By Robert Matsumura
If you were asked which Oregon ski resort is the oldest, what would you guess?
Mount Hood Meadows? Timberline? Mt. Bachelor? Depending on your historical knowledge of skiing in the state of Oregon, you might be surprised to learn that the oldest ski venue currently operating in Oregon is Skibowl.
In the 1920s, skiing really took off in Oregon, and where it first exploded in popularity was on the south side of Government Camp where Everett Sickler developed the famous Jump Hill on Multorpor Mountain in 1928. In case you didn’t know, Skibowl’s name came from the shape of its Upper Bowl, while the name Multorpor is derived from a combination of the first letters in Multnomah, Oregon, and Portland. Shortly thereafter, the newly-formed Cascade Ski Club began hosting competitions on Jump Hill which drew national attention when a National Ski Association event was held there.
Despite the fact that thousands of spectators attended the event, interest in ski jumping waned as people quickly realized it was more enjoyable to ski the mountain themselves than to simply observe others competing at alpine sports. This public interest in skiing served as the impetus for the development of Skibowl, Timberline and later Mt. Hood Meadows.
In 1935, work commenced on the Historic Warming Hut situated on the shelf between Lower and Upper Bowl at Skibowl. Constructed by the Forest Service, it was a haven for skiers where they could warm up beside hot stoves and refresh themselves with coffee, soft drinks and snacks. The hut was strategically located where it would best serve recreationists after a careful study of wind conditions and snowfall patterns. While the original intent was to build the hut entirely from stone, a shortage of stone masons necessitated a switch to wood for the primary building material. Upon completion in 1937, the hut featured a large fireplace with a built-in stove on each side accompanied by a wooden counter where drinks were served. The hut also housed the lower station of the first rope tow installed at Skibowl. Although the warming hut was closed in 1964, it reopened again in 1987 after a remodel by owner Kirk Hanna, and it is still keeping skiers warm and refreshed to this day.
Also in 1937, around the time of the construction of the Historic Warming Hut, the first rope tow was installed at Skibowl by French Boyd. The tow was powered by an automobile engine and transported skiers up the runs at a rapid pace. Riders held onto the tow with custom designed hooks, and for those intrepid enough to carry a gallon of gasoline to the top, the skiing was free. One year later on nearby Multorpor Mountain, Raymond Hughes constructed another rope tow. Hughes’ tow was powered by a Dodge truck engine and operated on the run that is today known as Raceway on Cascade Chair. The charge per ride was five cents, or one dollar for the entire day. The first Lower Bowl chair, constructed with wooden towers, was installed in 1946 by “Sandy” Sandberg, and ran from today’s rental shop up the west side of Skibowl’s Lower Bowl.
In 1949, George Beutler, the operator of Multorpor’s rope tow at the time, led construction of Multorpor Lodge, which in 1961 benefited from an A-frame addition to the structure. Also in 1961, Multorpor Mountain Company installed the Multorpor Chair, the fastest and most advanced high-capacity chair at the time. It was in 1964 that Skibowl and Multorpor, which had previously been separately owned resorts, joined together under the ownership of Carl Reynolds and Everett Darr, and emerged as Multorpor Inc.
Many devotees of night skiing will immediately associate Skibowl with this unique activity. It was in 1966 that Skibowl’s world famous night lighting was first installed, and generations of skiers have enjoyed carving through powder beneath the stars ever since. According to Ski Magazine, “Skibowl offers the most night skiing terrain in North America.” Not only does Skibowl offer the largest amount of acreage for night skiing, it also provides the premier night skiing experience, offering not a single chairlift for the activity — like many facilities — but three separate chairlifts providing 36 lit runs for skiers to enjoy. For those who prefer the mountain with fewer skiers to contend with while at the same time experiencing the magic glow of illuminated snow at night — a surreal, almost dreamlike sensation — night skiing at Skibowl is just the ticket!
In 1980, Skibowl expanded beyond winter skiing to include summertime recreation as well with the installation of the Alpine Slide. The only dual alpine slide in the Pacific Northwest, this adrenaline-charged attraction sends the rider down a half-mile track of twists and turns through beautiful alpine meadows, before depositing them back to the base at Skibowl West. Two side-by-side tracks allow friends and family to race down the hill alongside each other for a truly memorable experience.
Despite all the enhancements to Skibowl, the business struggled to stay profitable and during the mid-1980s fell into bankruptcy. In 1987, Kirk Hanna purchased Skibowl out of bankruptcy and founded the H-Ski Corporation. Under Hanna’s ownership, Skibowl added numerous attractions including Indy Karts, Mountain Biking, and Miniature Golf. In addition, an Adventure Park was developed featuring Bungee Jumping, a Treetop Top Action Zone, Zip Lines and a plethora of other activities. The resort also added the 300 acre outback, and the Olympic certified Reynolds Run. The Historic Warming Hut was also refurbished as well.
So, the next time you’re considering a trip up to Mount Hood, whether it be winter, summer or any season in between, you might just want to stop by Skibowl, as this venerable and unique mountain resort has your recreational needs covered. Not only was Skibowl the first of its kind on Mt. Hood, it still offers a unique experience to those seeking fun and entertainment on the mountain!