Skiers Hit Trail with Snow Tractor

Skiers Hit Trail with Snow Tractor



Fun Fact #1: The article refers to our transport as a "Snow Cat".  Combined with the name of the driver, you arrive at the natural conclusion of calling our transport Tom-Cat.

Fun Fact #2: Notice the size of Tom, and the way the skis are stored. This is before it was expanded to the size it its now.

Amid snow-muffled rills and woodlands southeast of Lake Keechelus in the Cascades, where rabbit, martin and ptarmigan have grown pleasantly accustomed to wintertime seclusion from man, there's a strange new sight this year.

IT'S A WONDROUS spectacle--almost eerie. At first glance through mists or snowfall it recalls pictures you're seen of sourdoughs swarming up over Chilkoot Pass in the Yukon 60-some years ago. But these "sourdoughs" appear to be riding an escalator and pursuing a cover wagon.

Actually there isn't a covered wagon there--or an escalator--or sourdoughs either.

The "covered wagon" is a snow-tractor. The "escalator riders" are skiers, stringing out behind the tractor on two long ropes. They are Mountaineers, on a unique shuttle run established this year into their isolated Meany Lodge and ski area in Stampede Pass.

MEANY LODGE is the oldest and in some ways the favorite of the Mountaineers four ski lodges in various sections of the Cascades.

Meanyites tout their 600 foot hill as the finest rope tow hill in the world. The big frame lodge, named for the Mountaineers' longtime leader, the late Prof. Edmond Meany, will accommodate 77 overnight lodgers. It comfortable houses their folk dancing and studying and card playing and gab sessions before bedtime.

Since its establishment in 1928, a blissful crop of daft customs and gentle traditions has grown up to bind the lodge to its habitues.

SO WHEN THE NorthernPacific Railway last year discontinued the schedule that has carried Mountaineers to their lodge near the eastern end of the Stampede Pass rail tunnel, nobody gave serious thought to abandoning Meany Lodge. Instead the Mountaineers invested almost $5,000 in a snow tractor.

Under lodge chairman Harvey Mahalko, they worked out their system of towing skiers. They established radio communication between lodge and the tractor. They bought walkie-talkies to keep the towline in touch with the tractor operator.

AND LAST December after snows had blocked off car and truck travel into Meany, the tractor service went into operation.

Now five times a weekend--three times on Saturday and twice on Sunday--the tractor makes its roundtrip, three miles in and three miles out between that lodge and the nearest highway approach along the Sunset Highway near Rustic Inn.

EVERY SATURDAY morning a Seattle math teacher named Tom VanDeVanter slips into the cockpit and turns tractor jockey.

Some travelers ride the tractor. More confident skiers string out at 10-foot intervals along two 130-foot ropes that trail behind.

The cat has a top speed of 25 miles per hour. Along the bumpy trail, though it's more like 8 or 9.

The tow ride doesn't take much skiing ability. If a skier should fall, walkie-talkies give the alarm, and the cat stops until everyone's vertical again.

IN ITS TWO and half months' operation, the tractor has hauled more then 800 skiers. On its record run one Sunday last month after skiing, the tractor hauled 86 skiers out from the lodge to the road. Twenty of those rode the tractor. The other 66 strung out along ropes lengthened to 230 feet for the trip.