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Our Alaska: Skiing Whittier's Buckner Building

Alaska Dispatch

The Buckner Building in Whittier has long been a big draw for folks looking to paint a little graffiti, or simply just hoping to get a little creeped out while exploring a huge, decrepit, long-abandoned building.

But a couple of Alaskans saw a whole different kind of potential in the run-down structure this past May, when Matt Wild, Logan Imlach and friends spent nearly a week creating a ski run through the building, piling snow on stairwells and creating makeshift jumps and ramps throughout.

Then, like any good adventure, they filmed it. Though it had only amassed about 500 views since it was uploaded to Vimeo in the fall of 2012, the video’s gone a bit viral since Thursday, amassing more than 10,000 views on Friday alone, including a shout-out from popular sports website Deadspin.

Wild, who shot the video and who is currently working up on the North Slope, said he had no idea the video was getting so big until a friend tagged him on a Facebook post linking to the video.

He said the video originated from an idea that he and Imlach had and some free time. Wild, a snowboarder, had injured his knee.

“I had blown my knee out, and I was just kind of anxious to get outside,” he said. So they spent six days creating the line and shooting the video. The bulk of that time was spent on the many takes required to shoot at the many angles required by the occasionally cramped spaces of the Buckner building. Moving snow into place for the track took less time, he said.

“It looks like a lot more work than it was, because if you’ve ever been inside the Buckner Building in the wintertime, a lot of snow blows inside,” Wild said.

The massive Buckner Building, completed by the U.S. military in 1953, was dubbed "the city under one roof" because in addition to 1,000 apartments, it contained a hospital, bowling alley, theater, gym, swimming pool, and shops for Army personnel. Intended to house most of the city’s population when it was finished, it was abandoned by the military a more than a decade later after sustaining serious damage in 1964's infamous 9.2-magnitude Good Friday earthquake. The majority of the city’s population now resides in the Begich Towers, another large complex.

A different edit of Imlach's run was also featured in the full-length ski movie "Sunny," created by Colorado-based company Level 1 Productions. That movie won first prize at the Powder Video Awards just last month.

Our Alaska takes a look at the people, places, activities and wildlife that make Alaska great. There's the Alaska that many people know from reality television, and then there's Our Alaska. If you have a video that puts the spotlight on the positive, educational or unique aspects of Alaska and its people, send links or submissions to ben(at)alaskadispatch.com.