Anchorage’s iconic holiday star shines on again after avalanche prompts repairs

A light-up star on a mountainside.
The star atop Mount Gordon Lyon at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson is lit every year in conjunction with Anchorage’s City of Lights celebration. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman James Richardson)

The 300-foot-wide star that normally provides a bright spot on Anchorage’s dark winter horizon is up and running again after an avalanche knocked out a chunk of its light bulbs, according to officials for Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. 

Since the late 1980s, Anchorage residents looking north have had a view of the large star on Mount Gordon Lyon starting the day after Thanksgiving.

Crews replaced all 350 bulbs in September. But when a crew of airmen with the 773rd Civil Engineer Squadron went to turn the lights on Friday, half the bulbs didn’t work, said JBER spokeswoman Erin Eaton.

“It appears that there was an avalanche that had taken out a portion of the supports and wiring bulbs and what have you,” Eaton said.

Since Friday, crews have worked to get the lights back on, which are located about 4,000 feet up the mountain. They contended with wind chills below zero degrees and snowy skies to get power back on.

“It’s like a 25-to-45-degree angle at some areas of that star,” Eaton said. “So they had to tie themselves off and use safety harnesses to get the work done.”

For Alaskans who miss the soft glow of the star on the mountain, Eaton said it should be turned on and well lit starting Tuesday night. 

Eaton said she believes this is the first time the star lighting occurred after the Anchorage City of Lights celebration, held the day after Thanksgiving.

And while the large star started in the 1980s, the tradition of the holiday star began even earlier.

In 1958, as troops built a mountaintop instillation in the area to defend the Anchorage Bowl during the Cold War, Army Capt. Douglas Evert had a 15-foot-wide star built. The star looked like one bright light from the city, according to JBER.

Two years later, a new commander had the star moved to the mountainside and expanded to 117 feet. And in the late 1980s, the star was finally expanded to its current 300-foot diameter — almost the length of a football field.

The star will stay lit until the last Iditarod musher crosses the finish line in Nome in March.

Correction: This story has ben corrected to note that bulbs were replaced in September, not on the day after Thanksgiving.

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Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org.

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