MUSEUM MUSINGS

TRAIL SKIING ON MOUNT HOOD

A LONG STANDING TRADITION

By Lloyd Musser

Ask any Mt. Hood skier over the age of 25, to recall a memorable skiing event on Mt. Hood and they likely will recall fond memories of skiing the Glade Trail.  Should the skier be older that 50, they might also recall skiing the Alpine, Cascade, Mazama or West Leg skis trail.   The real old timers may reminisce about skiing the Blossom Trail.  Downhill skiing from timberline to the village of Government Camp has been a popular activity for over 100 years.  It all began when the Mazamas made that first ski trip to Mount Hood in 1900, and continues today although on a limited unsanctioned basis.

The Blossom Ski Trail evolved from the hiking trail that followed natural openings from Government Camp to the summit of Mt. Hood.  Judge Blossom, in 1888, opened a wagon road along this route to his Camp Blossom, located near the site of Timberline Lodge.    Timberline Cabin, constructed in 1916, by the Forest Service as an administrative site, was used as a bunkhouse by hardy skiers who loved to hike up to this area, ski around the openings at timberline and stay overnight in the cabin.  This form of skiing was so popular that the Mazamas convinced the Forest Service to build a winter trail from Twin Bridges to Paradise Park, where skiers could ski in the open glades at the timberline.

Detailed plans by the Forest Service for the construction and development of Timberline Lodge in 1936 indicated that access to the lodge would be by bus from Government Camp.  Skiers could return to their cars via the new ski trails to be constructed.  Alpine Trail, the first of the proposed trails was completed in December 1936, with its terminus at Summit Ski Area.  Glade Trail followed some of the old Blossom Trail, and used the open glades to reach the core of Government Camp.  Trail skiing was so popular that as many a 15 buses worked on weekends transporting skiers back to Timberline so they could ski the 3.5 miles, 2000 feet vertical drop trail several times in a day. 

Mondays were often a good time for local residents to ski the trails.  If the snow was good, some people would skip work, or like Maryellen Loveland, skip high school, hop the Timberline Taxi and ski the Glade Trail.  One local state highway worker called in sick on a Monday, and got a few days off without pay, when it was learned he was skiing all day.  Local Forest Service rangers also joined the Monday outings, with the rational they needed to check the trail conditions. Skiing the trail by moonlight was another local tradition.  The only problem was at least two skiers needed to be designated drivers, so they could retrieve the cars from Timberline.

Nighttime ski trail runs were not always for pleasure.  The most vivid trail skiing memory Keith and Barbara Petire have involves running a ski patrol toboggan loaded with an injured skier, in the dark.  The cutoff between Alpine and Glade was called the corkscrew and full of washboards.  Ski Patrollers guided the toboggan by straddling it and hanging on to the frame.  It was a little painful when you met the toboggan coming up between your legs as you were going over the washboards. 

The number of injured skiers on the trail system was a continuing concern of the Forest Service and Ski Patrol.  Skier use and injuries reached a very high level in the 60’s.  Ski schools, safer equipment and ski area snow grooming had lowered the number of serious injuries in the ski areas.  However ski injuries on the trails continued to be a persistent problem caused by Portland neophytes attempting to ski on the cheap. Many tired to take advantage of this free skiing by borrowing some old skis; father would drive the group to Timberline and send his children down the trail with outdated equipment and no concept of skiing techniques.  Sometimes there were so many injured skiers on the trail, that the ski patrol would load two skiers on the same rescue toboggan.

The number of the ski accidents on the Glade Trail dropped drastically when Lou Russell started grooming the trail in early 1960’s.  Using a Tucker Sno-Cat, Lou and his family packed the trail for over 20 years, as hobby.  Lou would pick up the novice or injured skiers and give them a Sno-Cat ride and gentle lecture on the merits of skiing without proper equipment and instruction. 

Perhaps the most unique skiing experience on Mt. Hood during this period would be the SWEEP.  At the end of the day, the Forest Service Snow Rangers, and Ski Patrol needed to make sure no skiers were left in peril along the trail.  After a waiting an appropriate time, in the Blue-Ox bar, the Sweep team would ride the Magic Mile chair lift or hitch a Sno-Cat ride with Lou, to the Silcox Hut area.  There the crew would wait until all the other skiers were out of sight.  The crew would push off in a tuck for the non-stop run to Government Camp.  The first Sweeper to break out of a tuck was the loser and expected to buy the first round at the Ratskeller.  The Ratskeller also served as the terminus for the most famous or infamous Mt. Hood Ski race.  The annual Kandabeer Ski Race was sponsored by Schnee Vogeli Ski Club was timed race from Timberline Lodge to Government Camp.  The ribald tricks and chicanery associated with this ski race are legendary.

Downhill trail skiing today is not a very popular activity.  The trail is not groomed.  Trees and brush is slowly encroaching on the clearing.  The trail makers are all gone.   A few adventurous snow boarders know where the trails are and use them when snow conditions are favorable.  Telemark and crosscounty skiers use portions of the trails.  The Timberline Taxi is but a memory and a line is a local song.  Trail skiing thrills have been replaced with high-speed quad chairlifts, halfpipes, terrain parks and freestyle aerials.

Annually, the Mt. Hood Cultural Center and Museum holds a Glade Trail Day as a living history event.  Under permit from the US Forest Service, the trail is groomed by Timberline Lodge.  Participants get a history lesson and a full day of trail skiing.  Participants ride airport type shuttle buses to Timberline Lodge, ski with local trail guides and are supported by members of the Mt. Hood Ski Patrol.   Skiers are treated to lunch and Apre’s Ski party at the end of the day.  The museum has been recreating this historical trail skiing experience for 10 years.  A whole new generation of skier have now experienced trail skiing on Mount Hood. 

Lloyd Musser was a Forest Service Snow Ranger is the 60’s, serves on the museum board and volunteers as museum curator.

FIRST OVER THE PASS

This interesting story is based on a Maupin Times Newspaper article dated April 26, 1918.   I like this story as it demonstrates how tough people were 100 years ago.  The young men involved were raised on farms and ranches in rural Oregon and they knew how to work and wanted to work.  This story demonstrates the adversity they would endure to get to a job.  The words, phrasing and locations used in the original article make it difficult to comprehend if the reader is not a historian.  The original article is in italics followed by text added by the author for clarity and historical interest.

We Eastern Oregon boys being employed by Forest Ranger Dee Wright on some county work between Wapinitia and Camas Prarie after completion were assigned a timber planting job across the mountains.  Preparations were made by Dee Wright and Joe Graham to move our camp as far as possible by muleback which proved to be only five or six miles. 

These boys, one of whom wrote the newspaper account, but is not identified, were from Maupin and Tygh Valley area.  Dee Wright was a Forest Service packer that also owned the Summit House in Government Camp where his wife operated a restaurant.  Joe Graham was the first Ranger hired by the US Forest Service at Wapinitia.  His District spanned the Forest from the east Forest Boundary above Pine Grove to the Clackamas River and from Government Camp south to Mount Jefferson.   He worked from his home in Wapinitia in the winter months, and from the Clackamas Lake Ranger Station in the summer months.  He served as Ranger from 1905 to 1935.

Wapinitia was a thriving community at the time of this event, located just south of the present Walters Corner store on OR 216.  Camas Prairie was the site of an early Ranger Station located on the Oak Grove Wagon Road that ran from Wapinitia to Government Camp where it joined the Barlow Road that accessed Sandy and points west.  It is not known what County work they were doing in that area, but most likely some road work.

We had no skies and did not wish to be bluffed so took two blankets each and a lunch and proceeded. We were the first to cross the Oak Grove pass this year as the snow was very deep and drifted between the top of the hill east of Frog Lake and the Summit House.  We had some trouble finding the road.  We had only one accident, which was not serious.  One of the party, Mac, broke through the mush ice on Frog Lake while looking for a better foot path.  We arrived at Government Camp April 13.  Jack Whaite, Clyde Oliver, Wm. Smith, Mac Holloman and Elmer Munier all of Wamic, Tygh Valley, and Wapinitia, arrived a 5 o’clock PM, having made the entire trip across the mountains in the remarkable short period of twelve hours, a distance of nineteen miles all of which was covered with snow to a depth of from three inches to ten feet.  On arrival we were very wet and tired, but we had good luck and made it fine considering the conditions.  There was from three to six inches of new snow and the old snow was very mushy.  We will proceed to hike west on when the weather permits.

Oak Grove Pass is today known as Blue Box Pass on US 26 above Frog Lake and is the divide between the White River watershed and the Sandy River watershed.  A good day’s hike on a well-maintained trail is 15 miles.  To travel 19 miles in deep snow without skis or snowshoes is incredible.

April 16 – Twenty inches of snow has fallen since our arrival and it is still snowing.  Owing to the hospitality shown by Mr. and Mrs. Pridemore, we are perfectly content to stay here indefinitely.  Mr. Pridemore furnished us each with a dandy pair of skies and we went up the slope toward Mt. Hood where he gave us some lessons.  We will continue on our trip to Camp Creek on skies when the weather clears.

The boys apparently are staying at the Government Camp Hotel operated by the Pridemores.  They are likely the only hotel guests as the road to Government Camp was not plowed in winter until 1926.  We wonder who was paying their hotel bill?   To reach the tree planting site they will need to travel about 6 miles west.  The first four miles will be steep and snow covered.  They should make good time if the can manage to stay upright on their borrowed snow skis.  We hope the tree planting job paid well as they went to great lengths to get to the job site.

Transcribed and interrupted by Lloyd Musser, Curator, Mt. Hood Museum                        March 2018