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Tsaina Lodge reopens

Paul Kimbrough skiing off Alaska's Thompson Pass, near the Tsaina Lodge. Megan Michelson

The Tsaina Lodge on Alaska's Thompson Pass, a legendary freeskiing zone near the town of Valdez, Alaska, has been shuttered and dormant for the last six years. But this month, a new version of the lodge has reopened under new ownership.

The lodge, considered the birthplace of the Alaskan freeskiing scene, had slipped into disrepair in the last decade. "I would stop in town when we got to Alaska and buy a container of bleach for the showers," said Alaska heli-ski guide Benny Wilson, who'd stay at the dilapidating lodge. "My clients would give me funny looks -- but there was black mold up the walls."

The previous lodge was bulldozed last fall by its new owners, Jeff and Ingrid Fraser, who then went about rebuilding it. "We had dreamed of buying the property for several years," said Jeff Fraser. New construction began last August.

The Tsaina was originally built in 1949 as a roadhouse for truckers hauling oil from refineries, in an avalanche safe zone. But when skiers started taking airplane rides in Chuck McMahon's Supercub airplane to ski in the Chugach in 1985, skiing in Alaska headed in a new direction.

A few years later, new owners purchased the lodge, and by 1990 the idea for the World Extreme Skiing Championships was born -- and the Tsaina tumbled into the freeskiing world's lexicon as the homebase for the world's rowdiest skiing.

Although the building itself was beyond repair by 2011, the Frasers, who had stayed at the original Tsaina, did what they could to keep some original Tsaina soul. "Prior to bulldozing the original structure, we photo-documented the historic bar and saved as much of the memorabilia on its walls as was feasible. We also recycled some of its interior woodwork which is now incorporated into the new bar," said Jeff Fraser.

The new lodge is a 24-room, upscale, boutique lodge built with Thompson Pass and heli-skiers in mind. The operation that Doug Coombs began, Valdez Heli-Ski Guides, will pick up where it left off, lodging guests at the Tsaina, according to current VHSG owner Scott Raynor.

True to the Tsaina's original spirit, of course, the new owners hope to see everyone from high-rolling heli skiers to winter camping, ski touring types looking for a night indoors. "Anyone visiting Thompson Pass is welcome to join us for dinner, drinks and a night's stay," said Fraser.