by: Katie Writer – KTNA
Don Lee moved to Talkeetna over 40 years ago and has become one of the world’s premier glacier pilots. After so many years of flying tourists around Denali, Don dreamed of doing something different. In 2003, he founded Alaska Floats and Skis that now has over 4 full time instructors and 7 airplanes. With the longer days of spring, the glacier ski training and tail wheel endorsements keep him busy until the lakes thaw out in mid May.
Don might consider himself one of those “Jack of all trades, master of none,” kind of guy.
He has built numerous structures around town, including his own home, a hangar, and various lodging for his flight training clientele. He is a builder of ideas that come into fruition because of Don’s ability to “MacGyver” and create a way to get the job done.
Don is a legendary bush pilot that shares his passion for mountain flying with others. In fact, he very well may be considered a master of one trade: flight instruction. People come from all over the world to fly with Don.
“We have people from all over the world: from Norway, Russia, South America, Africa, who come to our school to learn some of the tools of the trade for landing off-airport.”
He has acquired skills that others want…and most bush pilots of his level are not interested in sharing their hard earned expertise. Don, however, thrives off of sharing his knowledge and empowering others: and creating something different.
Alaska Floats and Skis provides glacier training deep in the Talkeetna Mountains where Don has leased a 5 acre parcel at the base of Mt. Sovereign. He named this spot, Swifsure glacier after one of Britain’s battleships. Soon, he will begin the construction of a 12 x 16 foot cabin in this often-uninhabitable landscape.
“I’ve got a 20-year lease on a five-acre parcel at the 7,000 foot level on Mt. Sovereign…By picking a higher altitude place, the snow is good way into July…I’m building a small overnight cabin, kind of like and Amundsen camp, to be able to enjoy the time up there a little more and not have to sleep in a snow cave.”
With deep respect for nature, Don knows the importance of keeping this place as pristine as possible.
“Recreation should not wreck Creation.”
He has picked this spot not only for its stunning beauty and solitary feel, but for its ideal components as a venue for glacier ski training.
“Operating off glaciers is one way in and one way out, so you land uphill and land downhill. By taking off downhill, of course, gravity comes into play real strong, and for me, the steeper the better. The airplane wants to fly. The protocol for a glacier is good, clean avenues of escape, because you only have shot in. Once you get lined up to land, that’s it. You’re landing…”
The cabin will be built for safety as well as provide a spot to enjoy the setting overnight.
Where else could there be a more suitable place to view the northern lights.
“It’s going to be small…It’s going to have an aurora roof on it, where there will be a 4’x8’ sheet of glass on the ceiling. The bed will be elevated to just a few feet from the ceiling, to where you can sleep in bed and still have the whole night sky. As you know, in Alaska, an unpolluted night sky is just phenomenal. It will be great for watching the Northern Lights and just staying up there.”
Don and his crew plan to start work on the cabin next month.