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