Retro Rewind | The Hansen Family Legacy at Stevens Lodge

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, we feature the story of Stevens Lodge volunteer John Hansen, who spent decades helping build the lodge into what it is today.
Issy Steckel Issy Steckel
Communications Associate
April 05, 2022
Retro Rewind | The Hansen Family Legacy at Stevens Lodge

A sloping lot in the crook of a mountain pass at 4,200 feet caught the eye of Mountaineers volunteers 75 years ago. A lease from the U.S. Forest Service was signed, and construction began on a rustic ski in/ski out cabin. As the June 1946 Mountaineer bulletin stated, “All sites will be developed as cheaply as possible, with maximum accommodations for minimum cost.”

Walter Little, the Chair of The Mountaineers Construction Committee, was a driving force behind this new lodge just west of the Stevens Pass ski area. Under his direction, construction began in the summer of 1946. Without electricity, the building was constructed entirely with hand tools. Establishing and developing both the structure and community at Stevens Lodge, like all of our mountain retreats, proved to be a grand exercise in volunteerism.

In 1948, Stevens Ski Cabin opened its doors. The cabin was four stories high, with a basement, main floor, and ladders leading to two dormitories nestled under the steep roof. It boasted 33 bunks and had outdoor toilets. Rumor has it the early hosts were able to squeeze up to 40 bunks to meet the demand of outdoor enthusiasts flocking to stay.

Expansions began just five years later in 1953. A new foundation for the larger building was poured, power lines were extended to reach the building, and a fireplace was installed. The cabin’s official designation was upgraded to “lodge.”

It wasn’t long before Stevens Lodge developed its own special atmosphere. The 1960 Mountaineer bulletin reported that, “skiers arriving after skiing Saturday will find a bowl of popcorn being passed around the stone fireplace… In the basement, the ping-pong players hold forth while the wax artists compare notes on the best wax for tomorrow’s powder.”

Throughout the lodge’s history, work parties, dinners, and planning sessions frequently included one individual: John Hansen. John was a fixture at Stevens Lodge for nearly 40 years, helping to build the original cabin in 1948, leading the expansion project, and working on its maintenance and improvements until 1986. He also served as a member of our Board of Directors and was the 1963 recipient of the organization’s coveted annual volunteer honor, the Service Award.

John Hansen passed away in the fall of 2021 at the age of 95. His son, Tom, continues to carry on his father’s legacy.

Skiing his way to The Mountaineers

From an early age, John was a talented skier and an industrious worker. Growing up in Minnesota, he earned the money to buy his first pair of skis by shoveling snow. After his family moved to Seattle in 1938, he spent hours on the slopes of Snoqualmie Pass, idolizing the skiers who had metal-edged skis with bear trap bindings rather than the leather straps that were on his. As an engineering student at the University of Washington, he balanced school with frequent trips to the mountains. It wasn’t long before he taught his first ski lessons with Husky Winter Sports, one of UW’s oldest clubs.

At the time, Husky Winter Sports owned a cabin at Stampede Pass, located across the railroad tracks from The Mountaineers Meany Ski Hut. John’s outings often led him near the Meany Ski Hut, where he first learned of The Mountaineers. Through this skiing community, John decided to join The Mountaineers and was quickly recruited to lend a hand to the big project at Stevens Pass. At just 21, John spent weekends building the original structure alongside other avid skiers, carpenters, engineers, plumbers, and more.

Stevens Ski Cabin between 1948-1953, prior to the expansion.jpgThe original Stevens Ski Cabin before the expansion.

A rewarding expansion

In true Mountaineers fashion, John’s volunteer spirit was unflagging. He spent the following winters up at the cabin, manning the rope tows at Stevens Pass. His wife, Helen, would regularly join him to ski and stay at the cabin.

Starting in 1953, John steered the effort to expand the cabin to its present-day footprint. At the time, John was 27, employed at Seattle City Light, and had a two-year old at home, but he took the opportunity in stride. In 1954, he devoted every weekend from the fourth of July until December (except the weekend Tom was born) to lead the expansion project. “I don't know how my mom put up with it,” said Tom.

John modeled the role of servant leader. “He was a great believer in the individual and treated everyone with respect,” said Tom. John was famous for saying: “Everybody who walked in the front door of the cabin was a potential committee member. If they stayed for more than three nights, they were asked to join.” Whether it was nailing shingles on the roof or cleaning up dinner, everyone was (and still is) expected to pitch in.

Raising a family at Stevens Lodge

John was all about “getting outside, having fun, and doing things away from the city,” according to Tom. In addition to skiing, John loved sailing, climbing, hiking, camping, and photography. He climbed all six of Washington’s major volcanoes, earning the Seattle Branch Six Majors peak pin (available only to those who climbed Mt. St. Helens before she blew her top).

Photo of John Hansen. Courtesy of Christopher Northcutt..jpgJohn on top of Glacier Peak in 1957.

Radiating admiration for the outdoors, John taught his four children the rewards of a life spent outside. Tom fondly joked, “It was not even an option. We were going skiing. Come November first, the snow would fall. The next time we were home for a weekend, it was either raining or it was May.” When his boys were young, John led their Boy Scout troop on multi-day hikes, through the Olympics, across the North Cascades, and even on a trek from Stevens Pass to north of Glacier Peak.

By the time they were teenagers, Stevens Lodge had become the Hansen kids’ home away from home. Many of the skills they cultivated at the lodge went far beyond outdoor recreation. Under John’s guidance, teenagers – including his own – were treated like adults. Tom became one of the first teens to operate the lodge, and he learned carpentry and electrical skills that benefitted his own career as an engineer. At the lodge, John's daughter, Theresa, learned to cook meals for 60 guests at age 12, and five years later, she took on duties as head cook. “And it worked,” Tom said. “It kept the adults young, and it helped those teenagers learn a lot about life from somebody other than their parents.”

The Hansens, circa 1972 - Photo courtesy of Tom Hansen.jpgThe Hansen Family in front of Stevens Lodge in 1971, a good snow year.

Carrying on John’s legacy

As a 21-year-old volunteer helping build the cabin, John couldn’t have predicted that his children and grandchildren would enjoy the fruits of his labor and eventually take over some of his duties. And yet Tom followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming the committee chair, sharing this special place with his own kids (who later joined the committee), and making lifelong friends. Together, the father-son duo have volunteered at Stevens Lodge for over 60 years. “I look at the thousands of people that have been to that cabin and all of them have benefited, whether they know it or not, from my dad's efforts,” Tom said.

John Hansen dressed for a day at Stevens Pass.jpgJohn standing in the doorway of his ski school in 1974. 

John was happiest on the slopes. He skied for 80 years, logging more than a 100 days a season for many years. He taught ski lessons for almost 50 years, sharing his passion for the sport with hundreds. When people learned of his long skiing career, they would ask, “Don’t you get tired of skiing?” He always answered, “I’m trying to.”

To thank the Hansen family for their multi-generational impact, The Mountaineers named the lodge’s dining room Hansen Hall in 2016. John’s legacy is helping others do what he loved most: play in the outdoors.

Between his outdoor pursuits and his time at Stevens Lodge, John succeeded in that which many of us are still trying to master: finding a place to put your passion, where hard work feels like fun, and the possibility of something new is just around the next bend in the mountainside.

This article originally appeared in our Spring 2022 issue of Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive

Main image of John Hansen skiing powder in the Selkirk Mountains in 1982. All photos courtesy of Tom Hansen.

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Barbara Rose
Barbara Rose says:
Apr 09, 2022 06:24 PM

Wonderful article! Havin spent a few nights at the Stevens Pass Lodge, I love knowing this back story of an amazing person (and family) who helped make it possible!