Slope Stories

A Short History of Washington's Bygone Ski Hills

Over the years, some of the state’s ski mountains proved as ephemeral as snowflakes.

By Christina Ausley December 18, 2018 Published in the January/February 2019 issue of Seattle Met

Washingtonians skiied Mount Rainier long before it had lifts.


Cle Elum Ski Club

One of the far West’s first organized ski areas was a course south of Cle Elum that included a two-story clubhouse and ski jump towers as high as 75 feet. Spectators had to ride mining trams through mine shafts and tractor-pulled sleds to view ski jump competitions.


Mount Rainier Paradise Ski Area 

Even before lifts, skiers hiked Mount Rainier’s slopes to ski; Olympic downhill team tryouts were held above Paradise in 1935. Three years later the national park allowed a rope tow powered by an eight-cylinder Ford engine with floodlights illuminating the runs at night; a T-bar joined it three years later. Since the federal government wouldn’t allow larger trams or lifts, other Washington resorts made these obsolete by the 1970s.


Deer Park Ski Area 

After the Civilian Conservation Corps built a one-lane road to the top of Blue Mountain in the Olympics, a Port Angeles club converted a sheepherder’s cabin into a day lodge and erected a 1,000-foot rope tow. The area closed when Hurricane Ridge opened as a visitor destination in Olympic National Park with rope tows that are still used today.


American River Ski Bowl

The most popular feature of the midcentury Yakima ski area wasn’t its rope tows; it was the 20-hole outhouse dubbed the world’s largest. American River's cachet dwindled as White Pass and its chairlift network grew, but the lodge and outhouse are still operated by the forest service.

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