Published: Summer 2001
When visiting beautiful, volcanic Mount Hood, the first topic of discussion (oddly enough) is inevitably the lodge. Nowhere in ski country is there a hotel as unique and beautiful as the Timberline Lodge, conceived as a Works Progress Administration project and built by pre-WW II craftsmen, many of them immigrants, who still knew how to build with Old World integrity. It's a museum you can sleep in, dating to 1937. Outside, its rugged design is an extraordinary example of Cascadian architecture, with grand lines intended to suggest those of Mt. Hood. Inside, every detail - furniture, fabrics, stained glass, masonry, woodcarvings, ironwork - is the hand-wrought work of craftsmen whose skill might otherwise have been neglected during the Depression. But tastes change.
The U.S. Forest Service placed it on a list to burn down in the 1950s, when America knew better times and the lodge fell into disrepair. But energetic supporters came to its rescue, and today it endures as WPA administrator Emerson Griffith envisioned it: "a monument to the skill and industry of the unemployed."
Summer is Timberline's busiest season. Its guests include lots of skiers, but plenty of nonskiers as well, thanks to the rich recreational offerings on hand. Many come to summit Mt. Hood - not an especially difficult climb but, depending on what the weather's doing at 11,000 feet, not to be trifled with. Others come for the biking, rafting, fishing and Cascade sightseeing. In the distance, the white cones of Hood's volcanic siblings float on the rolling green sea of the forests of the Great Northwest.
Nightlife - Best to bring your own. There are a couple of bars down in "Guvvy" (Government Camp, the nearest town), but glamorous it is not, unless a couple of raccoon-tanned ski reps nursing beers and shooting pool is your idea of the high life.
Then there's the skiing: 2,400 vertical feet and 250 acres on the Palmer Snowfield (technically not a glacier because it's stationary). What to wear for a day on the slopes? Plenty of SPF 30, of course. And if you want to fit in, go for the Lycra GS suit under Gore-Tex training shorts - the sporting look favored by young racers, though the rest of us would have a harder time pulling it off.
In summer, Timberline is the ski racing capital of North America. Racers range in age from 10 to too-old-for-a-speedsuit, and in ability from novice to World Cup. U.S. Ski Team athletes, among others, come to train and test new equipment. But most of the racers are campers, imported from all over the country. They run gates in the morning (the lifts open at 7 a.m., but the snow is mush by 11), then do all the things summer campers do: hike, bike and generally chill out. The broad Snowfield is divided into many lanes, one per camp or club. Recreational skiers have their own slice but are vastly outnumbered and, if they wander into the gates, are quickly shooed off by safety-conscious coaches.
In the evening, Timberline guests gather around the immense stone fireplace, tired and sun-worn, sipping beers and planning the next day's adventure. Surrounded by enduring beauty borne of desperate times, it might well occur to them to raise a glass to the dignity and skill of Timberline's creators, and to their own good fortune. Information: timberlinelodge.com