More than 85 years ago, a group of Norwegians gathered together near Mount Hood to do what they loved best: ski jump.
Today, their legacy is still around in the form of the Cascade Ski Club, a non-profit dedicated to helping people have affordable and accessible mountain experiences all year long. The club came to be in 1928 in Government Camp as a way to boost Mount Hood as an ideal escape for winter sports like Nordic skiing, ski jumping and downhill skiing. Among some of the club’s more notable members over the years: Hjalmar Hvam, an expert skier and the inventor of one of the first safety ski bindings, and gold medal Olympic skier Bill Johnson.
Since 1947, the club has had its CSC Lodge right in Government Camp. It’s a friendly place where members gather after long days on the mountain. They can have meals there and even stay overnight in the lodge’s variety of dormitories.
This weekend, they’ll also be able to get a little On Mount Hood at the lodge, too. Back in October, I did a slideshow for the book out at REI in Hillsboro, and there I met one of the club members. He invited me to come up sometime this winter and share some Mount Hood stories with the club. Not one to ever decline an invitation to the mountain, I accepted. The show, open to CSC members and guests, is at 7:30 p.m. at the CSC Lodge, 30510 E. Blossom Trail. For more information, checkout the CSC website.
All week, Spencer and I had been planning on ending our week of bachelorhood with a trip to Mount Hood for some epic sledding. He had his snowball maker ready, the sled was out of the attic, the weather looked prime. Then, he got sick.
It was just a minor cough at first, but it worked its way into a good old winter cold. So instead of the mountain on Saturday, we stayed in town, toured the submarine at OMSI, grabbed a drink at Hair of the Dog, and otherwise laid low.
But come Sunday morning, cold or no, he was going sledding on Mount Hood, so we went. And it was great. Just great.
We started off with the obligatory Mount Hood stop in Sandy.
White River Sno-Park was jammin’, but that’s to be expected when it’s almost 50 degrees and sunny on Mount Hood in January. On this low snow year, I wondered whether there’d be enough for some good runs and snowballs. There was.
He was relentless, up and down, up and down again, and only when the sun sank below the forested horizon did he finally agree that it was time to hit it. I thought for sure he’d be asleep by the time we came to the turnoff for Timberline, but the lodge’s hot chocolate is a siren song worth staying up for. He made it up to the lodge for that, but not much more…
The lowdown for anyone looking for free sledding on Mount Hood (free, except for the $5 Sno-Park permit): Head to White River West Sno-Park. It can be crowded, but people tend to spread out in their activities, and there are plenty of great options for all kinds of sledding, fort-building, snowballing and everything else. The snow is low this year so far, but the conditions at White River Sno-Park are still plenty adequate for a full day in the snow on Mount Hood.
(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.
In case you’ve not come across it yet, a former Portland Tribune colleague of mine, Ben Jacklet, launched a site this fall called Shred Hood. Co-founded with Bjorn van der Voo, Shred Hood is a community news and information website that covers the skiing, snowboarding and backcountry scene on Mount Hood.
It’s getting to be that time again on Mount Hood: skiing, snowboarding and, of course, sledding. The big hill’s got some nice sledding options, free and otherwise. Here are a few of the best:
- White River Sno-Park — About 4 miles north of US 26 on Oregon 35 just south of Mt. Hood Meadows, the White River Sno-Park is great for easy, fun and free sledding on Mount Hood with little ones. The closest hill is just a five-minute walk up the snowy road from the parking lot; bigger and better hills are just a little farther along. Because it’s also a popular skiing and snowshoeing spot, White River can be a touch crowded, but it’s expansive enough that there’s room enough for everyone. And with an incredible view of the mountain as backdrop, there’s little to complain about. (It doesn’t cost anything to sled here other than a Sno-Park permit. If you buy a permit from a DMV, they’re $3; most vendors that sell them jack them up to $5.)
- Little John Sno-Park — At 3,700 feet just 30 miles south of Hood River on Oregon 35, this free Sno-Park (free sledding on Mount Hood except for the Sno-Park permit) is fairly low in elevation, so if it’s a low snow year the pickings can be slim. But when there is snow, the sledding looks like good fun. There’s also an old log warming hut.
- Summit Ski Area — Mount Hood’s oldest ski area is also home to a tubing area. You can’t bring your own sled, but for $20, adults get a tube from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. M-F; kids 48″ and under are $10. Weekend and holiday prices for the kids are the same, but for adults it’s $25. Summit is just east of Government Camp. Summit also operates Snow Bunny, a little Sno-Park next door, where you can tube (not sled) for $20 all day; kids under 48″ are $10.
- Cooper Spur Mountain Resort — A sleepy but quaint little resort on the beautiful north side of Mount Hood, Cooper Spur is home to a tubing park with a rope tow. Ten bucks for the morning or afternoon, which includes some great views of the north side of Mount Hood on the drive up from Hood River.
- Mt. Hood Skibowl — The closest ski area to Portland is also home to a snow tubing area. Cost is $25 for adults for three hours, $20 for juniors; an all-day tube ticket is $50. The area includes a tube conveyor for heading back up the hill. In addition to regular tubing, Skibowl also offers Cosmic Tubing on weekend nights with laser lights, black lights, music and more.
- Other Sno Parks and Areas — The Forest Service also lists Sledding and Tubing as activities at these other Mount Hood Sno Parks: Government Camp Summit Sno Park and Multorpor Sno Park. I’ve also seen reports of sledding opportunities at Trillium Lake, near the Hemlock Trail in Government Camp and elsewhere.
We took a somewhat impromptu family bike ride up to George Rogers Park in Lake Oswego on Sunday, mainly to check out the boats in the Oswego Heritage Council’s annual Collector Car & Classic Boat Show. A slight bicycle malfunction, however, sent us into the car show in search of a gearhead with an allen wrench instead.
We found one, thankfully, and also ended up finding something I never would have expected at a classic car show in Lake Oswego:
It’s an old-school Tucker Sno-Cat from 1968. No one was around to talk to while we were there, but I know from my research for On Mount Hood that snowcats in general have a long history on Mount Hood. Back in 1936, a WPA foreman came up with one of the very first snowcats ever while working on the construction of Timberline Lodge. The lodge also featured one in a great postcard for the ski area back in the 1960s and again for its spring ski pass this year. It’s a Tucker, just like the one we saw. (Tucker, by the way, is still headquartered in Medford, Oregon.)
The snowcats are still widely used on Hood and all over the mountain ski areas for everything from grooming and creating terrain parks to search and rescue missions, climbing shuttles, and as a way to get up to the one-of-a-kind alpine lodge on Hood known as Silcox Hut.