Soon snow will be waist high atop Santiam Pass in the Cascades 85 miles east of Eugene, and the 75th season of winter fun at one of Oregon's iconic ski areas will be under way.
Now dwarfed by larger ski operations on Mount Hood to the north and on Mount Bachelor to the south, Hoodoo Ski Area is interwoven into the tapestry of Oregon ski history.
“Hoodoo Ski Bowl," as it was known then, was dedicated Feb. 4, 1938, by Eugene-area mill owner Ed Thurston, an avid skier who previously owned a rope tow at White Branch, on the McKenzie Highway.
Thurston and U.S. Forest Service officials would have preferred to build on Three Fingered Jack, but funding for the four-mile long road that would have been needed could not be obtained.
So the Forest Service granted Thurston a permit to set up his rope tow, powered by an automobile engine, in the “bowl" at the base of a cinder cone named Hoodoo Butte. The rope pulled skiers up to the top of the headwall on the north face of the butte, on basically the same fall line as the current “Big Green Machine" lift.
Oregon's second commercial ski area was in business.
A ski outing in Hoodoo's early years required much more effort than it does now.
“You had to park out along the highway and ski in" to the rope tow, recalled Jim Hosmer, 87, who lives in Eugene but grew up in Bend. He began skiing at Hoodoo with high school friends shortly after the new ski area opened.
There was still no access road in 1946 when volunteers carried in the materials needed to build a “first-aid shack."
Hosmer says he and his brother would often spend winter weekends at Hoodoo.
“The first thing in the morning, we'd go out and get the rope tows busted loose — they'd freeze overnight — and get the old engine going. ... Ed (Thurston) gave us tickets for doing that," Hosmer said.
In 1950, Thurston vaulted Hoodoo into prominence among Northwest ski areas by opening the first double chairlift in the state, and one of the first in the world. The lift — supported by timbers harvested nearby — carried skiers all the way to the summit.
“So it was a lot better than using the old rope tow and going just to the top of the headwall," said another early Hoodoo regular, Bill Lauderback, of Bend. “If you wanted to go any further, you had to hike."
Lauderback, now 95 years old, managed Santiam Lodge, where many Hoodoo skiers stayed overnight in dormitory-style accommodations, from 1948 through 1951.
“I could sleep 120 people," Lauderback said. “If they brought their own sleeping bag it cost $1.25. If they didn't, it was $3."
But Lauderback found time to do lots of skiing, and to help Thurston splice cables and do other work on the lift.
“It was a big job. He had to make a road up to the top of the butte so he could get material up there," Lauderback said.
In a 1988 interview with The Bulletin, on the occasion of Hoodoo's 50th anniversary, Thurston, then 82, said construction of the double chairlift was one of things he was most proud of.
“It's a wonder how we did that," Thurston said, “to put up those foundations and to figure out the length of the legs ..."
The legs on a couple of the wooden support towers might have been better if they were just a little taller.
“Sag was a problem at times," said Hosmer. “The cables would stretch as they warmed up."
He remembers young skiers shoveling snow out from beneath the chairs to provide enough clearance to get over the headwall.
“As you went over the top of the headwall, sometimes you had to hold your ski tips somewhere up near your chin," he said. “If the tips caught in the snowbank, it would pop you right out of the chair."
Thurston continued to make improvements throughout the 1950s, and Hoodoo remained popular with skiers from Salem to Eugene.
Beginning in 1941, Hoodoo faced competition from Willamette Ski Area on state Highway 58, opened by Roy and Edra Temple.
It's competitive position changed dramatically with the opening, in 1958, of Bachelor Butte ski area west of Bend (the name was changed to Mt. Bachelor in 1983), now the state's largest ski area.
Approaching retirement age and needing to raise capital for improvements and upgrades, Thurston sold the ski area in 1964 to Hoodoo Ski Bowl Developers, Inc., for $200,000. The corporation, headed by several businessmen from the Salem and Corvallis areas, sold stock to the public for $25 a share. Some of the proceeds were used to install a new 1,400-foot double chairlift, and make other improvements. Thurston remained involved as the largest single stockholder in the corporation.
In 1967, the Big Lake Airstrip forest fire wiped out trees atop of Hoodoo Butte. It was the first of two forest fires that would change the area's appearance, which is dramatically different than depicted in photos taken by Hosmer in the 1940s.
By the time Hoodoo's 50th anniversary rolled around in 1988, skiers were celebrating the installation of the Manzanita lift, a triple chair that replaced the two-person “blue" chairlift. The resort then boasted two lodges, three chairlifts and 16 runs.
Hoodoo's next big step forward came after Eugene developer and real estate investor Chuck Shepard purchased the ski area in 1999 for a reported price of $1.5 million.
That summer he installed the “Hodag" summit lift.
The lift was the first of $8 million worth of facility upgrades under the new ownership. The centerpiece was a massive new 60,000-square-foot day lodge.
Other improvements include a new inner-tubing park and two new quad chairlifts — one of which is, appropriately, named after Ed Thurston.comments powered by Disqus