Book report: “Today, Alyeska, Tomorrow Zee World. How Chris von Imhof became Mr. Hospitality”

In Alaska Travelgram by scott

If you know Chris von Imhof, you’ll find his autobiography a rollicking rollercoaster of remembrances.

Spend just a few minutes with Chris and you’ll understand his accentuate-the-positive attitude that has served him well in his hospitality career.

I’ve known Chris for about 40 years and his book “Today Alyeska, Tomorrow Zee World” filled in lots of blanks for me.

Born in Germany at the start of World War Two, Chris lost his father early in life…and sadly he and his brother became orphans as teenagers.

In his book, von Imhof shares the remarkable story of his education in the hospitality trade and the unusual circumstances that led to his arrival in the U.S.

For those of us in Alaska who wondered how a kid from Bavaria made his way north, von Imhof offers a step-by-step recollection, punctuated by the giant 1964 Good Friday earthquake, where the airport control tower almost landed on him as it collapsed.

His tenure with SAS Scandinavian Airlines in the 1960s led to an introduction to Alaska’s governor—and a stint at heading the state’s tourism office.

It wasn’t long, though, before he returned to his roots in hospitality, taking a job as manager of Alyeska Ski Resort. Prior to taking the job, of course, he’d spent many weekends skiing the slopes.

At Alyeska, which was owned by Alaska Airlines at the time, Chris was tasked with raising money to help develop the resort. That included getting chairlifts, building a hotel and securing some powerful guns to help clear out potential avalanches! 

Through it all, von Imhof manages to enjoy the ride, including the peaks, the valley and the moguls in between. He marries Miss Alaska, Nina Whaley. He puts Alyeska Resort on the map with international ski races, due in part to all of the foreign airlines that flew through Anchorage in the 70s and 80s. He entertains celebrities and political luminaries from around the world.

von Imhof’s book details the ups and downs of having a ski resort — including the uncertainties when Alaska AIrlines decided to sell the resort.  That transaction, though, when the Japanese conglomerate Seibu purchased the hotel, led to an illustrious 25-year career in Alaska and Hawaii.

For a “hospitality guru” like von Imhof, the chance to build two beautiful Hawaiian hotels (the Maui Prince and the Hawaii Prince)  from the ground up was a gift. It was a professional challenge—but he was the man for the job.

Alaska never let go of its grip on von Imhof. He still owned a home in Girdwood when Seibu called him back to run the all-new Alyeska Prince Hotel.

Much of von Imhof’s book reads like a recap of one fabulous time after another. More ski races…another tv special…traveling the world to promote Alaska.

But that’s Chris! If there’s a good time to be had, you want to invite Chris to make your event the GOAT (greatest of all time). 

There were tragedies, to be sure. Chris’s wife, Nina, lost her battle with cancer. The book sheds light on on von Imhof’s loss just as grandchildren were starting to arrive.

It seems the best hospitality professionals are “connectors”. They bring people together and they make connections that last a lifetime. It was through some of these connections that Chris returned to his home in Germany.

Fast-forward to a May wedding in Kossen, Austria. There are several references to Brigette Baumann throughout the book. And those who know Chris understand there’s still a piece of his heart in the “old country”. But now with Brigette, it’s a bigger piece of his heart.

Courting Brigette is a fun tale—and nobody can tell it like Chris.

For all of the professional accolades and his special recognitions in Alaska, Hawaii and beyond, it’s Chris’s family that captures his heart. There are wonderful stories in the book about his kids, their spouses and his grandkids.

Just reading through Chris’s book reminds me of how instrumental he was in Alaska’s hospitality industry—and the larger visitor business.

“Today Alyeska, Tomorrow Zee World” is a fun read and includes many entertaining stories about movers and shakers in Alaska.

Honestly, reading the book makes me want to hear Chris do another yodeling session. He claims that his yodeling is nothing special, compared to the real pros in Bavaria. But wherever you hear Chris’s yodeling—whether it’s on a mountaintop or at the end of the bar—you can bet there’s a party going on nearby. And…as Chris would say, “you VILL enjoy it.”

Chris von Imhof on the slopes of Alyeska Resort

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