By Gretchen Wehmhoff
Skagway business Alaska X, owned by Christy and Robert Murphy, was honored at the annual Alaska Tourism Industry Association in Fairbanks in October.
The Murphys received the Stan Stephens Stewardship Award, a tribute to Alaska marine business owner, Stan Stephens, who is credited with advocating for the preservation and responsible care of Alaska’s wilderness and marine areas. Stephens operated marine tours primarily in Prince William Sound and, after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in March 1989, dedicated his life to preserving and protecting the area.
Beth Smith, owner of The Station Bar and Grill, Morning Wood Hotel and Happy Endings’s Saloon in Skagway, nominated Alaska X for the award. Based on Smith’s nomination, the business was selected as the next recipient.
Since 2015, Robert Murphy will be the sixth winner of the Stephens award which is only presented during years when a qualified recipient is nominated.
Skagway Tourism Director Jaime Bricker was on hand to introduce Murphy and present the award. (see her introduction below this story.)
“The whole room stood on their feet to applaud,” said Bricker.
Robert Murphy was touched by Smith’s nomination.
“That was incredibly sweet of her to do that and I could say thank you 100 times to her, but you know, there’s other people out there that would be deserving of these awards, too. So we’re very fortunate to have someone like Beth who would nominate a Skagway business and put us out there.” Murphy said.
Murphy started Alaska X just two years after graduating from Skagway School in 1991. He worked with his university professors to start late in the semester and leave a little early in order to meet the tourism demands of the business.
He says he transferred colleges quite a bit, primarily chasing his wife, Christy, around. They will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in January.
“I had to pay for school out of my pocket. So I started this business up here to pay for school. And really, it just took off. It started with a van and then two vans and a couple buses and then we got into fishing charters, horseback riding. Then we got into dog mushing and added ziplining and ATVs,” Murphy said.
Murphy enjoys watching the reactions of their guests.
“They waited to go to Alaska their whole life. And this was their most enjoyable experience. It makes you feel great.”
Alaska X employs between 130 and 150 workers during the tourist season. Around 20 employees work year-round. The company owns 160 acres in Dyea and most of their programs are carried out on private land, although Murphy says they do have a few permits for other land use.
Murphy says that creating a sustainable business is important.
“I tell our crew, you know, anyone can take a tree down, but you can’t put one back – it takes 100 years to put that same tree back. We need to be very careful about how we develop and keep this place as beautiful as possible,” he said.
Alaska X established sawmills to reclaim resources when building roads or clearing for new camps and buildings.
“We can’t make our own plywood, but we can make all our own beams, all our framing sections, all our own decking, and all our own sides. So it gives a great look to the buildings, but it’s also using those trees that we took down,”
This summer the company will turn on its new hydroelectric power source. About 2300 feet of 10 inch pipe comes down the mountain generating about 160 psi down at the head.
“So that’s able to generate a ton of power for us. We could have generated more power, we can take more water from the stream. But that’s part of being good stewards of the land and the property. We don’t want to lose the visual aspect of all the beautiful waterfalls running through our property
Murphy says the zipline goes back and forth across several waterfalls. As they built the hydro infrastructure, they calculated the flow of the stream at the low point in order to preserve the waterfalls and streams.
Murphy credits his employee and brother-in-law, Luke Rausher, for taking the hydro power project on and seeing it through. It’s taken several years of dealing with rain, floods and the pandemic as well as paying for sections as they could afford.
When they flip the switch to hydro power, they’ll have surplus power, so the company plans to transform their fleet of diesel powered ATV to electric power. The ATV’s run up and down the mountain carrying employees, dog food and other supplies. Changing over to electric will allow them to charge the equipment at night and rotate machines throughout the day, effectively reducing the need to burn diesel.
“It’s going to be so exciting to pull the switch and the lights go on. It’s the first time that I’m ever going to be happy about an electric heater,” Murphy said.
Previous winners of the award: 2023, Robert Murphy; 2019, Denali Education Center; 2018, Colleen Stephens, 2017, Ken Leghorn; 2016, Bob Janes & Dawn Wolfe; 2015, Kirk Hoessle
———- Presenting the Stan Stephens Stewardship Award to Alaska ———–
“This Stan Stephens Stewardship Award recipient has been and continues to be a pioneer in the tourism industry. Born and raised in Southeast Alaska, he began his first tour operation in 1991 in his hometown of Skagway. With a single bus, this visionary showcased our beautiful White Pass Summit. Over the years, the company added horseback riding, dog sledding adventures, Unimog’s, zip lining, gold panning, historical walking tours and ATV Tours, all of which teach visitors about and proudly display our natural environment. The business now employes 20 people year-round with over 130 staff members during the summer season. This company invests in our local youth, including my very own 6’5”, 18-year-old baby boy, developing their skill sets and resume in ways that will lead them to successful careers supporting tourism in Alaska! They consistently donate to local and statewide charitable organizations. Above all, the owners and their team believe it’s important to provide experiences that honor and will positively impact the natural and cultural environments. Alaska X is installing a hydroelectric power system at their Adventure Camp in Dyea Alaska. They are proud to be transitioning from a diesel generator to hydroelectric power with energy that flows from surrounding glaciers. In recognition of their dedication to providing an unforgettable visitor experience that also safeguards a place and protect natural resources; Robert Murphy and Alaska X are this year’s recipient of the Stan Stephens Stewardship Award.”
Read by Skagway’s Tourism Director, Jaime Bricker, in Fairbanks at the Alaska Travel Industry Association awards ceremony honoring local business Alaska X and Robert Murphy.
Murphy was nominated by Skagway business owner, Beth Smith.