Community members are trying to piece together the history of skiing on Chewelah Peak after years of forest growth have obscured areas that were once destinations for many winter sports enthusiasts.
What started out as talk between 49 Degrees North mainstays Bill Reinbold and Al Voltz turned into a trip out in the woods in search of old ski lodges. The current ski resort is actually the fourth rendition of a ski area near the town of Chewelah.
What Reinbold and Voltz wanted to do was find the living history of skiing around Chewelah Peak but nature had a way of making their job tough. Voltz was the former general manager of 49 Degrees North so his knowledge of the area served invaluable but there were still plenty of obstacles.
“Al knew about all this stuff but the number of people involved from this time is getting fewer and fewer,” Reinbold said.
There was no real grand plan for the two but they wanted to start getting information together. Voltz has already put together a book of skiing on Chewelah Peak, but many changes have happened along Flowery Trail making the actual locations of old ski lodges somewhat lost to history.
While there was once a rundown cabin that serviced a ski area before the 1930s, Reinbold and Voltz set out to mark out Cy’s Hut which was built in 1936 and had a rope tow. Finding the location was easy since the old chimney from the hut and a cookstove was still there.
“It was overgrown and the roads have been changed but we put two-and-two together, looking at old photos and determining where things were located,” Reinbold said. “We kept on digging and found one of the outhouses.”
They cleaned up part of where Cy’s Hut once stood – but they admit there’s still a lot to be done to stem the tide of mother nature.
“You don’t realize how long there’s been skiing up here,” Reinbold said. “I didn’t know there were four areas, but when you learn something new it just opens up new chapters in history.”
The second ski lodge was a bit tougher to find – naturally since it doesn’t exist anymore – not even the remains. Voltz knows first hand, since he was one of the people to take apart the ski lodge board-by-board in the 1970s.
The second lodge was a two-story structure built in 1950 and had a double chairlift built in 1951. This helped bump up the prominence of the area as a winter sports destination. Financial difficulties, however, caused the chairlift to fall into disrepair and in 1968 it was forced to close.
In 1970, the Chewelah Basin Ski Corporation was formed and development began on the area now known as 49 Degrees North. Voltz said he remembers driving through where the second ski lodge was. DNR logging and work to Flowery Trail has made the area change, but Voltz was perhaps the best one to track down something that didn’t exist anymore.
While tearing down the second ski lodge, he found a dixie cup in the wall signed by Glenn and Gary Dean from when they built the lodge. Once the new ski lodge opened in 1973 – history and the trees slowly took over the old areas.
“I knew where the old lodge was but that spot has changed and looks completely different,” Voltz said.
A few weeks ago, Reinbold and Voltz gathered people that had been part of and skied the several different areas. Their hope was to tap into their memory and confirm what they had uncovered. A particular point was at the second lodge. The two had uncovered the bottom cement anchor for the ski lift – but again, the exact location of the torn down lodge was a mystery.
This time, Reinbold invited filmmaker Jason Walter – a former 49 Degrees North employee who had also worked on a documentary on the Davenport Grain Elevator – to come along and also interview these people with plenty of memories of the past.
First they exchanged stories and photos at the 49 Degrees North ski lodge, then they set out to the site of Cy’s Hut. Eric Alm, one of the community members invited along, remembered when he had hiked to the still-standing cabin when he was in the boy scouts but it was in obvious disrepair.
Irene LaVigne, who perhaps had the most memories from all three sites since she was one of the original members of the Chewelah Peak Ski Club, scoured the area as well and helped put the puzzle together.
The second stop by the group was to the location of the second ski lodge. They first showed the ski lift anchor to which the group put together their memory on how that related to the torn down building. Saying the lodge sat above the lift anchor, they found an area where trees looked much shorter than the surrounding area. The access roads which made a loop and parking lot for cars – although heavily overgrown – were also a clue. Another kicker was a bed of irises growing inexplicably in the area.
“When they were logging back here years ago that road was a lot wider and not grown in,” Voltz said. “They were loading log trucks with that road and they could pass through there with a load.”
The group narrowed down the area of where the lodge stood and Reinhold felt it would just be a matter of clearing out brush and maybe doing a little digging to discover clues to its exact location.
Even the second ski run could be faintly seen in the trees, still a reminder to the history of Chewelah Peak. Still Reinbold and Voltz want to keep asking and interviewing to get more info from the area.
They’re asking for anyone with additional information, photos and memories to give Al a call at 675-3941.
Because while the old ski run is still visible, it’s only a matter of time before overgrowth obscures a piece of Chewelah history that reaches back decades.
By Brandon Hansen/The Independent Staff