Mountaineers Patrol Races at Snoqualmie Pass: A Grand Tradition Revisited

  • By John W. Lundin
  • Posted 3/14/2014
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10755

In 2014, The Mountaineers recreated one of the club's grand traditions by holding, for the first time since 1941, the Patrol Race, an 18.5-mile backcountry ski race along the crest of the Cascades. From 1930 to 1941, three-man patrol teams competed in the race between the club's Snoqualmie Pass Lodge and Meany Ski Hut at Martin near Stampede Pass, a contest that The Seattle Times on December 10, 1944, called "one of the year's great competitive events." The race was based on military ski patrol races that were common in Europe, but it was the only one in the Northwest and perhaps the only one in the country. Initially the race was just for club members, but beginning in 1936, Open Patrol Races were held in which teams from clubs associated with the Pacific Northwest Ski Association could participate. This People's History was written by John W. Lundin, a Seattle attorney and local historian who is working to help open the Washington State Ski & Snowboard History Museum on Snoqualmie Pass. It is based on materials available from The Seattle Times Historical Archives, The Mountaineers archives, and the Alpenglow Gallery website.

 From Snoqualmie Summit ... 

The Mountaineers, founded in 1906, began skiing at Paradise on Mount Rainier in the winter of 1913-1914, during annual Winter Outings. In 1914, The Mountaineers built a lodge just west of Snoqualmie Summit above Rockdale, a stop on the Milwaukee Road rail line at the west end of its tunnel under the pass. It was a year-round lodge, accommodating 70 people, devoted to climbing in summer and skiing in winter, with a full time cook and caretaker.

By the winter of 1926-1927, skiing had become so popular that The Mountaineers' Snoqualmie lodge "was bursting with skiers throughout the winter and more facilities were needed." The club looked at building a new facility at the Northern Pacific Railway's Martin stop at the east end of its Stampede Pass tunnel. For many years, Martin attracted skiers because of the abundance of snow and the quality of nearby slopes. Skiers could take Northern Pacific trains to Martin for a day of skiing, and could stay in bunk cars provided by the railroad parked on a rail siding just east of the Stampede Pass tunnel. "At Stampede the railroad provides more than a dozen cars for accommodation, fitted with spring bunks, heating stoves, and free coal," according to a guide published by Seattle's Town Crier as quoted on the Alpenglow.org website.

... to Martin 

In the summer of 1928, The Mountaineers' board approved spending $1,700 for construction of a "plain ski shelter without luxurious embellishments," a 20-by-50-foot two-story frame building to accommodate 50 people. Edmond S. Meany, a history professor at the University of Washington who joined The Mountaineers in 1908, was president of the club for 27 years until his death in 1935. On October 11, 1928, Meany bought approximately 54 acres of property at Martin from the Northern Pacific Railroad for $125, and donated it for a ski hut. Materials for the new ski hut were brought to Martin by train and carried to the site by hand. Construction of the ski hut started in September 1928:

"[It] took two months of back-breaking labor by weekend volunteers. To build the hut, club members became carpenters, masons, and pack-horses hauling supplies by hand uphill 300 yards from the Northern Pacific Railroad at Martin to the Meany site. In addition to erecting a 20-by-50 two-story frame building large enough for fifty people, they made tables and benches, brought in bed springs, mattresses, and other furniture, and even managed to pull a kitchen range weighing 1,700 pounds up the mountain with block and tackle" (Fred Ball).

Access to Martin was by Northern Pacific train, and the Meany Ski Hut was located five minutes from the railway stop.

"Train schedules were convenient, allowing a full day of skiing plus time for dinner and cleanup. A special car was provided for parties of 15 or more and permitted all kinds of impromptu entertainment. Fares were high at first, around $3.80 a round trip, but were negotiated downward from time to time to a low of $1.80" (Fred Ball).

 A Course Along the High Line 

In 1929, The Mountaineers began annual downhill and slalom races, as well as ski instruction at Snoqualmie Lodge and Meany Ski Hut. On March 10, 1929, the club held its first ski tournament at Martin. Members marked many miles of cross-country ski trails throughout Snoqualmie Pass, including a 20-mile trail between the Snoqualmie Lodge and Meany Ski Hut, marked with orange-colored tin shingles high on trees placed so one was always in sight ahead.

One year later, a total of six men -- and one woman -- had skied the full length of that trail. On March 12, 1930, The Seattle Times ran an article featuring Mrs. Stuart Walsh, who believed that Northwest women should be "as expert on wooden runners as their Scandinavian and Swiss sisters." To prove her point, Walsh "made the difficult twenty-mile trip between the Snoqualmie Lodge of the Mountaineers' Club and the Meany Ski Hut at Martin -- the first woman to perform a feat that has been equaled by only six men." She told the paper:

"Men have always said women couldn't make this trip. I hope by doing it, I've proved their error. I was tired, yes. We were on the way eight hours. But scarcely more tired than I have often been after an unusually active day. I only wish I could have made the trip sooner. I should certainly have organized a woman's patrol to compete in this year's race. Next year, though, just watch us."  

Walsh's trip was a preliminary to the first Patrol Race, which was held on March 23, 1930. The route was described in The Mountaineers' 1936 application for membership in the Pacific Northwest Ski Association (PNSA):

"The course shall be along the high line route from the Mountaineers' Meany Ski Hut at Martin to Snoqualmie Pass Summit, via Stampede Pass, Baldy Pass, Dandy Creek, Meadow Creek, Yakima Pass, Mirror Lake, Mirror Lake Trail, Silver Peak Trail, the Mountaineers Snoqualmie Lodge and Beaver Lake Trail. The course is approximately 20 miles in length and ranges in elevation from 2,700 feet to nearly 5,000 feet."

Setting Records 

Conditions for that first race were unfavorable due to several days of fresh snow. Four patrols entered, and the three-man team of Hans-Otto Giese, Andy Anderson, and Fred W. Ball won, setting a record of 7.5 hours.

No Patrol Race was held in 1931. In 1932, the race was won by the team of Norval W. Grigg, Fred Ball, and Hans-Otto Giese. Art Wilson, Herbert Standberg, and Dan Blair won the 1933 Patrol Race in a new record time of 5 hours, 32 minutes. No Patrol Race was held the following year.

The Seattle Times of February 15, 1935, described the 1935 Patrol Race as:

"[A]n eighteen-mile grind along the crest of the Cascades between Snoqualmie Lodge and Meany Ski Hut at Stampede Pass ... Patrols of three men, carrying ten-pound packs and specified equipment, compete in this unique event, which is patterned after European military patrol races. Proceeded by a trail-breaking crew which will have several hours start, the patrols will leave the lodge at 3,100 feet elevation to follow the permanently marked but newly broken trail over rugged country that will take them as high as 4,500 feet near Tinkham Peak and as low as 2,900 feet near Meadow Creek Crossing."

The 1935 race was won by Art Wilson, Bill Degenhardt, and Scott Edson in 5 hours, 35 minutes, 22 seconds, finishing six minutes ahead of the team of Wolf Bauer, Bob Higman, and Chet Higman, as the trail-breaking crew laid a perfect trail to follow.

The Mountaineers' first Patrol Race of 1936, held on February 16, was only open to club members. The racing teams "had 18 miles of perfect powder snow," said The Seattle Times, and the winning team of Wolf Bauer, Chet Higman, and Bill Miller set a new record time of 4 hours, 37 minutes, 23 seconds, which was destined to stand for many years to come.

Open Patrol Races 

A month later, on March 15, 1936, having applied for membership in the Pacific Northwest Ski Association, The Mountaineers sponsored another race, the club's first Open Patrol Race, where three-man patrols from other clubs affiliated with the PNSA could compete. A letter send to other clubs described the rules of the race:

"Artificial aids to climbing other than wax are prohibited ... The entire course must be covered on skis. A competitor can exchange broken sticks or bindings but cannot change more than one broken ski. Waxing skis or repairing skis or bindings during the race must be done without the aid of anyone other than members of contestant's patrol."

Each contestant had to carry a pack weighing not less than 12 pounds, containing emergency rations (a package of raisins and a can of canned beef), and compulsory and optional equipment. Compulsory equipment included a light axe, two compasses, one watch, three new plumber's candles, 50 feet of one-quarter-inch manila rope, a first aid kit, a map of the district, an electric flashlight, a waterproof container containing strike-anywhere matches, and snow glasses. Prescribed clothing included shoes, socks, underwear, pants or knickers, shirt or jersey, jacket or parka, headgear and mitts, and contestants had to carry an extra sweater or jacket, mitts and wool socks. Any type of pack could be used, but packs would be inspected and weighed before and after the race. Any kind of skis could be used but racing skis were not recommended.

A team's three skiers had to start together, and each patrol was checked at posts along the course, located at Baldy Pass, Mirror Lake, and Snoqualmie Lodge. All three members had to check in at the posts within one minute of each other, and all three had to finish within an interval of one minute, or the patrol would be disqualified. The patrol's finishing time would be when its last member finished.

The Seattle Times said the 1936 Open Patrol Race was the "nation's longest and hardest ski race." No one under 20 could enter, as the course was too severe for youngsters. That year's race was held in less than perfect conditions, with warm weather and 15 inches of new snow. "That made the competition add up to the strongest, and heaven help the unfortunate trail-breakers, who must make an eighteen-mile trail," according to the paper. The Seattle Ski Club team of Roy Nerland, Howard Dalsbo, and Ole Tverdal won in 4 hours, 50 minutes, 37 seconds, beating the second place College of Puget Sound team by four hours.  

According to The Seattle Times of March 16, 1936, Tverdal and Dalsbo wore racing skis. Dalsbo pulled a tendon in his knee 10 miles from the finish but "gamely finished." It was thought the College of Puget Sound team had turned back, but they arrived at Martin nine hours after leaving the Snoqualmie Lodge, and were the only other team that finished the race intact, given the wet, heavy snow conditions. The Washington Ski Club team of Hans-Otto Giese, Pat Patterson, and Alf Moystad was disqualified after a member broke a ski and borrowed an emergency ski tip from another team, since no patrol could accept assistance from another patrol. The Seattle Mountaineers team of Wolf Bauer, Bill Miller, and Scott Edson was disqualified when Miller became ill and was convinced to return to Snoqualmie. The team went on without Miller, but he got better and followed his team to Martin, but finished well behind the others. Had the other two waited for Miller, complying with the rule that all members of a patrol must finish within one minute of each other, the team would have finished second. One member of the Everett Mountaineers team became ill and had to return to Snoqualmie.

"A Grueling Haul" 

In November 1936, the Pacific Northwestern Ski Association recognized the 1937 Open Patrol Race as the 1937 Northwest Championship. The contest was described by The Seattle Times as "a grueling haul, designed only for the best cross-country racers of each club." The teams started at five-minute intervals beginning at 9:00 a.m., and because of the late hour that some teams had finished the prior year, all teams not past the half-way mark by 2:00 p.m. were to be turned back. The race was won by the team of Mountaineers W. A. Degenhardt, Scott Edson, and Sigurd Hall in a time of 5 hours, 12 minutes, 5 seconds.      

The Seattle Times of February 27, 1938, described the tough conditions of that year's Patrol Race:

"No audience will watch them, for their course doesn't run past any grandstand; but a small group at the finish will cheer six three-man ski teams ... at Martin, far up in the Cascades, when they cross the line in the third annual Northwest Patrol Race championships.
"They'll have earned it. To reach Martin, twenty miles from their start at Snoqualmie Lodge of the Mountaineers, they must climb several times, to heights of 1,000 to 3,000 feet.
"There'll be downhill trails, of course ... eleven miles in all. But they come dearly, when the teams are slugging their way along as fast as wind and muscle will permit."

The 1938 race, consisting of "twenty miles of ice," was won by the team of Mountaineers Scott Edson, Sigurd Hall, and Arthur Wilson, in a time of 4 hours, 57 minutes, 45 seconds. Two teams failed to finish because of the difficult conditions.

A year later, The Seattle Times of February 18, 1939, also described the difficulty of the Patrol Race, saying it was:

"[S]lightly crazy to the lay skier, but maybe it's time to deliver a short and not too heavy sermon on its excellence -- and the serious purpose behind it all. The Patrol Race breeds weather-wise and snow-wise skiers. They are required by the rules of the race to carry all the equipment necessary for any unexpected but enforced delay in their travel: an ax; food; rope and supplies; an extra array of clothing. But to simplify their crossing of the Cascades' rugged slope; they must also have snow-sense; how to wax for a twenty-mile journey; how to beat the dickens, but conserve enough strength for a staunch finish, in other words, how to conduct themselves in the mountains."

Seven patrol teams entered the 1939 race, which was won by the Seattle Ski Club team of Sigurd Hall, Bert Mortensen, and Roy Nerland, in a time of 4:59:20. The Seattle Times of February 21, 1939, said cheers were given to the trail-breakers for the race, who had to precede the teams by an hour and a half breaking the trail for the racers, and made the winners' speedy run possible.

"A skier naturally travels faster on an already-broken trail; and by the time Winder's men had reached the summit of Dandy Pass and were on their way down, the racers were keening along, right back of them. It was a terrific battle. The trail-breakers punched along, fast as they could. But here came the Seattle Ski Club team, the eventual winner. They overtook the trail-breakers five minutes from Martin -- and broke the rest of its trail in."

"Quite a Stunt" 

Seven teams entered the 1940 Patrol Race: the Washington Alpine Club, the Seattle Ski Club, Washington Ski Club, the University of Washington, The Mountaineers, Ptarmigan Climbing Club, and the Bremerton Ski Cruisers. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer of March 2, 1940, "It's quite a stunt, especially when one considers the fact that most of the Northwest skiers are apparently very much downhill-slalom minded and averse to getting off the beaten practice slopes." The Washington Alpine Club team of Carlton Greenfield, Grant Lovegren, and Al Wilson won the race over a mushy course of 20 miles of rough going, in a time of 5 hours, 13 minutes.

The 1941 Mountaineers Patrol race attracted five teams, including two 15th Infantry Army Ski Patrols who were training at Camp Nisqually on Mount Rainier. For the second time, the Washington Alpine Club team of Wilson, Lovegren, and Greenfield won, finishing in 5 hours, 27 minutes. "It was a nice day for a picnic, but not for eighteen long miles of langlauf ... It was icy all the way except for a few open slopes which had been hit by sun, and they were few and far too few," according to The Seattle Times of March 10, 1941. One of the Army Ski Patrol teams finished second.

The 1941 Patrol Race was the last one held until 2014. In June 1941, The Mountaineers' Board voted to discontinue the patrol races due to a lack of interest, as the Club's Ski Committee reported on the general lack of interest in competition.

His Record Stands 

On February 8, 2014, The Mountaineers revived the Patrol Race. The race was coordinated by Nigel Steere, whose grandparents were involved with The Mountaineers' Meany Ski Hut at Martin in the early 1930s. Nine three-man teams, one team of two women and a man, and one two-man team (whose third member was unable to race because of an injury) started at 10-minute intervals from the base of the Summit West chairlifts, between 6:00 and 8:00 a.m. They raced under cool crisp blue skies over six inches of new snow on top of a firm base. Seven of the nine three-man teams finished, as did the two-man team and one woman -- Anne Brink, believed to be the first woman to finish a formal Patrol Race. The winning team consisted of Cody Lourie, Jed Yeiser, and Luke Shy, who finished in 7 hours, 9 minutes, beating the second-place team by 20 minutes. The two-man team of Lowell Skoog and Brandon Kern finished in 5 hours, 39 minutes, but their time didn't count because they lacked a third member.

"Meany Lodge welcomed them with cheers, awards, hearty dinner, and a warm night's sleep after race temperatures and winds in the teens," according to the official report of the race. Mountaineers officials sent the race results to Wolf Bauer, who was celebrating his 102nd birthday that February and was eager to learn whether his 78-year-old race record of 4 hours, 37 minutes had been broken: it had not.


Sources:

The Seattle Times Historical Archives; Lowell Skoog, Alpenglow Gallery website accessed March 12, 2014 (http://www.alpenglow.org/); "Town Crier," Alpenglow Gallery website accessed March 12, 2014 (http://www.alpenglow.org/ski-history/notes/period/crier/crier-1930-39.html#crier-1936-dec-p6); Walter B. Little, "Personal Communication," Alpenglow Gallery website accessed March 12, 2014 (http://www.alpenglow.org/ski-history/notes/comm/little-walt.html); "Mountaineer Annual, 1907-95," Alpenglow Gallery website accessed March 12, 2014 (http://www.alpenglow.org/ski-history/ref/mtneer-a.html); Fred Ball, "The Story of Meany Ski Hut," Mountaineer Annual, 1956, p. 55; Idona L. Kellog, "Meany Ski Hut Celebrates Fifty Years," Mountaineers Annual, 1979, p. 80; "A Treasury of Mountaineer Memories," Mountaineers Annual, 1994; The Mountaineers 1936 application for membership in the Pacific Northwest Ski Association, Bresko Collection, in possession of Maybo family, Lynnwood, Washington; Andy Dappen, "The Patrol Race Revisited," Wenatchee Outdoors website accessed March 12, 2014 (http://www.justgetout.net/Wenatchee/post/The-Patrol-Race-Revisited); "February 8, 2014, Patrol Race Snoqualmie to Meany," Turns All Year website accessed March 12, 1014 (http://www.turns-all-year.com/skiing_snowboarding/trip_reports/index.php?topic=30689.0.); HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Meany, Edmond Stephen (1862-1935)" (by Alan J. Stein) and "Skiing at Martin, the Northern Pacific Stop at Stampede Pass, " (by John W. Lundin), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed March 12, 2014); Lowell Skoog, email to John Lundin, March 14, 2014, in possession of John Lundin, Seattle, Washington; Nigel Steere, email to John Lundin, March 14, 2014, in possession of John Lundin.


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