This interview was first published in our November 2016 issue (45.3).
PHOTO: Abby Lowell
Pat Harmon doesn’t know how to do things half way. In fact, as the keystone member of the Juneau Bombers, the unofficial group of retirees shredding Alaska’s Eaglecrest Ski Area, he lives by a single motto: “Don’t turn unless you have to.” In 1993, that all-in attitude carried over into art, when the lifelong Alaskan took 20 pairs of discarded straight skis from the annual Juneau Ski Club ski swap and started a ski fence at the edge of his property.
Every year since, Harmon’s upcycling obsession has grown, until, by 2005, his fence had become a three-story wall of vintage sticks. Situated along the highway on the way to his local hill, the Harmon Ski Wall is a point of pride among locals, but has attracted visitors from all over the U.S., and as far away as Europe and Asia. It turns out that building a wall isn’t always about keeping people out—sometimes it can actually bring them in.
Kade: So you started with 20 pairs and then…
Pat: The next year there were more skis left at the ski swap. Two years of that and I added a second level of skis and all of a sudden people started dropping skis off and next thing you know I have piles of skis. I had to get pressure-treated lumber because once you get 200 pairs of skis hanging in the air you’re talking about serious weight. I get skis every year, whether I want them or not.
How many skis are we talking exactly?
There’s about 230 pairs up there right now.
That’s a lot of skis. Does it end at the wall?
I wanted to add some other things to use some of the skis, but my wife kind of squelched that because she thought it was getting close to what she would call “out of hand.” The law has spoken.
Any unusual characters visiting these days?
Two times we went up there and full wedding parties were taking pictures in front of it. There was a Japanese tourist visiting Juneau and he sent me a postcard to tell me that he really enjoyed my ski wall. It was addressed: “Ski Wall, Juneau, Alaska.” The guys down at the post office knew where it needed to go.
Is that how you’re known around town?
I’d say anybody in Juneau knows where I am. I order a pizza and say my street address and they say, “Huh?” Then I say, “The Ski Wall,” and they go, “Oh yeah, I know where that is.”
What’s your loan policy?
I give a lot of skis away. I’ll let people have skis to make furniture. I’ve had skis dropped off that were brand-new that had never even been mounted. When the ski shops were closed, we had a couple of European guys on a heli trip that said their equipment was broken and needed some bindings off some of the skis. So I said, “Go ahead.”
Does anybody have a problem with the Wall?
There were complaints about it for a while. People saying that it violated the zoning restrictions for fences, but then someone blogged and said, “Yeah, well, that’s not a fence, that’s a work of art and there’s no height restriction on that.” The best one was—I’m not sure if it was a good friend or an enemy who wrote it—but, “Whoever built that wall must be inadequate in some way and in need of attention.”