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Linda Helleson - The History of Skiing in Mt Rainier National Park
According to Deborah Osterberg, Mt Rainier Museum Curator (personal communication, 3 Jan 2001), Linda Helleson was a Paradise Ranger and this unpublished compilation was done for in-house reference for the park interpretive staff. It was probably written between 1972 and 1974.

This 28-page report is based on material from the park Superintendent's Annual Report, miscellaneous letters and reports dealing with winter operations in the Park, various newspaper clippings, and the Mountaineer Annual.

The report describes the growth of Mount Rainier as a skiing destination peaking in the late-1930's and its decline (especially compared to other Northwest resorts) by the time of the report. I have extracted chronology to provide context for the development of ski mountaineering on Mount Rainier and elsewhere in the Northwest.


First winter outing of the Tacoma Mountaineers to Paradise Valley during the New Years holiday. No record of skiing at this outing. The winter outing was not held in 1914 but was held annually thereafter.

1915 or 1916

Thor Bisgaard of the Tacoma Mountaineers led a small number of club members on skis to Paradise Valley. Bisgaard apparently returned to his hometown of Kristiania, Norway in 1920. The retreats at Paradise utilized "make-do" shelters through informal arrangements with the park concessionaire.


First ski tournament at Paradise, held by the Northwestern Ski Club. This became an annual event. The tournament was held in late June, when weather and access were much better than in winter. At the 1920 tournament, thirteen contestants performed before a thousand spectators. The 1922 tournament attracted "entrants from all over the country and Canada."

According to the report, in 1923 Nels Nelson, "amateur ski champion of the world," made a record jump of 240 feet. (This feat is not credible. I believe it was reported inaccurately in one of the Superintendent's monthly reports.)


The first winter season that the road was kept open from the Nisqually entrance to Longmire. Within a year, Longmire was advertised to offer "top class toboggan slide, ski slides, four horse pleasure sleigh, team of Alaska dogs, comfortable sport room, hotel rooms with bath." The Rainier National Park Company rented toboggans, snowshoes and skis. Winter access to Paradise (2500 feet higher, at timberline) required a long snowshoe hike.


Paradise Lodge opened for overnight guests. Due to demand that had been building for several years, Paradise Valley instantly became a public winter sports playground. (Note that Molenaar says the lodge was completed in 1930 [molenaar-1997-p59].)

On April 30, A.W. Anderson, E. Lester LaVelle and W.J. Maxwell skied to 12,500 feet on Emmons Glacier, approaching via Glacier Basin.


The road opened in winter from Longmire to Canyon Rim, shortening the hiking distance to Paradise Valley to 2-1/2 miles. Paradise was now one of the leading ski areas in the nation.


The road was extended to Narada Falls, cutting the hiking distance to Paradise in half.


The park superintendent reported that "winter sports was by far the most important park activity." In April, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer sponsored the first Silver Skis race, 3.16 miles from Camp Muir (10,000 feet) to Edith Creek Basin. Sixty contestants turned out. Don Fraser was the winner in 10:49.6. The best time ever was in 1939 by Peter Radacher in 4:51.4. The race was not held in 1935 because of the Nationals, in 1937 because of bad weather, and in 1942-45 because of the war. The last race at Paradise was held in April 1948. At the time this report was written, the Silver Skis races were held at Crystal Mountain ski area.


The Mount Rainier National Park Company advertised that it could accomodate 900 persons in Paradise Valley. The U.S. Olympic tryouts and National Championships in slalom and downhill skiing were held at Paradise on April 13-14. Hans Schroll won the men's downhill by a margin of 1.7 minutes. Ellis-Ayr Smith of Tacoma won the women's downhill. Schroll and Ethlynne Smith won the slalom races. An estimated 7,500 spectators drove 2,000 automobiles into the park and hiked to Paradise to get a view. It was the busiest weekend in the park's history up to that time.


A one lane road was kept open to Paradise throughout the winter for the first time. Private cars were parked at Narada Falls and a Park Company shuttle ran from there. Skiers soon took advantage of the bus service to ski the 1-1/2 mile run from Paradise to Narada Falls several times a day.


The first rope tow was installed at Paradise. Powered by a Ford V8 motor, it had a capacity of 250 skiers an hour. In 1939 the rope tow cost 10 cents a run. By making use of the shuttle, one could have a 2+ mile run for 35 cents. Rooms could be rented by the day or by the season. Areas around the Inn and Paradise Lodge were lighted for night skiing. Otto Lang operated the ski school.

During the later part of the 1930's, commercial skiing at Paradise came under growing criticism. The Park Service denied an increasing number of requests to hold ski carnivals at Paradise.

Also during this time, the Cayuse Pass area became popular as a winter sports ground, thanks to the State Highway Department keeping the road cleared (over protests from the Park Service). Despite the fact that there was no shelter and no sanitary facilities, 34,000 people used this area in the 1937-38 season.

Groups such as the Seattle Jaycees were pushing for a permanent ski development at Sunrise, rather than Cayuse Pass or Tipsoo Lake. The Park Service resisted this pressure.


On July 1, Sigurd Hall made a complete ski ascent of Mt Rainier with Andy Hennig, who used crampons to climb the upper slopes. Both men descended on crampons to 12,000 feet before skiing down.


Private vehicles were allowed to travel to Paradise throughout the winter. Park Service policy started to become more favorable to commercial development and the NPS Director authorized installation of a T-bar lift.

In April, Sigurd Hall died in the 1940 Silver Skis race.


Army units trained at Paradise. Public access was not affected.


War combined with heavy snowfalls and reduced funds for winter operation closed the road to Paradise. No overnight accomodations were available.


Following the war, commercial ski operations resumed. By 1946, the Park Service was ready to authorize construction of a T-bar, with the preferred location being from the base of Panorama Point to the ski dormitory opened in 1941. Because of ski area developments elsewhere in the Cascades, however, the Park Company concessionaire was unwilling to make improvements due to the risk of operating at a loss. "The Company will not spend another dollar in winter operations," said the Company manager.

With the concessionaire unwilling to expand facilities at Paradise, the Park Service installed the first rope tows at Cayuse Pass in 1945-46.


On July 18, Kermit Bengston, Dave Roberts, Cliff Schmidtke and Charles Welsh made a complete ski descent of Mt Rainier via Emmons Glacier.

Late 1940's

The Rainier National Park Company's exclusive concessions contract was due to expire at the end of 1949. Due to the shakey financial status of the company, no other companies could be seriously interested in taking over operations. The Company's contract was extended, but it was no longer required to furnish winter accomodations at Paradise or Longmire. Company management could not have been more pleased--Paradise ceased to be a winter resort.


In early summer, Robert McCall and Marcel Schuster skied down Emmons Glacier from the summit, the second recorded ski descent.

1950's and 60's

Public demand was such that the Paradise road was again open in 1954-55, the first winter season since 1948-49. Winter travel to the area increased, but the majority of the visitors were no longer skiers.


On June 18, John Ahern, Bill Briggs, Roger Brown, Gordie Butterfield, Joe Marillac, Roger Paris, Jim Whittaker and Lou Whittaker made the first ski descent via the Ingraham Glacier.


Ski touring was seen as the future of skiing at Paradise. Four rope tows and a Pomalift were still in operation, "But as winter sports grow, each year Paradise becomes less and less of a ski area."

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Last Updated: Wed Dec 11 14:34:14 PST 2002