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Moosewood Squash Amidst Snow
and Ice

By Ron Beck, December 2007  
Squashtalk Independent News; ©
October, 2006 SquashTalk LLC



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high on a gentle hill above Palmer, Alaska, two low-slung
buildings look out over farmlands, an alluvial river valley,
and the mountains that surround Palmer (Matanooska Peak, Skyscraper
Mountain and their friends).

Mark Alger, Nate Beck and
the club Akita, Cody, in front of Mark Alger’s Moosewood
Squash Club (photo © 2007
Ron Beck)

is the home and squash court of the Alger family.

Alger, of course, was the star student of Seattle’s Yusef
Khan, in the late 1970s. Alger put Seattle on the US squash
map when he won the US National Championships (amateur) in
1981 — the first time a west coaster had won the US
the game of squash in the US was going "open" at
that time. After winning the nationals, Alger made a two
year run at the professionat circuit (hardball at the time)
and then quietly dropped off the squash radar.

Centre Court in Palmer,
Alaska (photo © 2007
Ron Beck)

1999, Mark, a pilot for Alaska Airlines, moved from Washington
State to Palmer, Alaska. "Not that different from
where we lived in Washington," Mark says. "It was
country there too."

was soon after his move that Mark decided that his Palmer
home wasn’t complete, that he needed a squash court at his
house to fuel his still simmering passion for squash (The
nearest court was in Anchorage, a full hour’s drive away,
and that court, at the Alaska Club, wasn’t a regulation softball
court.) So Mark decided to build a court — and a building
for that court — and the rest is history. Mark now
owns the only regulation court in the state of Alaska. (There
are four other courts in Alaska — in Anchorage, Juneau
and Ketchikan — but those are converted racquetball
courts or narrow courts.)

wanted to build the whole thing myself," Mark said, "but
my wife Dawn put her foot down at me erecting the steel reinforcing
beams for the ceiling myself, so I hired a contractor for
that part, but most of the rest we built ourselves.

said he contacted Gordie Anderson in Buffalo, NY with his
plans, who said, ‘You’re crazy, you don’t want to build the
court yourself!"

I do," Mark reports he convinced Gordie, and, "Gordie was
as helpful as he could be – he sold me the components and
had his guys help me over the phone the whole way through."

Centre Court in Palmer, Alaska
(photo © 2007 Ron Beck)

assembled a group of curious friends and neighbors to help
erect the court – and the Moosewood Squash Centre was launched.
Mark and friends got the court erected over just a few weeks
time. And those friend became the core of a group of fifty
avid players in the area, all using his court.

never stopped working on his court setup though. There’s
now a computer-operated reservation system, a stove that
keeps the balls warm, and club members can log into the centre
to turn on the heat in the out building in advance, so when
they arrive it is warm enough to play (yes it does get cold
up there!) Not only that, but you can watch play at the centre
on the two webcams and Mark’s now working on a computer-voice
scorekeeping system, which automatically calls out the score
and will also report it on the internet. (see the moosewood
squash website.)

not just the variety of things at Mark’s court that stand
out though, it’s the quality. Every element of the centre
– from the crafted wood to the neon signs – tells us that
Mark is not just a championship squash player, he achieves
excellence in everything he does.

and Dawn, generous and friendly as can be, have opened the
court up to any comers, under the name Moosewood Squash Centre.
(and not long after the court went up I got an email from
Mark, telling me about his new court.)

enthusiasm for the game was infectious. In addition to his
entire family — wife Dawn and his two sons and daughter — a
lot of people in the neighborhood are playing too. As of
right now there’s a box league
that Mark set up a few winters ago, that has
about 33 players actively competing. For those taking the
Alger’s up on their generosity, there’s also a full complement
of exercise equipment.

inaugurate the court, Yusef Khan, Mark’s old coach and mentor,
traveled up from Seattle to play an exhibition with Mark.
And a few seasons ago, Sarah Fitz-Gerald came to visit, giving
an exhibition with Mark and leaving behind a signed poster
that’s now proudly displayed at the club.

Ron Beck and Mark Alger relive
old battles on the Centre Court in Palmer, Alaska (photo © 2007
Ron Beck)

year my son Nate moved up to Anchorage, and is Mark’s irregular
sparring partner there. I’ve been promising Mark since Nate
got there that I’d come soon too and visit the court.

was this last Thanksgiving that I finally made it up to Alaska.
My son Nate drove my wife and I over to see the club and
hit a few balls. It was unseasonably warm the day I came
over (about 32 degrees F), so the court was warm, and it
being a holiday the club was full of players. A box league
match was even underway. It all made for a somehow surreally
normal squash scene, tucked away in a corner of "the
last frontier."

was coming off a hamstring pull, but on seeing me, he couldn’t
resist getting out on court to "hit a few balls".

those watching us hit it around – it probably wasn’t a big
deal, just a few old time players running around the court
(Mark had a great run in a recent World Master’s event.)
For Mark and I, though, it brought back memories of the old
amateur tournament circuit, and some memorable matches –
especially a couple around 1979 that we played in front of
a very full house in St. Louis. And I can report, from that
few minutes on court, that Mark’s game is still well-honed
and very praiseworthy.

court is great and the setup is wonderful – changing area,
viewing area, and amenities, all beautifully and thoughtfully
decorated. Mark is especially proud of the floor – which
feels and plays perfectly – and he described to me in all
detail, the construction process.

addition to the court itself – in a nod to his wife – Mark
built alongside a loft workshop for Dawn to work on her art
creations. There are racquets and goggles to borrow – and
a large complement of squash shoes to borrow – for casual
visitors or players.

palmer alaska view
The drive back to Anchorage
Alaska (photo © 2007 Ron Beck)

we drove away after an invigorating squash session and a
thorougly enjoyable visit, Nate told us, "This is actually
the part I like the best about playing out here," He pointed
to the incredible vista of mountain peaks ahead of us and
concluded, "The drive away is just so gorgeous.

if you’re planning a visit or vacation to Alaska, bring your
racquet. From Anchorage, make the hour’s drive, up past
Eagle River and on to Palmer, climb out of the valley, and
reach the Moosewood Squash Club.


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