Born as a project to create jobs and stimulate the economy during the Great Depression, Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood has found itself again in the throes of a worldwide crisis.
This time, however, the crisis has brought Timberline to a halt.
The Oregonian reported this week that Timberline has laid off 471 employees as a result of the statewide stay-at-home order prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
RLK and Company, which operates the lodge and ski area, filed a notice with the state about the layoffs. The cuts encompass all areas of the operation, from servers and dishwashers to lift operators, groomers and even the hosts at Silcox Hut.
Images from the lodge’s webcams on Saturday depict a ghost town of a resort. (Someone asked on Twitter if the lodge might need a caretaker for the season, a lighthearted reference to “The Shining,” part of which was filmed at the lodge.)
Here are a couple pictures of the lodge from sunnier times — and here’s to those sunnier times returning to everyone at Timberline and elsewhere as soon as possible.
I suppose this is the season we should have bought spring passes for Timberline Lodge & Ski Area, seeing as how it’s still flush with snow in June while all the other resorts have long since closed.
But there’s no complaining. We spent a snowy, snowy weekend at Timberline back in March for Spencer’s birthday, stayed for a week in Government Camp for spring break and skied at Mt. Hood Meadows five of seven days, and made the most of an epic spring ski season that went strong until Meadows closed for the year on May 6.
It was a great season. On Mount Hood, they all are.
Twice in the past two weeks now, we’ve had grand plans to spend the day skiing on Mount Hood, only to have those plans flooded out by unending rain. It’s been a pretty bad snow year so far, but still, we never counted on two outings to be so thoroughly saturated that we wouldn’t even be able to set foot or ski on the slopes. (Nor did we find any humor in the fact that the days immediately after each of our rainouts were sunny, bluebird days on the mountain.)
While those days may have taken an unexpected course, we still made what we could of them, which was hardly anything to complain about.
(A year ago this coming weekend, we headed up to Mount Hood’s Silcox Hut to celebrate a friend’s birthday, but I never really wrote about it or shared pictures save for a short story I did for The Oregonian. Here’s an alternate version of that story and some pictures from one of the mountain’s truly unique places.)
A glorious day on Mount Hood: sunshine, blue sky, bright white snow and forever mountain views — in January.
We skied all afternoon in this bliss at Timberline, high above the inversion clouds that chilled and socked in Portland for days. But while nearly everyone else on the mountain headed back down into the gray at the end of the day, we got to stay. And not just at Timberline Lodge, which would have been grand itself, but at someplace a little more removed, a little higher up, a touch more intimate.
Someplace called Silcox Hut.
Originally built in 1939 as a warming hut and the upper terminus of the Magic Mile ski lift, Silcox Hut today is a rustic and welcoming alpine lodge on the south side of Mount Hood. Perched at 6,900, it sits at the base of Hood’s best late-season runs on the Palmer Snowfield.
The hut sleeps up to 24 in six small bunkrooms redolent of train berths from a bygone era. Its great room boasts hand-carved tables and chairs, wrought iron accents and a roaring stone fireplace. Characteristic hosts — when we were there it was the hut original, Steve Buchan — blend humor and lore with fantastic meals you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else on the mountain.
But Silcox has not always been like this. Before a dedicated group of climbers, architects, craftsmen and other mountain fans formed the Friends of Silcox Hut in 1985, the old stone and timber building had fallen into such neglect and disrepair that the Forest Service reportedly considered burning it down. But the Friends rallied, landed at least one $50,000 grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust and overhauled the hut in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
In 1993 — 20 years ago this year — Silcox reopened to the public. Timberline operator RLK and Company now runs Silcox Hut, but the Friends still volunteer to tackle maintenance issues and special projects, and artisans like blacksmith Darryl Nelson help preserve the lodge’s classic flair.
Originally open to passing climbers and skiers for a little mid-adventure respite, the hut today is only open to private parties, who often must book their stay well in advance.
We looked forward to our night at Silcox for almost a year before it became a reality, plunking down a bit of cash throughout 2012 to guarantee our place with the crew celebrating a friend’s birthday in January 2013.
After a day on the slopes, we piled into the snowcat, all 16 of us full of smiles lumbering up from Timberline to Silcox. Buchan welcomed us, then we grabbed photos of Hood and the hut and the mountains all around in the golden light of sunset. A pasta buffet dinner was warm and fulfilling, whiskey and wine around the fire just right after a day on the mountain, and another morning of the same sunny glory the next day more than anyone could ask for of a January Monday in Oregon.
The single flaw? We only stayed at Silcox one night.
Details for Staying at Silcox Hut
Booking: Weekends and holidays fill up fast. Call the number below to check availability. The hut is also available for weddings and other events.
Rates: Sunday-Thursday, 12-person minimum, bring your own bedding, $145 per person; $165 with bedding. Friday-Saturday and holidays, 16-person minimum, bring your own bedding, $165 per person; $185 with bedding. Includes snowcat ride to and from the hut, as well as dinner and breakfast.
Bonus: Guests at Silcox also have access to the pool, sauna, spa and showers at Timberline Lodge.
Friends: To find out more about the Friends of Silcox Hut, find the group’s page on Facebook or call 503-219-8134.
Though I’ve not yet celebrated New Year’s on Mount Hood, I’ve always wanted to. The setting, the snow, the festivities, it all just seems very inviting.
We won’t be up on the mountain for the holiday again this year, but for anyone who might be, there’s plenty to choose from.
Timberline Lodge — The mountain’s landmark lodge ushers in the new year with style: two dinner seatings in its Cascade Dining Room, dancing, champagne toasts and more. There’s also late-night skiing and snowboarding on into 2013, and at midnight, a one-of-a-kind fireworks display:
Mt. Hood Meadows — The ski area teams up with Widmer Brothers Brewing to ring in the new year with skiing and riding till midnight, a dinner buffet, live music from Keegan Smith and The Fam, and fireworks beginning at 10 p.m.
Mt. Hood Skibowl — For its 25th annual gala, Skibowl will be packing in skiing and riding till 2 a.m., Cosmic Tubing until midnight, two fireworks shows, DJs, live bands, the torchlight parade featuring the Powder Hounds snow bikers and Olympic speed skier Petr Kakes, champagne toasts, a Glow in the Dark Dance Party, and tons more.
Happy New Year!
Father’s Day weekend this year was a rainy and gray one. The water came in a nearly unending stream and the wooly clouds parked overhead and didn’t budge.
I’d had a book signing at Wy’East Book Shoppe & Art Gallery in Welches that Friday night — the last sign of sunshine for a few days — but rather than head back home afterwards, we decided to make a weekend out of it.
We did so in a Steiner cabin up in Government Camp, thanks to some very generous friends who were lucky enough to come across one of these unique little getaways a few years ago.
Built over two decades by a German craftsman named Henry Steiner beginning in the late 1920s, Steiner cabins stand apart from other alpine hideaways on Mount Hood for their singular accents and ingenious incorporation of natural elements. Steiner and his sons built the cabins by hand — without power tools — and used nearby materials as much as possible: glacial stones, river rocks, Douglas firs and other on-site timbers they hewed themselves. (Henry Steiner also hand-hewed the towering fir columns at Timberline Lodge over just two weeks in the late 1930s.)
One of the most unique features of many of the 30 or so cabins sprinkled between Rhododendron and Government Camp are snow-bent timbers that the Steiners used for rounded doors and other architectural elements.
The weekend we stayed in a Steiner, raindrops slid off the overhead boughs outside and a crystalline stream gushed without end. An ugly mist kept us from venturing out beyond a few trips to the general store and a quick jaunt up to Timberline Lodge for an afternoon outing. Inside the cabin, the rustic smell of woodsmoke permeated the timbers in a welcoming way. A fire in the stone fireplace added warmth and a glow to the room. We stayed close inside the Steiner for nearly two days straight, and it was just right.