On March 22, 2022, ISHA presented a Skade Award to my book Written in the Snows: Across Time on Skis in the Pacific Northwest, the culmination of 20+ years of research documented on alpenglow.org.
A Seattle youngster of Swedish descent, Lowell Skoog inherited his father’s love of the sport--his father put Lowell on skis at seven and Lowell still remembers his father enjoying nordic touring on weekends. Lowell carried on the family ski tradition by spending two college winters teaching and ski bumming at Sun Valley. And in those college years, Lowell was introduced to mountain climbing by his brother Gordy. His most memorable early trip was a one-week group traverse of the northern Picket Range in the Cascades in 1974. He climbed in a pair of fifteen-dollar Valu-Mart waffle stompers. He slept in a homemade plastic tube tent. For a glacier rope, the group carried a length of polypropylene line that Gordy had found at the Alpental ski area. Lowell later extended his climbing ventures throughout the Cascade Range and began pioneering new routes after putting in his first new route in 1978.
That same year, Lowell graduated summa cum laude from the University of Washington with a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. He spent the first sixteen years of his work career as an electrical design engineer, and eventually moved into software development. In 1995, he put in some time exploring journalism as editor of a regional outdoor magazine but he returned to engineering, spending his next five years with a Seattle software development firm. Since then he has worked as a software consultant, alternating with engineering and outdoor writing projects.
In 1999, he created alpenglow.org, which became the home of a number of projects allied to skiing and ski mountaineering history. The first feature placed on the website was a gallery of images photographed by his brother Carl (who died in a mountaineering accident in 2005). Another was “Skiing the Cascade Crest,” an imaginative tour of the entire range with a story for each of the high points, stories he wanted to share with friends. His basic idea of the website was to have an outlet for his energies not subject to market constraints. In 2000, the website became the Internet residence of his online Northwest ski history project.
The trigger for this effort was Lou Dawson’s book Wild Snow. Skoog wanted to expand the coverage to give the Northwest a book with further in-depth research. His research becomes texts on important mountaineering history that he places on the site. From the beginning, Skoog openly shared his sources to enable others to carry on the work should he get “hit by a truck.” ISHA took notice in its September 2002 issue of Skiing Heritage as follows: “This has a sense of being the wave of the future in ski history... a far cry from most researchers who hide their sources.”
His historical researches led Skoog to join the venerable outdoor club headquartered in Seattle, The Mountaineers. Eventually, as chairman of The Mountaineers History Committee, Skoog focused on preserving old skiing and mountaineering films. He also started an annual journal summarizing the climbing and skiing of note in the past year, taking the place of the classic journal The Mountaineer Annual that had served as a historical record for Northwest mountaineering for nearly 100 years. He noted that the Annual had “fizzled out” in the 1990s and web forums were taking its place. But to Skoog these forums were a nightmare of inaccurate and misleading information. As Skoog put it, “they contained so much garbage” that in 2004 he founded another branch of the website, the Northwest Mountaineering Journal, to provide an authentic historical record for Northwest mountaineering and skiing.
One rewarding result of founding the website: the welcome contacts with old-time skiers and their families attracted to the site. Old-time skiers are valuable sources of history. In 2002, relatives of the late ski champion Sigurd Hall contacted Skoog for information on Hall’s career; this came some sixty years after Hall had died in the 1940 Silver Skis race on Mt. Rainier. Skoog sent Hall’s relatives some of the Mountaineer’s films showing Hall jumping. Hall’s ninety-year-old sister in Norway in turn let Skoog know that seeing the films was “like bringing my brother back to life.”
Skoog has tucked away under Cascade Skiing research pieces he wrote on skiing the various segments of the 362-mile route from Mt. Baker to Mt. Rainier along the entire “Cascades Crest.” Through 25 years of mountaineering, Skoog has skied it all. He has written up the route’s historical highlights for Skoog’s coming history of Northwest skiing. Here is part of his write-up of Cayuse Pass, taking the reader back in history: “Today’s Cascade backcountry skier may be surprised to learn that there was once a developed ski area at Cayuse Pass. In the late 1930s, the Washington State Highway Department began plowing the road to the pass in winter from the north.
“During the 1937-38 season, 34,000 people used the area for winter sports, despite the fact that there was no shelter and no sanitary facilities. In 1949-50, four rope tows were installed southeast of the pass, linked in series to the slopes near Tipsoo Lake. Nine years later, the Ohanapecosh highway was paved and the pass was maintained as a thru-route in winter for the first time. The opening of the Crystal Mountain Ski Area in 1962-63 reduced the popularity of Cayuse, but the little ski area kept running and the road was plowed in winter to provide access from Enumclaw to White Pass. In 1974, during the OPEC ‘gas crisis’ the Highway Department closed Cayuse Pass due to low usage. It has generally been closed in winter ever since.”
Finishing his book on the history of Northwest skiing that will pull together his long years of research--this is the project that excites Skoog now. He has posted every research piece. He is using his website to elicit additional information from his faithful viewers, which may be the way to pioneer a new sort of collaborative writing of ski history. Unquestionably, taken as a whole, alpenglow.org ranks among the top outstanding American websites dealing extensively with the history of the sport.