next year, if they are invited back, Lucchetti said they will work on something more aesthetic that catches the judges’ eyes. The winning Yukon sculpture was called “Family Reunion”, showing a totem with elders dancing in their button blankets, “calling upon their ancestors to come and to impart their wisdom for ‘the people’ of today.” It can be viewed at
Lucchetti said it was exciting to see the Yukon team win. “They were pretty inspirational,” he said, noting that the team’s captain, Donald Watt, has been carving for 20 years. Once they brought in finish artist Gisli Balzer a couple years ago, the team starting hitting new heights. And it was a thrill to have them recommend the Skagway team for Brekenridge.
“The Canadians are real mentors,” Lucchetti said. “I knew my guys were getting (to that level) by the end of Brekenridge.”
It was hard work, but they had fun and worked very well together as a team, he noted. At night, after a long day of carving, they would relax and have a beer with other carvers from around the world.
“It was an incredible honor and a great challenge, and we got a little fame for Skagway,” he said.
His only regret was that they didn’t bring along a bunch of Alaskan flags to wave. Next time.
Using the Yukon team as a model, the Skagway team plans on applying for grants to get their airfare covered for future events. Their meals are usually covered at competitions, but they get nothing for winning.
They hope to travel to a big competition in Quebec next winter, as well as a return to Brek. And there’s still the Buckwheat this year, but Lucchetti needs a babysitter. If you can help out, give Pete or Mickie a call.

RCCL to cut one cruise ship to Alaska in 2010

Cruise West pulls 3 small ships this year

One of Alaska’s major cruise lines has decided not to send one of its ships to Southeast Alaska next year, and another smaller line has cut back its fleet for this year.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line recently decided not to send the Serenade of the Seas to Southeast ports in 2010, said John Binkley, president of the Alaska Cruise Association, in a Jan. 26 interview with the Anchorage Daily News. He said he is worried about whether other cruise lines are also contemplating fewer deployments next year as well. Usually, the cruise lines announce their deployment decisions in April, but Royal Caribbean announced early because of the significant impact on Alaska businesses, Binkley said.
Currently, 28 large ships travel to Alaska each summer, bringing roughly one million tourists to the state. RCCL has two other ships that serve Alaska, sailing through Southeast and across the Gulf of Alaska to Seward. It also has three ships in Alaska with its Celebrity division.
Binkley said the reduced deployment is related to the troubled economy but also increased competition from other destinations. He said the $50 dollar head tax passed by Alaska voters in 2006 now represents about 20 percent of the cheapest cruise tickets to Alaska.
He said he isn’t aware of any attempts by the industry to overturn the cruise ship initiative entirely, but it would be “reasonable to go back ... and readjust the initiative.”
Binkley did not know where the Serenade of the Seas will sail instead of Alaska in the summer of 2010. The ship sails a seven-day, round-trip itinerary from Vancouver, BC, typically stopping in Juneau, Skagway and Hoonah. It has 19 scheduled trips for this summer’s season, with a capacity for about 42,000 visitors.
The only line to announce it has pulled ships for 2009 is Cruise West. Instead of the usual eight ships in its Alaska fleet, Cruise West recently announced it will send only five ships north this summer. The exact count for Skagway has not yet been released, but among those ships reportedly not coming is the Spirit of ’98.
The small line has experienced slow bookings and recently was advertising cruises for $874 per person, and a special $2,000 off the fare of a normal cabin.
On Travelocity, the bigger cruise lines are advertising discounted cruises starting at between $399 and $799 per person in May, and between $469 and $999 in June. Depending on the line and departure port, prices start from $499 to $1199 per person in July, August and September.
A complete 2009 Skagway docking schedule will be available in the March 13 issue of the News. – ADN, CVN & SN reports

Ship pollution resolution passes with change

The Skagway Borough Assembly has joined a list of Southeast communities in support of a resolution asking state review of the pollution “point of discharge” standard adopted for cruise ships in the 2006 ballot initiative.
The resolution was brought forward by Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue at the request of the cruise industry, said Mayor Tom Cochran at the assembly’s Feb. 4 meeting. It also mirrored several resolutions from other communities and the state chamber of commerce, and was a shortened version of one passed recently by the Golden Circle chapter of the Alaska Tourism Industry Association.
Jennifer Schlatter, chapter president, said cruise ships coming to Alaska have been held to “the highest standards in the world since 2003.” She asked for passage of the resolution to “untie the hands of the DEC to base (the standard) on scientific evidence.”
The Department of Environmental Conservation is holding a workshop next week to look at the standards, including possible ways the ships can meet them. In a KHNS radio interview, one of the initiative’s co-authors, Gershon Cohen of Haines, urged the assembly to hold off passing any resolution until after the workshop. He said the ships are 98 percent within compliance.
But the standards, according to the resolution, are “technologically not feasible” and cannot all be met by a 2010 deadline. This could force ships to go to sea to discharge and possibly cut out a port. The resolution stated that the industry had already spent $200 million on advanced wastewater treatment systems that are more stringent than those at the ports they visit. They have asked for a “level playing field” with the communities they serve.
The assembly decided to move forward with the resolution, with one amendment. Instead of urging the governor and legislature to “modify” the point of discharge standard, the municipality wants them to “examine” the standard based on scientific criteria determined by DEC.
Assemblyman Mike Korsmo said the Juneau Assembly had adopted similar language. – JB

Skagway bear proposal, number changes for Board of Game

The Skagway bear proposal will be revisited by the Board of Game at the end of the month, and it will have a new number and request for a change in language.
Proposal 224, formerly number 23, initially recommended no taking of black bears with “cream coloration (or lighter) over more than 30 percent of its body regardless of any other coloration.” The BOG in November said that was not enforceable and asked staff to conduct a public meeting in Skagway to see what residents want.
At a hearing here last month, citizens were divided about the proposal language and restrictions on the books that did not prevent the shooting of the “spirit bear” last summer. Hunters wanted it scrapped altogether.
But the proposer is now asking the board to consider more restrictive language.
In a letter sent to the board on Feb. 10, John Warder proposed new language to “Ban the hunting of any black bear that is not black or very dark brown” and limit the ban to just the area of Unit 1D within the Skagway Borough boundary.
Warder said it was clear from the Nov. meeting that what he first proposed was not enforceable, and that there also is no clear definition of a glacier bear. He cited Dept. of Fish and Game counts for Skagway of just five cinnamon and the one glacier-colored or “spirit” bear being taken out of 26 black bears in the past decade.
He said hunters will still have to make a call in the field, and “this suggested restriction shouldn’t be any more difficult for them than those on the books already. When in doubt, the hunter does not shoot.”
He cited the nearly one million visitors a year to Skagway who appreciate the bears, and “a large segment of our local population is also committed to protecting this rare color phase of black bear.”
Written comments were due to the BOG today for inclusion in the board packets for the Feb. 27-March 9 meeting in Anchorage. Information about the meeting is available at See the Proposal Book under the Board of Game heading. – JB

Six manager candidates get calls next week

The Borough Manager Selection Committee in meetings over the past month reviewed 24 applications, and came up with nine candidates that they wanted to call.
Of those, three have since pulled their applications (including two women), leaving six who are scheduled for phone interviews on Feb. 18 and 20.
The six are:
• Ed Pefferman, recently an interim city manager in Seldovia. Earlier in the decade he spent less than a year as the manager in Nome, and before that was manager of Hoquiam, Washington for four years.
• David P. Richards, city administrator for Hoonah for the past year. Before coming to Alaska, he was township manager in Pahrump, Nevada for four years, and a city administrator for International Falls, Minnesota for three years.
• Thomas C. Smith, most recently city administrator for six months for Eagle Lake, Minnesota. Before that he was city administrator for Silver Bay, Minn. for seven years, a short stint at Pine City, Minn., two years at Reinbeck, Iowa, and five years as city manager for Palmer, Alaska.
• Eric A. Strahl, city manager for Menominee, Michigan for the past three years. He previously was manager in Hopkinton, Rhode Island for a year, Boyne City, Michigan for five years, and Berea, Kentucky for five years.
• Kenneth E. Venables, manager of Keystone Heights, Florida for the past year. Previously he was general service director for Palatka, Florida for two years, and the fire chief there for four years.
• Kenneth S. Weaver, city manager of Spring Hill, Tennessee for the past year. Previously he was manager of Eunice, New Mexico for two years, and manager of the borough of Greenville, Pennsylvania for two years. He has had one- or two-year stints at cities in West Virginia and Michigan.
After the phone interviews, the committee will meet and decide who will come up to Skagway for finalist interviews. In the meantime, the borough is working under an interim plan with the mayor as personnel manager, the treasurer as budget manager, and the clerk as administrative manager. Former manager Alan Sorum is handling special projects and filing weekly reports. The personnel policy rewrite also has begun, with weekly meetings on Tuesday afternoons at City Hall. – JB

Fire chief resigns to take position in Vermont

Skagway Fire Chief Mark Kirko submitted his resignation on Feb. 6, saying he is leaving Alaska to take a job in Vermont to be closer to family members.
Kirko submitted an official letter to City Hall and also e-mailed several colleagues and friends statewide about his decision. His last day will be March 6.
In his letter to Mayor Tom Cochran, Kirko said the decision came with a “heavy heart” and was not an easy decision to make, but one that he and his wife Jodi felt was necessary. They both have family in Vermont and have accepted jobs there. Kirko will be the fire chief for the Town of Windsor.
“I have enjoyed working with you and many of the wonderful staff members of the municipality over the last five years,” he wrote to the mayor. “I will miss very much the dedicated and professional members of the fire department; it is like I am leaving a family which is never an easy thing to do.”
Kirko added that the department and members have come a long way in the past few years and that he was proud to be part of the SFD team.
In answer to some questions later, he addressed his accomplishments, needs of the department, and advice for his successor in an e-mail.
“I may have provided a vision or guidance that resulted in the accomplishments but ultimately it is the volunteers that deserve the credit,” he said.
When he gets to Windsor, he said he’ll be talking about the “exemplary members” of the Skagway department and what they accomplished. He listed restructuring employee positions for better service, more community involvement like decorating the engine for Santa’s big arrival, the drive-through car wash fund-raisers for Trapper Leeth, Kariel Young and others, bringing CPR to the schools, strengthening ties with Yukon counterparts, improving interaction with clinic staff, and helping local firefighters become more involved on the state level.
He said one of the greatest accomplishments was establishing a new relationship with the police department, and a “Public Safety Approach” for all emergency services in Skagway.
The future needs, he said, are simple: more dedicated volunteers, a leader who puts the needs of the crew and well-being of citizens ahead of anything else, and “a new public safety building couldn’t hurt.”
He advised his successor that there is a “a lot of heart “ in the SFD and to never lose sight of that.
“Keep an open mind to change as Skagway is a challenging and unique place to work and live,” he said. “The road may start off a little bumpy but it will smooth out as long as you let it. Pay attention to the people and be honest with them, and they will accept you as they have me.”
He closed by saying this was one of the hardest decisions of his life:
“I hope to keep in touch with many of you and continue to be a
part of Skagway in some way,” he concluded. “Jodi and I will miss you all very much. Skagway, take care and be safe.” – JB

Comp. plan passes without amendment

Following a reconsideration vote, the assembly voted on Feb. 4 to pass the ordinance approving the updated Skagway Comprehensive Plan.
The plan did not have enough votes for passage during a January session. Following the defeat of an amendment that would have added language about potential road development, assemblyman Mark Schaefer said he wanted more members present. His lone vote Jan. 15 against the ordinance defeated it, but he asked for reconsideration at the next meeting.
But at last week’s meeting, the author of the amendment, resident John Tronrud, said he did not wish to bring it forward again. The language he had wanted in the land use definitions for Recreation/Open Space would have said, “Any road access within these areas would be done in an appropriate manner to maintain or enhance the natural beauty of the lands, as well as providing access and improvements for recreational opportunities.”
He said he made a mistake not presenting it sooner, and that he referenced the Juneau Access issue in his initial letter, but he said he had a right to bring his idea forward at the public hearing. He said he appreciated the assembly listening to him and the hard work of the Comp Plan committee. He asked them to “drop it” and look at it again when the plan is updated in 10 years.
Mayor Tom Cochran said a lot of work went into the plan, and committee sessions were well attended throughout the process. Mike Korsmo said it had a great kick-off with a town meeting a year ago.
L.C. Cassidy said the plan is just a guide.
“It’s not written in stone,” she said. “We went through a public process on it and we will again in 10 years.”
With just four members present again, it needed every vote and got it this time. The mayor then made a call to plan writer Barb Sheinberg and told her the news, which drew applause from the audience for her answering machine.


Split board means no senior trip

A proposed trip by the senior class to Chicago will probably have to wait until after graduation. The Skagway School Board on a 2-2 vote dismissed the idea at its Jan. 27 meeting, upholding a recent trend to not allow school-sanctioned senior trips during the academic year.
The trip for the small senior class was first proposed in November, but the board had tabled it to the January meeting. In between was a sometimes contentious community forum in which the whole subject of student travel was debated. A possible solution was to allow educational trips for all high school students in their sophomore and senior years.
But there was still some support for senior trips, and the Chicago trip was seen as being educational and small enough for chaperones to be able to control the kids. The board had frowned on senior trips after a 2006 excursion to Cancun and reports of partying.
Board President Darren Belisle said he would vote against the request, but not because of past problems. He noted that board policy states that senior trip requests must come before them at the board’s September meeting. He said he would favor the educational trips every other year for all students in grades 9-12.
Member Chris Maggio said he would like to see this year’s class of three seniors be able to go on their trip, and he was backed up by Joanne Korsmo. She said the two advisors were not staff members and may not have known about the September rule.
“How would we serve the kids to say no to this?” she asked.
Member Chris Ellis said she had spent a lot of time looking at the issue and was inclined to not approve the request.
“I don’t see how we can pick and choose” which senior trips to approve,” Ellis said.
Maggio urged flexibility. “For this trip, I don’t expect problems to arise,” he said.
“We didn’t think (there would be problems) on the ones before,” Eliis said.
Senior Shelby Surdyk said the proposed trip had been moved from spring break week to the end of April, so it would not conflict with an already approved trip by the DDF team to the Marshall Islands. They were to be accompanied by parent Colette Hisman and advisor Blaine Mero. Hisman was present during the debate but did not speak.
Niki Hahn, a parent of a child who did not go on a senior trip last year, urged the board to remain consistent. She said this year’s junior class had also given up on the prospects of a senior trip for next year. “If you allow this I could see them coming back for a senior trip,” she said.
Belisle at this point cut off public input, even from Surdyk who had raised her hand.
After the vote, Surdyk’s mother, Julene Fairbanks, a former board member, said she was “flabbergasted” by the split vote to deny the small class’s request. She said she was in on all the discussions two years ago about senior trips and knew what constituted a “safe trip.”
Hisman said she respected the board’s decision, but said they should have allowed Surdyk to speak again.
Maggio said he hoped the class could still go on the trip after graduation.
Belisle said it was one of the hardest decisions he’s ever had to make.

TRIPLE THREAT – Shelby Surdyk won three events at Skagway’s first regional DDF Tournament last weekend. See results below and more photos in our DDF GALLERY. Photo by Jeff Brady


DDF Regional Winners
Skagway, Alaska Tourney

Drama Winners
Solo Acting: Alini Jashiki, “Salome” (Skagway)

Duet Acting: Brook Cinocco and Ryan Smalley (Haines)

Readers Theatre: “Grimm’s Fairy Tale” (Haines)

Mime: “Musical Putty” (Wrangell)

Forensics Winners
Humorous Interpretation (HI): Kate Lindsley (Haines)

Dramatic Interpretation (DI): Hannah Hostetler (Haines); Brandy Mayo of Skagway finished third.

Duo Interpretation (DUO): Hannah Hostetler and Ryan Smalley (Haines)

Expository Speaking: Shelby Surdyk “Nuclear Energy” (Skagway)

Oration: Shelby Surdyk, “Rediscovering our Resources” (Skagway); Alini Jashiki of Skagway finished third.

Extemporaneous Commentary: Brandy Mayo “Monotheism” (Skagway); Jayce Ellis of Skagway finished second.

Extemporaneous Speaking: Shelby Surdyk, “What is likely to result from the election of Muammar Gaddafi as chairman of the African Union?” (Skagway)

Debate Winners

Public Forum Debate: Chris Bowman and Ryan Smalley (Haines) split decision win over Peter and Brendan Stanton (Ketchikan) in resolving whether the alliance of B.R.I.C. nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China) will have a positive influence on the U.S.

Speaker Top Ranking: Peter Stanton (Ketchikan)

Winning ways back for SHS teams

Both Skagway High basketball teams are hitting the middle of the season with winning records. They take their running games on the road this week to Kake and Angoon, before returning for final homestands with Whitehorse Vanier and league rival Yakutat.
The boys (6-5, 4-4 conf.) finished 2-1 in the Don Hather Tourney, dropped two close games on the road to Hoonah, and then swept Hydaburg and Thorne Bay here last week.
The girls (6-2, 4-0 conf.) also won two of three tourney games, but are perfect in conference play. Their only losses thus far are to 3A power Haines, once during the tourney and last week on the road.
See available boxscores at
Boys coach Chris Wassman said players were sick during some tough games at Hoonah, and some calls went the other way. They lost by 2 and 10.
“I’d like to see them at Sitka (region tourney March 4-7),” he said. “It will be a different outcome.”
They bounced back strong with big wins at home. Their only challenge was in the second game with Hydaburg, when they “let their guard down” and the Warriors cut it to 7 late in the game. After telling the players they have to “secure wins,” they stormed Thorne Bay for 82 points. “You could have put anyone out there and we would have beat them that night,” he said.
Wassman rested guard Mickey Wilson who has been nursing calf, ankle and toe injuries, but Thomas Etue scored big and there was significant production from Bryce Jones, Ian Klupar and John Doland. In fact, everyone scored both nights. He hopes it was good motivation to go out and pick up four road wins.
“We’re starting this thing, getting these guys to focus and funnel in,” We’re playing better defense too. I think we’re building up for a good finish.”
The girls have not had as many games as the boys. Both Hydaburg and Thorne Bay had coed squads against the SHS boys.
Over at Hoonah, Skagway posted 20-point wins. The big guns against the Braves were the guards. Kaylie O’Daniel hit 27 and 30 points in her two games, and Rori Leaverton hit 15 and 10.
The Panthers were idle until they traveled to Haines, where they lost by 14.
“We played better in the first half than the second half,” said coach Lara Labesky, but won a lot of nice compliments from the Haines fans. “They are really good. Haines is on track to win 3A region and do well at state. We were a little competition for them, which they haven’t been getting (in conference play).
Labesky said the team will be out to settle a score for losing to Kake in last year’s region tourney – which knocked Skagway from a state berth.
“Kake is usually pretty scrappy, but we’re expecting four wins,” she said. “It’s always a challenge to play in someone else’s town. Even if the team is not good, the fans are crazy about them.”
The Panthers host Vanier Feb. 19-20 and Yakutat Feb. 23-24. Game times are posted on the News website.

The Skagway junior high teams finally got to play some games last weekend. The boys took third at the Triple Threat Tourney in Haines, and the girls took fourth.
Overall, the team took home the Sportsmanship Trophy. Making the all-tourney teams were Nick Ackerman and Polly Brown.
Coach Rick Ackerman said the kids played extremely well. “They had a blast and kept a positive attitude,” he said.
Next up for the J-high teams are games with Vanier’s B team on Feb. 19-20, and a tournament is in the process of being scheduled for the end of the month.


Rev. Karen Hall Parsons, 1962-2009

Rev. Karen Hall Parsons, formerly of Skagway, died Friday, January 30 after a brief illness, surrounded by her family at Paoli Memorial Hospital in Pennsylvania.
Karen was an ordained Presbyterian minister and served as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Skagway during 2001 and 2002. Most recently, she served as Parish Associate of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Berwyn, PA. She was also founder and owner of Mainline Green Home.
Karen was born in 1962 in Greensboro, NC and raised in North Wilkesboro, NC. She graduated from Wilkes Central High School, from Appalachian State University, and from Richmond Theological Seminary. She served pastorates at Unity Presbyterian Church in Fort Mill, SC and Huntersville, NC. She was also interim minister at several small churches in Mecklenburg County, NC.
Karen will be remembered for her generosity of spirit, her creativity, her gifts of teaching and preaching, and the light that she carried and shared throughout her life. A memorial service was held at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Berwyn in PA on Feb. 3. A second memorial service was held at the North Wilkesboro Presbyterian Church, in NC, on Feb. 7.
Karen is survived by her husband Steve, daughter Anna, now living in Boca Raton, Florida, and son Will of the home; her parents Ted and Jackie Hall from North Wilkesboro, NC; and sister Paige Hall Smith from Chapel Hill, NC. Karen was the granddaughter of Claude and Frances Hall and Zeb and Lillie Davis.
Memorials in her honor may be made to the Gift of Life Donor Program ( or the National Brain Tumor Society (
– Submitted by the family

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