Ski Area as Historical Hangout
Skiers Walking Into Mount Hood Ski Bowl
Circa 1938 – Photo Maryanne Hill
Historical Hangouts: Ski Areas
Skiing has been a major part of my life since a very young age. It has always been something that brought our family together, and over the years, also brought many great friendships into being. It is an exhilarating sport, cruising across the tops of tall peaks, whizzing down the slopes. It can be competitive especially if ski racing is something you enjoy.
Maneuvering on skis can be challenging or liberating, or both. Best of all you are outdoors, whether bundled up in layers of clothing, wearing goggles and skiing almost blindly down the hill in wintry conditions of ice and heavy snowfall. OR, you are sporting summer wear, sunscreen, and swooshing thru corn snow with views of mountains, trees and blue skies in every direction. It’s all fun! The best part is the comradeship formed from skiing with others, whether friends, family or new acquaintances, taking a break for a hot cocoa or a cold beer in the warming hut, talking story on the chairlift, or exploring new runs together.
Ski areas as a topic for historical hangouts is an immense subject. My plan is to narrow it to my small amount of knowledge, experience and some recent research. It is impossible to begin this story without taking a small side trip into the history of ski areas in the US before WWII and after WWII and completely impossible for me to not bring my father, Russell McJury, and Mt Hood, Oregon into the picture. It is especially important to bring in the 10th Mountain Infantry which had its start during WWII. Many of those who served in Italy and the Dolomites (Italian Alps) and who so luckily came back alive into the US were the main impetus to the development of skiing, ski areas and outdoor recreation for the general populace. I hope to also distinguish between early family owned ski areas – 1950’s and 1960’s – and later large ski resorts owned and developed by larger corporate entities.
There were ski areas in the US before WWII. Probably the largest resort was at Sun Valley, Idaho, where the first chairlift in the country was built in 1936. There were ski areas in the mountains of the East Coast as well as in the Northwest and California and no doubt in Utah, New Mexico and especially Colorado. Back then, skiers used the rope tow to take them up slopes, although the vast majority of early skiers physically climbed the slopes with long wooden skis.
Mt Hood, Oregon was beginning to accommodate the new craze for skiing in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The Summit at Government Camp had a rope tow and a small simple run. It was far below Timberline Lodge which was erected during FDR’s CCC era in the early 1930’s and still sits at the base of the Mountain. Ski jumping was established at a nearby Government Camp area called Multopor. The Magic Mile chairlift was put in at Timberline in 1939 and was the longest chair in the country at that time.
My father lived in Portland, Oregon and rode his bicycle up to Mt Hood initially through activities with the Boy Scouts. He then found the winter camp at Mazama Lodge around 1929 and first summited the mountain in 1931. He began making many climbs with other Mazama members and then joined the Wy’East Climbers in 1935. This led him into rescue work and making several first ascents, notably Eliot Glacier Headwall and Castle Crags. My father made his last climb of Mt Hood in 1981, 50 years after his first ascent. His total count of different ascents on this mountain was 134 times. He was also the son of one of the earlier women to climb Mt Hood (1936), Pearl Meriweather.
Here is photo of him high on the Glacier as a teenager. Note the old wood skis and long poles!
1937: Russ McJury and Joe Leuthold (pictured below), photo courtesy of Daniel Becker) complete the first ascent of the Sandy Glacier Headwall.
The 10th Mountain Infantry
Then beginning in 1942 skiers and climbers from Mount Hood and other areas across the US began to train and subsequently serve with distinction in the 10th Mountain Infantry. There are fascinating books written about the origins of the 10th Mt and the many incredible people who played a role in getting this idea accepted by the US military.
Needless to say, my father joined and served in Italy and the Italian Alps along with many others from the Northwest where training started on the slopes at Mt Rainier and then as the Tenth grew larger, moved to Camp Hale near Leadville, CO. Mountain training was severe as was the experience of those who routed the Germans from the higher Italian mountain passes and were there to celebrate victory on the European front.
Here is my small bibliography plus some Internet research:
Boys of Winter: Life and Death in the U.S. Ski Troops During the Second World War, by Charles J. Sanders, 2005, Published By University Press of Colorado
Climb to Conquer (The Untold Story of World War II’s 10th Mountain Division Ski Troops) by Peter Shelton, 2003, Scribner
Shred Hood, an online newspaper devoted to Mt Hood, past history and present events. Here is their online info: www.shredhood.org/A news and information site exploring the news, sports and culture of the Mount Hood ski and snowboard scene, with weather and conditions, breaking news, profiles and features, photo and video contests, race and slope style results, a calendar of events, real-time trail reports and more.
Mount Hood: A Complete History, by Jack Grauer, Copyright John Foerste 1975
The 10th Mountain story is quite amazing. It was the perseverance of a few individuals continuing to pressure the US Government and the Military about the need for an Alpine infantry division that finally brought about its creation. This alpine unit would need to be trained in all skills of skiing, mountain climbing, rock climbing, and rappelling. They would have to be extremely physically fit to carry packs over 90 pounds filled with survival supplies, weapons, ammunition plus be able to withstand weeks and months of outdoor temperatures far below zero, camping outdoors. Most importantly, they needed to be trained to engage in battle at high mountain altitudes against what was then entrenched enemy troops who already held the higher ground.
The story of Minnie Dole is told. He started the American Ski Patrol and was the main impetus behind the creation of the US mountain troops. He was influenced and aided by the participation of Europeans who had moved to America and who understood the importance of having such an outfit for military purposes in high mountain passes and altitudes.
It was a short time for the 10th Mt in Europe, shipping over in 1944, but deadly to many who fought there. My dad was hit with shrapnel but made it through to the end of the war. As a Lieutenant in the 10th Recon Division, he helped train others in the skills of rock climbing and skiing. The 10th were held in the Dolomites after the European War ended in June of 1945 (I was born in May of 1945 for which he received a wire and probably was a bit confused by the name my mother had picked: Kimothy!!). I do believe in this interval before being sent from the European front, my father with others, climbed several European peaks, including Mt Blanc.
Ski Areas Post WWII
Following WWII, 10th Mountain Division veterans contributed to the explosive growth of the U.S. ski and outdoor recreation industries. Many competed in the Olympics, designed some of today’s top ski resorts and equipment, managed ski resorts or ski-related businesses, and more. (www.10thmountaindivisioninfo.com)
The WWII 10th Mountain Division Resource Center has an extensive listing of those veterans who developed, worked in, or were connected with skiing and outdoor recreation
There is a big list, but William Healey, also from Oregon, came back to open Bachelor Butte in Bend Oregon. Vail, Aspen, Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge Colorado (more on this area in another post), were all developed by members of the 10th Mt. as well as many other areas in the Eastern US.
The story of the 10th, very abbreviated here, will go from the small family owned ski area to the takeover and expansion of many of these areas by large corporate entities – a very big difference between the earlier and later ski experiences and “hangout” concept.
The Mount Hood Ski Bowl
The Ski Bowl, located just below Government Camp, was purchased in the early 1950’s by Russell McJury, Shephard Wilson and William Rosenfeld. It was leased from the US Forest Service which owned the land. It essentially had two separate bowls separated by a small flat plateau. At that time, the ski operation itself had a 1000-foot rope tow powered by an automobile engine which climbed a fairly steep slope. The previous owners had built a single chair in the Lower Bowl in 1946 with wooden towers. There were two older “warming huts” that served hot food and beverages at both the bottom and top of this Lower Bowl.
We also had use of a fantastic cabin close by the bottom chair built by the CCC in the 30’s. It accommodated all three families comfortably with a large fireplace and two floors of areas to sleep. The living room had a beautifully built bookshelf. This last feature had a secret knob which opened into another bedroom. The situation of three families with kids also gave us skiing companions. I was around 7 years old when the Ski Bowl was acquired.
Lower Warming Hut and Single Chair Lower Ski Bowl
Within a couple of years the Upper Bowl double chair was erected with runs established down the steepest fall line (steepest slope) at all Mt. Hood ski areas at that time.
Initially though, before caterpillars were brought in to groom the slopes, skiers amassed early in the morning and sidestepped up the ski hill runs, making a smooth track to ski down. In those good old “hangout” days, skiers, especially those from earlier skiing experience joined by the many Europeans who came to the US, showed all newcomers the Arlberg technique of floating down the slopes. Yodelers sang while skiing and sipped from bota bags around their necks. It sounded much like this fellow yodeling here on You Tube:
Lift tickets for a full day were around $3 – $4 and no serious lift lines held skiers up. Ski apparel was mostly wool clothing and long underwear. This ski crowd in the 1950’s and early 60’s was small in size – people knew many other skiers on the slopes. Equipment started to change from the old wooden slats and long poles to more advanced metal skis with edges such as the HEAD ski. Both skis and poles became shorter. Ski techniques began to change. One of my first ski instructors was a very “wild” skier who still has a great presence on Mt Hood. Back then, maybe when I was around 7-9 years old, he just said “follow me” and off we went. We moved fast, jumped moguls, swept downhill at incredible speeds and felt totally exhilarated at the end of each “lesson”. Here is a You Tube that kind of shows the style of skiing back then but we didn’t have groomed slopes at the time I am writing of:
Also during this era, the first Warren Miller films began, usually a bit before ski season. We, as a family and with friends, went to a Portland Theater where he spoke live and showed the latest in ski trends. This was a major highlight before winter snows provided the real deal. It was one of my favorite annual events of the entire year. He has recently made a film which shows how over 50 years, the sport has changed – Warren Miller: Fifty Years of Skiing on dvd. Here is an idea of how he created excitement before every ski season, 2016:
Ski clothing and especially ski gear drastically changed in the early 60’s. This is also when ski areas began to grow in size, the number of skiers increased, and management/ownership tended to change from small family areas to the larger corporate entities. The Ski Bowl was sold in 1964 and was joined to nearby Multopor making a much larger area, more lifts, runs and amenities such as night skiing.
“Skibowl offers the most night skiing terrain in North America” – Ski Magazine:
Ski Bowl 2014 Slush Cup – Springtime Fun
Personal Experience at Ski Bowl – 1954
My dad put me on skis when I was two years old, not too long after he returned from Italy. For many years we skied as a family with my two younger sisters and my mother. When I turned 9, my father deemed it was a good time to let me try my skills on the Upper Bowl. My mother was not crazy about this idea, in fact, she was not crazy about the mountain but came along as a good sport, skied pretty well herself, and did an incredible job of painting the inside of the Upper Warming Hut with Tyrolean flowers.
View of Mt Hood from Upper Warming Hut
My dad, however, won this domestic battle and I went with him for my first trip to the top of the Bowl. The first part was fun, lots of moguls (rounded mounds of hard packed snow made by skiers making tight turns). I enjoyed these large bumps in the snow and with some rhythm and a little slalom skiing, maneuvered the first part quite easily. We had a great run together until we reached the last steep hill to the bottom. All of a sudden, Dad sees the chair lift going backwards and he seriously panics about safety issues. He tells me to get down carefully and he takes off to find out what the problem is. I had no qualms by now and decided to schuss the hill, or ski straight downhill.
Everything would have been fine except I hit a “bathtub” or sitzmark which is the name for a good sized scoop dug into the snow by someone who fell and did not bother to fill in their hole – a courtesy and safety precaution for other skiers. I went flying and fell some distance away, hearing a snap in my left leg.
After being checked on by other skiers, word went out to get help and it so happened there was an orthopedic surgeon at the top of the lift who was not on skis, but was riding the lift. He had planned to ride back down, but when he heard about me, he started walking down the steep slope. He was hit by another skier. This was a bad accident. A ski patrol fellow was dispatched with a toboggan to get the surgeon. Unbelievably, this well- trained skier got tangled in his toboggan lines, and he went down.
I have little memory of getting down from the Upper Bowl but was subsequently run into Portland to a hospital where my fractured leg was put into a full cast. The next morning the Portland Oregonian had the story on the front page, detailing the entirely odd incidence of three skiers breaking bones on the same slope, two of them trying to reach the youngster at the bottom of the bowl. The worst casualty was the surgeon who had to have a full body cast.
I was back on skis as soon as possible and made my first climb to the top of Mt Hood in 1962.
This beautiful ode was sent to our family upon the passing of my father at age 90 in 2006:
Tenth Mountain Northwest Chapter – to Russell McJury
Next Post: Breckenridge, Colorado 1970