World War II halted most skiing in the Northwest, although a few areas remained open and local ski clubs continued their activities as best they could. The Northwest was a major center for the country's war effort, and thousands of military personnel were stationed in the region, with many other workers employed in local defense industries. The Pacific Northwest Ski Association (PNSA) and local organizations, led by Sahalie Ski Club, worked with the military to give military personnel access to skiing. This People's History is by John W. Lundin, Seattle attorney and author of works including Early Skiing on Snoqualmie Pass (2017), who helped start the Washington State Ski and Snowboard Museum at Snoqualmie Pass that opened in 2015.
War Slows, Then Stops, Most Skiing
World War II started for the United States on December 7, 1941, when Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor and war was soon declared on Japan and Germany. The war changed everything, although it took some time for its full effects to be felt. Skiing slowed as men went off to war and women had to deal with wartime living conditions which included rationing of items such as food, clothing, gasoline and tires. Skiing continued during 1942, as described in the American Ski Annual, 1943:
"The entry of the United States into the war did not stop skiing, but seemed rather to serve as a stimulus. There were more skiers out last winter than before, and we in the PNSA had more ski tournaments, rather than less. Many beginners were introduced into the sport, and ski trains, especially for the recreation of war workers, reached a new group who inevitable succumbed to the lure of the snowy slopes."
On April 26, 1942, with the war going on, The Seattle Times asked:
"[W]hat's to become of skiing? ... many an old-guard skier will be in the service. Many may continue skiing as members of o mountain regiment. The rest will wonder how to get to the mountains if gasoline and tire rationing continue."
The Pacific Northwest Ski Association planned on a competitive season at Stevens and Snoqualmie Pass where the highways would be kept open. Ski clubs discussed combining to charter buses to take their members skiing, and Snoqualmie Pass clubs were already getting together on ski problems. The Rainier National Park Company planned to be open during 1943. The University of Washington ski coach said the Huskies would have "a power house ski team next year," which would travel to meets by rail. "All in all, the ski experts agree it's hard to tell just what will happen next year, but they are leaving no stone unturned in an effort to continue the sport," the Times article concluded.
However, with the war, the upcoming season was uncertain, as described by the PNSA president in the American Ski Annual, 1943.
"Looking back upon our successful and complete ski season, and then trying to look forward to next season, I find myself in a quandary. It is hard to prophesy with any certainty that there will be any tournaments of major size, at least in the Northwest ... The gas rationing edict may prevent large numbers of skiers from congregating here. Most of our skiing areas are accessible only by auto, and the railroads will not be able to handle increased loads to spots accessible by train. There will be some skiing, of course, skiers being what they are. The few gallons of gas doled out to car owners will be jealously hoarded for occasional trips, and there will be more joining of forces than ever before, but when it comes to tournaments, the aspect is gloomy."
In December 1942, the Office of Defense Transportation ordered railroads not to run sports specials for the duration of the war. In order to commit resources to the war, the Milwaukee Road decided not to operate the Milwaukee Ski Bowl at Hyak on Snoqualmie Pass, which it had opened in 1938, or the ski train that it ran to the pass.
Webb Moffett, the owner and operator of Snoqualmie Summit Ski Area, described in a 1978 magazine article how the area stayed open and survived during the war, despite gas rationing:
"With the outbreak of war in 1941, the future appeared rather dismal. Rainier was set aside for the training of mountain troops, Mt. Baker was closed for the duration, and, the most critical problem for everyone was gas rationing ... Even the Milwaukee Bowl, which had been very popular by virtue of the ski trains, had to close down for lack of rolling stock. Curiously, it was gas rationing that saved Snoqualmie. People still wanted to ski and they could pool their five gallons of gas a week, jam-pack their cars, and drive the shorter distance to Snoqualmie. Business quadrupled the first year, and Snoqualmie grew with more and more rope tows."
Wartime Military Activity in the Northwest
The Northwest was a major center for military activity during World War II, and a large number of soldiers and sailors were stationed here. Fort Lewis in Pierce County played a critical role by training army troops, and there were numerous U.S. Army, Navy, and Coast Guard personnel stationed around the region. Local companies produced critically needed war equipment:
"The state’s 15 shipyards were busy building warships. Boeing turned out thousands of B-17 and B-29 bombers. Pacific Car and Foundry produced hundreds of Sherman tanks. And Hanford purified the plutonium for the atomic bombs dropped on Japan by B-17s. ... [By] 1945, Washington was the country’s third-largest producer of aluminum" ("The War Years").
There were a number of army supply depots in Washington that stored huge amounts of war materiel that was shipped to front lines and to our allies. Military historian Duane Colt Denfeld explained their significance:
"These depots played a critical role in supplying the war effort in Alaska and the Pacific and in transporting Lend Lease shipments to the Soviet Union. The Seattle depot became a port of embarkation for troops, with thousands leaving from there for combat and many of the survivors returning there at war's end. ... The depots in Washington delivered goods through the ports to resupply Alaska military bases and support the war in the Aleutian Islands. They also supported the war in the Pacific, shipping critical equipment and supplies to Hawaii and beyond."
During the early stages of World War II, Army ski troops were stationed at Fort Lewis and used Mount Rainier for training. In late 1940, a few special "ski patrol" units within existing Army forces began training in Washington. The 87th Infantry Mountain Regiment was activated at Fort Lewis, using Mount Rainier for ski training, before being transferred to Camp Hale, Colorado, in 1943, where the Tenth Mountain Division was formed. An exhibit at the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum said the Fort Lewis skiers "were a 'who's who' of skiing," receiving training in the "Army's greatest sports school."
Northwest skiers were asked to assist the War Department by helping to train mountain troops and organizing assistance for the rescue of downed military airplanes. Dwight Watson, a local mountaineer, said the local Ski Patrol was asked to "have a knowledge of the mountainous areas in event of disasters such as plane crashes etc.," and members were directed to "become thoroughly familiar with local terrain to the end that they may be prepared to furnish guides to the Army and to extend the anti-aircraft warning and anti-parachute defense systems into comparatively inaccessible regions." Local ski patrol activities included making maps, testing equipment, and conducting winter training. Eventually a program was developed that broke up the Cascades into 10 mile sections, each being a Patrol region. (Skoog).
Recreation for Service Members
Military officials recognized that recreation was important for the morale of service men and women, and providing facilities for off-duty activities was a major mission.
In 1942, an Army Recreation Center was built on Beacon Hill in Seattle, site of the city's Jefferson Park Golf Course. Seattle had purchased the 235-acre site in 1898, for a water reservoir and cemetery. In 1908, the Olmsted Brothers 1903 comprehensive plan for Seattle parks and parkways was expanded to include a playfield at the site. After an interest in golf developed in the 1910s, the Olmsted plan was modified to include an 18-hole golf course. Designed and built by Thomas Bendelow, "an early and influential 'golf architect,'" the course, which opened in 1915, "was the first municipally owned golf course in Seattle and the third golf course in King County" (Wilma and Hinchliff).
The Seattle Times of May 2, 1942, said the Army Recreation Center was designed to provide sleeping and eating facilities for servicemen who were on furlough, with a capacity for 1,000 people, and served as a "clearing house" for civilian entertainment plans. It was built "with limited funds" by 53 soldiers and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers at "a fraction of the total if built on a wartime construction basis." It had 55 knotty-pine and cedar cottages, 73 winterized tents, a large concession building with a bar, soda fountain, recreation hall, a women's reception room, officers quarters, a large bathhouse, and sprawled on 10 acres on the west side of the Jefferson Park Golf Course. The paper reported:
"The center will perform a dual function: provide a free 'hotel' for soldiers on liberty who are visiting in Seattle, and assist community and civic groups to provide entertainment for service men ... While the recreation center will not actually provide entertainment for service men, it will be open to any civic organization which wishes to do so, and the recreation hall, containing a large dance floor and a portable stage, will be available for civilian sponsored functions."
Major Ralph J. Sitts of the Quartermaster Corps oversaw the facility's construction and was in charge of it thereafter. In 1943, the Jefferson Park recreation center was called "the outstanding camp of its kind in the United States," according to The Seattle Times, adding that the people of Seattle "have gone out of its way helping to establish it" and, through the Seattle War Chest, contributed "a considerable sum of money to complete the necessary buildings ... The usefulness of the camp has since far more than justified that expenditure." The enterprise and ingenuity of Major Sitts was responsible for "much of the center's effectiveness."
Local Ski Clubs Host Military Skiers
The Pacific Northwest Ski Association and local ski clubs raised funds for the war effort and provided access to skiing for military personnel. The effort was led by Sahalie Ski Club, whose members brought servicemen to the club's lodge at Snoqualmie Pass on weekends and taught them to ski.
In 1931, Sahalie Ski Club (then called Commonwealth Ski Club) had built one of the original ski lodges at Snoqualmie Pass, on 45 acres of land purchased from the Northern Pacific Railway on what later became Alpental Road. The lodge, designed by Seattle architect Arthur Loveless, was "three stories in height with a full basement, built in the form of two L's, with a three flue chimney thrust through the center," and slept 40, according to the club's website. Beginning in the winter of 1934, the club offered "serious instructions for its membership," and some of the first ski lessons available in the Northwest, as later described on the website:
"This was a major step forward, since early skiing was mostly cross-country, and when new skiers tried to go downhill, there were a lot of injuries. 'Controlled' skiing using turns was a relatively new concept being pushed by ski promoters. [Sahalie] employed some of the best skiers available: the initial teachers were Ben Thompson, Hans Grage and Don Fraser, all huge names in early Northwest skiing. Skiers learned 'to do level running, execute kick turns, exhibit proper handling of ski poles and descend a slight slope in various fundamental positions.'"
In January 1942, a special defense evening ski event was held for Boeing and shipyard workers at the Milwaukee Ski Bowl at Hyak, where they were taken by special ski trains. In late 1942, the Seattle Ski Club hosted a jumping competition at the Ski Bowl, with proceeds going to the Red Cross War Fund. Two special trains left for the Ski Bowl at 8:30 a.m., costing $1.31, plus a $1 entry fee. Drivers would pay $1.50. Torger Tokle, "the human airplane" from the Norway Ski Club of New York, won the event with jumps of 248 and 263 feet, thrilling a crowd of 2,500. The Seattle Times said Tokle showed beautiful form, fooling those who considered him to be strictly a "powerhouse leaper, who sacrificed form for distance."
In late January 1943, the army took advantage of a major snowstorm that hit Seattle to open the Jefferson Park recreation center to skiers. A Times article headlines "Skiers Invited to Park Slide" said, "Men in the armed forces can be outfitted in ski boots, socks and skis without charge, and civilians will be similarly outfitted for a small fee." Skiing took place on hills adjacent to the camp and would continue as long as the snow lasted. The article also noted that "[t]he West Queen Anne counterbalance still was occupied by skiers."
The paper reported on a number of skiing events held in February 1943. "Just when Northwest skiing appeared to be on its last legs, Leavenworth came up with a blue-ribbon jumping tournament ... on the city's famous Big Hill." Leavenworth canceled its annual jumping championships because of transportation difficulties, but this tournament had "all the color and class of the championships," according to the Times. Most of the "Northwest's crack jumpers" attended, and the proceeds of the event went to the Camp Little Norway Association at Toronto to aid young Norwegian jumpers training in Canada. Local ski clubs hosted a Sports Dance, "at which both service men and civilians will mingle." Host clubs included Sahalie, Penguins, Mountaineers, Sno Owls, Washington Alpine, and Seattle Ski Club. The movie Ski Patrol, filmed by Lieutenant John Jay, detailing the work of the U.S. Army mountain troops, was shown at the University of Washington.
A soldier-civilian ski party was held at Snoqualmie Summit on Wednesday, February 10, 1943, where soldiers from McChord Field in and the Jefferson Park recreation center could ride the Summit tow that would operate for the event, according to the Times.
"Fifty officers and enlisted men from McCord Field in Tacoma and a like number from the Seattle Jefferson Park Recreation Center will travel by bus to the Snoqualmie Summit Tuesday to prepare for the festivities ... On Wednesday, both soldiers and civilians can take advantage of the ski tow which will be operated through the cooperation of the owners."
Civilian skiers were asked to include soldiers in their skiing plans the rest of the season.
"While the Jefferson Park Center is able to send two bus loads of service skiers to the Summit every week-end, that doesn't begin to take care of the demand from the fighting men. If you are planning a ski trip and have an empty seat or two in your car, call Major Ralph Sitts, head of the Center ... and a service skier will be assigned to your car. Also, the Center can use many more contributions of ski equipment, particularly boots. The 100 outfits now available don't begin to outfit all the soldiers and sailors who want to go skiing."
During the winter of 1943, Sahalie hosted military personnel at its lodge on many weekends, providing them with ski lessons. On Sunday, February 14, 1943, The Seattle Times reported that "Sahalie Ski Club, which quietly has been playing an important role in making skiing possible for service men in the Seattle area, will host another Uncle Sam contingent today. Forty-five Navy and Anti-Aircraft skiers will be guests of the club at its Snoqualmie lodge. Sixty-five took advantage of that same hospitality last week." Then, on the last weekend of the month, the paper noted:
"[Sahalie,] which has been host to more than 200 service men at Snoqualmie Summit this season, will open its lodge to 25 Fort Lawton soldiers today. Many of the service men have never had skis on, but that won't make much difference because the Sahalie program today calls for an obstacle race in which the competitors will ski on everything from barrel staves to ice skates. Conditions at the Summit 'are perfect.'"
Sahalie continued its normal activities during the war as best it could. It held its club championship tournament at the Summit on February 21, 1943, with downhill and slalom races for men and women. Ski conditions on the pass were the best they had been in 10 years, with a 12- or 13-foot base with a covering of powder snow. Sahalie held a dance at the Sand Point Country Club in Seattle in late February 1943 to raise funds to clear trees behind the clubhouse. The prior weekend, Sahalie hosted 35 servicemen from all parts of the country.
Pacific Northwest Ski Association officials met in early March 1943, "to discuss furthering of the service skiing program in which Sahalie had taken the lead," as described in The Seattle Times:
"It's Sahalie's policy to house as many service skiers as can come to the Summit... However, we don't have enough cars to handle the transportation of all the service men who want to make the trips. Any help other skiers can give us on this will be greatly appreciated. Most of the service men who are guests of Sahalie have never had skis on before, and many have never seen snow."
Lodges Burn and Collapse, but Wartime Skiing Continues
On March 7, 1943, the Times reported that 19 Seattle area clubs (including Sahalie) had sponsored a Victory Fair for servicemen at the Jefferson Park recreational camp, which was also open to the public. Six orchestras would provide music for dancing, with special dance acts along with wrestling and boxing exhibitions and a roller-skating show. Carnival booths would use artificial money for dice games, penny pitch, darts and nail-driving games, bingo, roulette and ball games. There would be an archery court and a fish pond, "and girls in costumes will man all booths, as well as act as partners for dancing."
During the last weekend of March 1943, two events were held at Snoqualmie Pass to raise funds for the Army Recreation Center in Seattle. Sahalie sponsored the PNSA's annual women's and junior tournament with downhill and slalom races, which 13 women "snow riders" and 30 juniors entered. In addition, a Ski Jumping Exhibition hosted by the Seattle Ski Club was held at Beaver Lake. Transportation and equipment was arranged for servicemen. Olav Ulland "soared 211 and 213 feet ... to smash the Beaver Lake jump record and take the honors in a ski tourney staged for the benefit of service men in the Seattle area," beating Alf Engen's record, according to the Times, which added that big thrill of the event was the "sensational" 217 foot jump made by Ray Hendrickson, a youth from Leavenworth, who fell on the landing so it did not count as a new record.
Two ski lodges on Snoqualmie Pass burned down during the war, the Sahalie Ski Club lodge in 1943, and The Mountaineers Lodge in 1944. The April 16, 1943, fire at the Sahalie lodge at was the result of defective wiring. The Seattle Times reported that fire was discovered by five young people who had hiked to the lodge to ski, and who were able to save "much of its furnishings, including skis, sleeping bags, tables and desks and the juke box." At the time it burned, according to the paper, the lodge had sleeping accommodations for 85and "[d]uring the winter it had been used for many ski parties for service men, and plans were to have it for a service men's recreation camp in the summer." Sahalie Ski Club had been recognized by the military as having done more than any other organization to give soldiers a taste of skiing in the Northwest. The loss was estimated at $20,000, and the club had $5,000 of insurance.
Efforts to give military personnel access to skiing continued in 1944. The loss of Sahalie's lodge meant the club's hill could no longer be used by servicemen, so the Seattle Ski Club stepped up and offered its hill at Snoqualmie Summit to the military. The Seattle Ski Club was formed by Norwegian immigrants in 1929 to promote ski jumping, and members built a ski jump at Beaver Lake using the natural slope of the hill for both the inrun and outrun that had "the sheerest pitch of any in America." Beaver Lake was the site of major jumping tournaments for more than a decade.
On April 2, 1944, The Seattle Times showed Major and Mrs. Sitts at the Seattle Ski Club, which was only open to servicemen, noting that the Army Recreation Center at Jefferson Park that Major Sitts headed had "160 complete sets of equipment and toggery donated by Seattleites" for use by servicemen and women. Each weekend, the equipment was used by large groups who wanted to go skiing. Service members were conveyed to the Snoqualmie Pass on army trucks.
The American Ski Annual, 1945, reported that recreational skiing had been confined to Stevens Pass, Snoqualmie Pass, and Mount Spokane in 1944. Mount Baker and Paradise were closed for the war and, in addition to Sahalie's lodge burning down, the roof of the Cascade Ski Club Lodge at Mount Hood had collapsed under heavy snow. Much valuable equipment was lost in both locations, but no one was hurt. Servicemen were able to ski as the military took over several hills on weekends. The U.S.O. took skiers from Tacoma to Mount Rainier and the Army Recreation Center ran regular trips to Snoqualmie. The Penguin Ski Club of Seattle and the Tacoma Ski Club collected old ski equipment for the use of the servicemen. The last event the 1944 ski season was a benefit for the athletic fund of the Army Recreation Center, hosted by the Seattle and Sahalie Ski Clubs. That April, Major Sitts, who had been responsible for organizing the military's activities at the Jefferson Park recreation center, was reassigned to an army camp in California.
Snoqualmie Pass was not the only site of military skiing in the region during the war. In March 1945, the Coast Guard dominated a Service Skiing Tournament held on Stevens Pass. A Coast Guard skier won the Men's Open Slalom, followed by racers from the Merchant Marine, Navy, Coast Guard, and the Navy. The Coast Guard took first and second place in the Men's Novice Slalom, followed by three Navy skiers. The Coast Guard also took first and third in the Women's Open Slalom, and won all the top five places in the Women's Novice Slalom.