A comparison of the old Hatcher Pass chairlift and the planned expansion. (Photo courtesy of Hatcher Pass)Hatcher Pass is now a half-million dollars closer to having a chairlift for snowboarders and skiers.Listen nowThe recreation area in the Talkeetna Mountains north of Palmer has long been popular among snow sports enthusiasts, and there have been rope tows that pulled skiers up-slope there in the past.More recently, supporters of lift-access skiing in Hatcher Pass got a huge boost when the Mat-Su Health Foundation announced a $500,000 grant toward the goal of building a chairlift on the lower slopes of Government Peak.The money goes to a nonprofit formed in 2015 called Hatcher Alpine Xperience. Known as “HAX,” the group announced the funds Tuesday.Gil Carr is vice chair of the HAX board.“This is by far the closest to having an operating ski area in Hatcher in literally decades, so we’re pretty stoked about it,” Carr said. “The potential here is real, and we’re moving along quite nicely, I think.”The ski area’s supporters have already cleared some trails, and initial plans call for the installation of a refurbished, three-person chairlift to access beginner terrain. Later, HAX hopes to have enough money to purchase a high-speed, four-person chairlift called a “quad” that’ll go higher into the mountains. And Carr says more advanced skiers and snowboarders will be able to ride the lifts up to where they can start human-powered alpine touring ascents in the Government Peak side-country.Carr says the health foundation awarded the recent grant because the funding helps fulfill its mission of improving the well-being of a wide range of people in the Mat-Su region, in this case through skiing.“That’s a healthy activity, right? And so, think about having a ski hill in the Valley that is accessible and safe for kids, teenagers, families,” Carr said.With the recent grant, Carr says the first lift could be installed as soon as next summer and be in operation by the following winter. He says the timing depends on continued fundraising and whether the board decides to commit to a timetable of putting down deposits for construction.The Hatcher Alpine Xperience board’s next meeting is Monday in Palmer.