Patrol Race Highlights From the '30s

Patrol Race Highlights From the '30s

History of the patrol race



The ski patrol races from the old Snoqualmie Lodge to Meany ski hut were started in 1930 and continued until the winter of 1940-41. Norval Grigg and Andy Anderson were the originators of this idea and many were the teams that raced. They donated a Ski Patrol Trophy "to develop cross country skiers, to promote cross-country skiing, and to make better known to club members the area along the summit of the Cascade Range lying between Snoqualmie Lodge and Meany Ski Hut." 

There were three men on each racing team. After drawing for places, the teams were started about 10 minutes apart and the three men of each team were required to go over the finish line at Meany within one minute of each other. Each team had to carry certain specified articles with them, divided as the contestants saw fit. These were: light ax, two compasses, first aid equipment (equivalent to Boy Scout kit), three new candles, contour map of the district, and fifty feet of ¼" rope. Each of the three skiers must carry an emergency ration weighing not less than 1½ pounds, electric flashlight, matches, snow glasses, extra sweater or jacket, extra pair mitts, extra pair socks, and bandana. Each contestant was required to start, carry and finish with a pack weighing not less than ten pounds. Optional equipment was specified by the rules to include repair articles (most teams carried extra ski tips) , ski wax, trail lunch, safety pins, shoe laces, knife, extra clothing, cup, spoon, Primus stove, Meta fuel, and watch. The usual weight amounted to between fifteen and twenty pounds, as a matter of fact.

 At any rate, I remember that one year I raced the whole 18 miles with a brick in my pack which some of my prankster "friends" had slipped in after the pack was weighed by the officials.

The night preceding one of these grueling tests would be a scene of much activity, speculation and secret planning at the old lodge. Theories on everything from ski wax to fad diets were discussed with passionate partisanship. There were those who asserted that you raced on the dinner you ate the night before and, according to them, the less breakfast eaten, the better; those of the hearty breakfast school of thought brought their own lamb chops, steaks, or whatever they figured would best energize them for the long trek across.

The route was laid out via Olalie Meadows, up over Tinkham Pass, around Mirror Lake, then down Yakima Pass, with a steep climb up and to the Cedar River Watershed. After a long descent came the hazard of Dandy Creek crossing (usually on a slippery log), then up again to Dandy Pass, around Baldy, down to Stampede Pass, over the Powerline Hill across Meany Hill and down the Lane to the Meany Ski Hut. The average time for the trip was between five and six hours.

On the morning of the race the trail breakers were aroused and fed about four o'clock and were soon on their way, headlights penetrating the darkness. Races have been run in rain, through deep, fresh snow and on death-defying crusty conditions. Once a race was scheduled, it was run!

The racers would probably get off around eight o'clock and soon afterwards the "cleanup" crew were on their way, supposedly to herd in any stragglers, or to assist the maimed and wounded. After things were put in order at the lodge, most of the crowd drove over the pass, skied across to Meany from the highway and were in on the excitement of the finish.

Staring in 1937, other ski clubs in this area were invited to enter teams and in most of the races thereafter several clubs were represented.

Most of the participants took the whole thing very seriously and went into the contest with intense competiveness but I remember one year when three men from another club entered who knew little about skiing and cared less about winning. They signed in just for the fun of the trip across and no three men ever had a better time. In another race one team lost their way completely and missed the train home.

Excitement always ran high at the finish line.

To watch the men at the end of an 18-mile race over the roughest kind of terrain, their legs all but numb from fatigue, try to run the steep "lane" at Meany and cross the finish line in some kind of an upright position, filled the audience with suspense, sympathy and admiration. It seems to me that one year the winning team finished only seconds ahead of the second place team! And many years less than ten minutes separated the two winning teams.

Those were rugged days!

Image from the collection of Art Wilson, Winning patrol, February 5, 1933 (left toright): H. V. Strandberg, Art Wilson and Don Blair.