Snow Day!

While it can make the morning commute an even bigger headache, this week’s sudden snowstorm has been a blessing to those hoping to hit the slopes this weekend. In honor of the beautiful yet sometimes pesky snow, take a look at Summit West circa 1962!

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Double Chairlift and new Skihaus Restaurant, Lodge, and Gift Shop

At a height of 3,865 feet, Summit West, also known simply as Snoqualmie, is the family and beginner ski slope at Snoqualmie Pass. Operated by the same company as Alpental, Summit East, and Summit Central, it features two quad chair lifts, one triple chair lift, four double chair lifts, two doube chair lifts, and one handle-tow lift.

Public use of the area dates back to 1933 when the City of Seattle operated a city ski park named Municipal Park. Seven years later locals objected, saying that Seattle was too far away from the area (about 46 miles) to claim it as a city park. The city relented and sold the park to Ski Lifts, Inc. who changed the park’s name to Snoqualmie Summit Ski Area. Shortly after, the new owners installed a rope-tow.

Although business was spotty during the war years, Webb Moffet, the owner of Ski Lifts Inc., focused on developing the area to attract more visitors. Nighttime skiing arrived in the late 1940s when Moffett installed gas station lights along the slopes to allow employees the chance to ski after hours. Soon paying guests were staying for nighttime skiing as well, making Snoqualmie the second place in the country to offer this type of skiing.

Snoqualmie Summit continued to grow throughout the 1950s. Thunderbird, the summit’s first chairlift, opened in 1954. Two years later, Thunderbird Restaurant opened at the top of the summit, offering skiers warm food and majestic mountain views. The completion of Skihaus, a restaurant, lodge, and gift shop, completed the Summit’s status as a wintertime tourist destination.

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SNOQUALMIE SUMMIT SKI AREA, WASHINGTON, 46 miles from Seattle on Highway #10, is a popular resort with its double chairlift (shown in foreground), three PomaLifts, twelve rope tows, Thunderbird Restaurant at top of chairlift and new SKIHAUS — recently completed fabulous lodge.

Ski Lifts, Inc. operated Summit West and its surrounding summits through 1998, when it sold to Booth Creek Ski Holdings, Inc. Thunderbird Restaurant closed in 1990, due at least partly to the lack of running water and indoor plumbing.

Although renovated and hardly recognizable if not for it’s sharply sloped roof, Skihaus still exists. Now Webb’s Restaurant, it continues to serve thousands of hungry skiers every season.

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I Really Blewett

In the 1870s, gold miners in central Washington began using a series of Indian trails to travel across the Wenatchee Mountains and between camps. As interest in the mines grew so did the trails, curving close around the side of the mountain and relying on switchbacks to offset the steepness of the terrain. In 1897, a Geological Survey made a map of the area and named this road “Blewett Pass.”

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Heading toward Dryden at Echo Point

In 1915, Governor Lister dedicated Sunset Highway, the state’s first safely passable route across the Cascade Mountains. Seven years later, it was re-routed to include Blewett Pass, which was designed as a two-lane dirt-and-gravel road with one-way concrete bridges. The pass was paved in 1925.

Although considered safely passable compared to its wagon trail predecessors, Blewett Pass was hardly a safe road. Built into the hillside, it was narrow and windy, filled with switchbacks, and dotted with “caution” signs. Despite the safety projects carried out by the CCC in the 1930s, by the mid-40s the road was too outdated for modern traffic.

In 1956, a new pass was constructed through Swauk Pass, resulting in the demolition of the town of Blewett. The new road boasted less curves (37 instead of 248), passing lanes, and shoulders. The road, known for years as Blewett Pass Highway, US 97, and Primary State Highway #2, was renamed Swauk Pass Highway.

In 1991, the Department of Transportation changed the Blewett Pass signs to Swauk Pass, sparking a local outrage. While the state and Federal Board of Geographical Names hoped to be geographically accurate, the locals refused to change the nomenclature of their road. The state relented in 1992, and officially changed the name and the signs back to Blewett Pass.

The Old Blewett Pass still exists, and portions of it can be seen from the new pass, Unfortunately, the lack of maintenance and decades of weather have taken their toll and much of the road has fallen into Peshastin Creek. The white center line and rock bridge abutments can still be seen.

The Forest Service maintains a 13-mile stretch of the road that includes Echo Point and the old summit. The road is open to traffic April through September.

I had the chance to travel this stretch of road Monday with my dad, who vaguely remembers traveling over the original pass as a small child. Unfortunately, I forgot to take my postcard along as a reference, but I think I did okay taking a modern-day shot of Echo Point.

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Echo Point, August 29, 2016

There are no more guardrails, and the surrounding flora looks a little different, but it was clear to tell when we had reached Echo Point. “How do you know?” my sister asked me. You just know.

If you park and walk a little bit off of the road, you can get a glimpse of the new road, a tiny look at the Red Top Mountain Lookout, and, of course, miles and miles of trees.

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The new pass viewed from Echo Point

This particular postcard, sent from Cle Elum in 1955, spells Blewett as “Blewitt.” Although sent when the road was considered dangerous and obsolete, the caption tries its best to romanticize the pass. The message, sent to Miss Dessie M. Dunagan in Ferndale, WA, reads as follows:

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BLEWITT PASS HIGHWAY AT ECHO POINT, WASH. The highway over this scenic mountain pass is one without a peer in breathtaking beauty and thrilling panorama.

“Dear Dessie May, I expect you are near home by now. I have been here two weeks: plan to stay until Armistice Day. Ralph will bring me home then. On the 9th we went to a golden wedding at Sunnyside. People they know. It rained hard all day. Heavy traffic in evening. Hunters going out to the (?). Some had deer. One bear. Hope you are well. Bye, Belva.”

Interestingly, the recipient of this postcard was the daughter of James Dunagan, a prominent farmer and mail carrier in Whatcom County. She was a graduate of the Whatcom Normal School (now WWU).

Airplane Curve Snowshed, 1950s

This 1950s-era postcard shows a Tri-5 Chevrolet traveling eastward on Highway 10, presently I-90.
This 1950s-era postcard shows a Tri-5 Chevrolet traveling eastward on Highway 10, presently I-90.

To improve safety on what was then Highway 10, the State Department of Highways planned for two snowsheds to be built over sections of the westbound lanes, totaling 1,800 feet. Bids for construction were called in February of 1950, and were awarded to C.V. Wilder Co. and Gaasland Co. Inc., both of Bellingham, WA. Construction began in the fall and progressed quickly due to the use of precast construction. The project was scheduled to be finished by November 1, 1950 at a total cost of $1,120,000.

The snowshed pictured on the postcard above was the larger of the two. Located at Airplane Curve, about a mile west of the Summit, it spanned 1,300 feet, was 15 feet high, and had a pavement width of 24 feet. It was demolished sometime in the early 1980s, but the concrete retaining wall remains.

A modern-day view of the Airplane Curve showshed from Google Maps.
A modern-day view of the Airplane Curve showshed from Google Maps.

The smaller snowshed at Lake Keechelus, only 500 feet long, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. After 64 years of service, it was dismantled and recycled as part of the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project. A time-lapse of the removal can be seen here.

U.S. HIGHWAY 10 just west of the summit of Snoqualmie Pass. Snowsheds protect the highway in this critical slide area insuring year round uninterrupted use. The long range program of four-laning this popular cross state highway is fast nearing completion.
U.S. HIGHWAY 10 just west of the summit of Snoqualmie Pass. Snowsheds protect the highway in this critical slide area insuring year round uninterrupted use. The long range program of four-laning this popular cross state highway is fast nearing comple