Home Up

Mt. Pilchuck Ski Area

Main Chair Vertical Drop: 1,200' Top: 4,300' Base: 3,100'
Lower Chair Vertical Drop: 600' Top: 3,100' Base: 2,500'
Lifts: 2 Riblet double chairs, 4 rope tows.
Average Snow Depth 10-12 feet.

Note: Located 34 miles east of Everett through Granite Falls on the Mountain Loop Highway in Mt. Pilchuck State Park.

The Area was pioneered in 1951 when the Washington State Parks Commission gave a permit to the Mt. Pilchuck Ski Club to develop a ski area. This project experienced some difficulty and the Washington State Parks Commission obtained a special use permit from the USFS to develop and maintain a ski area at the ultimate location, with the area located on both state and federal land. The area was opened by John Colter and his mother in 1956 with one rope tow. In 1957 a low snow year permitted the area to operate for a single day. In 1958 the Fankhauser family took over the operation and built the day lodge located at the parking lot at the 3,000' foot level. This was the year it became legally Mt. Pilchuck State Park. Lift passes were $1-2 per day.

In 1962-63, Dick and Sal Wemer and Pilchuck Park Lifts became the area owner and three rope tows were in place. Two were located near the area which was to be the base of the main chair, and one high speed lift ran up the main lift slope, on the west side of the cleared run. At this time, one could ski for $3.50 per day. The main Riblet chair arrived for the 1963-64 season and met a snowfall that was 52 feet deep at the top and 14.5 feet at the lodge. The area was buried and closed for three weeks until ways were shoveled for the chairs. This chairlift had loading stations at the bottom and the middle of the chair.

Two years of hill grooming work in 1965 and 1966 were followed by the 1967 installation of the lower chair which extended down gentler slopes below the lodge. Lighted for night skiing, this chair extended the usability of the area for beginners, ski instruction and longer hours of operation. The area was operated 1970-71 by Franz Gabi and Dick Moberg and was then taken over by Heather Recreation, Inc., led by Steve Richter and Joel Burke. An extensive building program added a new lodge, bierstube and equipment rental facilities above the parking lot. Although most of the skiing was in the area bounds, locals did occasionally hike up from the upper terminal located close to the "Little Pilchuck" promontory and traverse to ski snowfields on the mountain's Larrison Ridge to the east, ending up returning to the base area around the 3000' foot level.

Snow shortages led to a limited season in 1976 and operating permit renewals became a factor in continued operations. The USFS was unwilling to support an extended renewal of the special use permit, and the Parks Commission was ineffective in securing a land exchange that might permit the entire operation to be located on state park property. Heather Recreation, Inc. was unable to receive assurances of a longer-term lease on the area and was forced in 1979-80 to dispose of the lift equipment that it had stockpiled for expansion into the west side bowls and to remove the two existing chairs. This lift equipment all ended up at Crystal Mountain. The closure date was May 30, 1980. The area ski shop operation transformed itself to Mt. Pilchuck Ski and Sport and relocated to Everett where Ron Downing and Doug Fraser have conducted a successful sports operation since that date; this remains the longest-lasting indirect descendant of the ski area. The ski school director, Gary Barrett, and Gary Deiner, another Pilchuck notable, formed the Gary's Ski School and continued ski school operations at Stevens Pass for several years.

Skiing personalities associated with the area were:

Irrepressible George Savage, the early Mt. Pilchuck ski school director who ran the Mt. Baker ski school and then rental shop for many years following.

Steve Richter, ski instructor, ski school director and ultimately area operator with his close associate Joel Burke, two of the fine skiers coming from this small ski area. Steve was on the Northwest Demo Team and an 8th Interski Team member.

Franz Gabi, the Austrian silver medallist in the downhill during the 1948 Olympics (and a veteran of the German Eastern Front) who teamed up to run the area for the 1970-71 season with Dick Moberg, a Tenth Mountain Division veteran of the WWII Italian mountain campaign.

Don Christianson, area manager during 1966, who ran the Crystal Mountain operations for many years thereafter.

The dedicated Mt. Pilchuck Ski Patrol was led from 1956 to 1980 by Jim Steak, Bob Orr, Pete Morton, Manny Chaus, Del Poindexter, Jerry Hautamaki, Everett Thompson, Reuben Gonzales, Louis Payne, John Goldthorpe and finally Timothy Bemdt. Their first aid facility located next to the main lodge was a center of the area's skiing community. Pilchuck also produced a Ski Patrol that was feared at every patrol competition. No team, including Crystal Mountain, was more favored in the toboggan competition. Pilchuck was always the team to beat.

Kirk Baker and Dale Potvin moved from Pilchuck to the Aspen Ski School, with Kirk continuing today as one of the top instructors on Ajax and a member of Aspen's team in World Synchronized Skiing competitions.

Bob LeBarron moved from ski instructor to several years on the circuit as equipment tech for Hank Kashiwa, US, Olympic and Pro Skiing champion.

What I liked about Pilchuck's skiing:

With the area closed, people won't understand the challenge involved in skiing Mount Pilchuck's main chair. The forested areas and clearings on both sides of the chair were effectively off limits because of the upper chair cliffline. The cliffline was only milder at The Funnel, where skiers could generally negotiate the terrain, with that section of the run followed by a short gentler section before The Headwall cliffline and a major cross-slope ravine separating the top half from the lower half of the chair. The lower section of the main chair posed interesting problems, as the sharply-ravined slope was webbed by creek drainages. The awesome wet snowfalls, unpacked steep grades and frequent rains provided often-difficult snow surfaces. With no choice of named runs on the main chair which was free of trees in a wide swath under the chairline, the area appears simple from a map but varied considerably from side to side

When skiing fast, the rolling terrain, rough structure and constantly changing fall line presented complex challenges. I went directly from Mt. Pilchuck to a season at Aspen which included winning Dick Barrymore's Hot Dog Contest (1972) over the moguls of the Ridge of Bell, Ajax Mountain. I then returned to an end-of-season mountain relay race at Mt. Pilchuck and didn't insist on taking the tough section of the relay, preferring a middle leg on the lower half of the top lift. On the top half it was tough to be fast because there were no simple fast lines.

I also had some fun days with Rich Hjort skiing the cliffline on both sides of The Funnel, where you were never sure whether you were going to be skiing a steep run or finding a large cliff. This wasn't far off the run but it was definitely not in a ski area.