Skiers today may complain about the walk from the parking lot to the slopes — that long uphill trek carrying your gear. But, as Rob Quoidbach reminds us, it wasn't always so easy.
"Back in the early days, we would drive up Spirit Lake Highway to where the snow blocked the road, and park," Quoidbach says. "Then we would pack our food and gear in a backpack and climb eight miles to the cabin." Those were the "Good Old Days" of skiing, when the Longview Ski Club first formed and built a snug little cabin at the timberline on Mount St. Helens.
The club is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Representatives of the Northwest Ski Council attended a recent meeting and expressed surprise that such an enduring club still exists outside major metropolitan areas.
The Longview Ski Club meets on the first Friday of each month to socialize and to plan ski trips, both locally and out of state. This year the club plans to go to Mount Bachelor near Bend, Ore., and Sun Peaks, British Columbia.
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Past and present members are invited to a reunion from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday at the Longview Country Club.
Skiers take high-speed quads for granted these days, but as Quoidbach says, "there weren't any chairlifts in the Northwest at the time the club was founded, only rope tows. The first chairlift was put in at Timberline on Mount Hood. So we had our own rope tow."
That tow consisted of a used rope donated by Longview Fibre, and a Briggs and Stratton engine purchased through donations from ski club members. The engine was kept on the porch of the cabin (and later in a shed they built), and the tow rope was set up each weekend before the rest of the skiers arrived. "We would sink a snow anchor in there to hold the top end," Quoidbach says, "and string it across a gully or a low area, so the rope wouldn't drag on the snow. Otherwise it would get all wet, and white juice would slime down your arms."
Because of his youth (he graduated from R.A. Long High School in 1943) Quoidbach was a later addition to the club. The club was founded following a winter hike in 1936 by Rex West. Early members included Rob's brother, Val, Don Bascom, Rex and Ruth West, the Cripe brothers, Don and Allen, and Gunnar Nilsson. The early club member built the cabin in 1937 and christened it on New Year's Day, 1938. Years later, when the road to Spirit Lake was plowed, Quoidbach says the climb to the cabin was reduced to "only three-four miles."
Schneider Brothers Hardware on Commerce Avenue carried a full selection of skis, boots and equipment, and skiing became more popular. "Back then, there weren't any ski instructors, so if you wanted to learn how to ski you had to join a club, or go up with someone who skied," Quoidbach recalls. Ski races were held at least once every year before World War II, and clubs from Vancouver, Chehalis and Olympia met at Mount Rainier for the "Southwest Washington Day" races against the "Ski Jacks" from R.A. Long.
During the war years, skiing was difficult because of rationing and the lack of fuel, but after the war "things really picked up." It wasn't until 1948 when Bascom bought a Tucker Snowcat so skiers could avoid the hike by catching a ride up. "One or two people would ride in the cab of the cat, and another eight or so would hold on to a rope dragged behind it, for the ride up," Quoidbach recalls.
Later, Spirit Lake lodge owner Harry Truman, sensing a money-making opportunity, bought the cat from Bascom, and operated it himself, for $2 per person. Sometimes Truman wouldn't get around to responding to requests for rides, so the club made him an honorary member, complete with a large certificate with a gold seal. Members reported that Truman wept when given the honor. After that he was always available to give rides.
Quoidbach says that the club became the focus for snow sports enthusiasts, and their enthusiasm spread to other seasons. "We had a summer fishing trip to Spirit Lake, and Harry would arrange it for the day after the stocking truck arrived. The fishing was great, especially when Harry would share his secret fish food with us." And there was an annual fishing party on the mountain when legend has it that Truman let the club play the jukebox for free as long as they paid for all his drinks.
Of course there was danger in those days, as well. The cabin and rope tow site was carefully selected after observing the avalanche danger below Forsyth Glacier. And once, when Jack Nelson was having heart problems at Harmony Falls lodge, Don Bascom drove the Snowcat across Spirit Lake to get him to the hospital. "Don kept the door of the cab open," Quoidbach says, "so he could jump out if we went through the ice, and I held a rope and skied far behind the cat so I could rescue him."
The cabin was used by other hiking clubs, and others over the years, until it was destroyed by the 1980 eruption.
Many of the Ski Club's photo albums and papers have been lost to history, and the club seeks any remaining articles that remain in the community. They will be donated to the Cowlitz County Historical Museum to join the historical artifacts already provided by some of the early members.
Today Quoidbach looks back fondly on his skiing days, including his stint in the Ski Patrol at Squaw Valley for the 1960 Olympic Games. "With skiing, you're the boss," he says. "There is no ball, no clubs, nothing but you and the skis and the snow. That's what makes it different than other sports." And Quoidbach points out that some things do change for the better. "The best part now is that we no longer have the eight-mile hike in, then the climb up the hill for each run down."