A Newsletter of the White River Valley Museum

January 2004

Frozen in Time
Winter Sports and Equipment in the Northwest

by Alyssa Shirley Morein, Curator of Collections

  Although the beauty of the mountains in winter has inspired Northwesterners for hundreds of years, it is only for about the past century that we have had the luxury of exploring them solely for recreation's sake. Before that, traversing the mountain snows was mostly for hunting or crossing the mountain passes. Certainly, even then specialized equipment was needed to reckon with deep snows and icy inclines. The snowshoe with which we are all familiar today-rawhide cords criss-crossed through a wooden frame-is a Native American design whose longevity is due to its durability, flexibility, and lightness. Modern additions to the snowshoer's ensemble include crampons (like the 1930s version shown) and maybe even an alpenstock or an ice pick as well.

Snowshoers c1915
Snowshoers c1915, unidentified people and place
from a recently donated scrapbook.

Though most recreational snowshoers were regular people just out to enjoy a relaxed winter's hike, some early-20th century Northwesterners took the sport to a more serious level. In 1907, the Seattle Mountaineers Club was formed, with a mission to preserve and explore the region's wilderness, and to promote good fellowship amongst its stewards. The group, which started out with only a handful of robust members (including the couple that would found REI), grew to almost 600 by 1930. Over time, their activities, equipment, and techniques evolved; in the 1913 photo to the right, we see an example of group roping, a safety technique which the Club adopted for a time.

Roping hikers
Roping hikers, 1913, from Women of the West.

Lastly, downhill skiing-which, incidentally, was frowned upon by early Mountaineers-first became popular in America in the late 1920s. This sport was developed in the 1890s by Nordic peoples primarily as a form of recreational exercise. In the forties and fifties, as downhill skiing techniques were adapted to people of all levels of athletic ability and resorts catering to prosperous post-war vacationers sprung up around the U.S., the sport took off in popularity. The 1940s ski suit illustrated here, from the collections of the WRVM, is of thick wool with buckles to close the jacket, and zippered, elastic ankles to keep out snow.

Ski suit & crampons

left  Ski Suit, 1940s. Donated by Gertie Fox,
used by Jane Shaffer Lamba.  WRVM #81.5.40

Crampons, c 1930. Donated and used by Harold Kinkaide.
WRVM #89.2.46

Whatever their sport of choice-be it sledding, snowshoeing, or skiing-and whatever their level of skill, one thing is clear: the Cascade snows have always offered Northwesterners of all ages a wonderful opportunity for fun and exercise, the exploration and appreciation of nature, and togetherness. Let's continue the tradition this winter!

Auburn sledders
Dick Eidal, Charles Peckenpaugh, Bowan Scarff, John Peckenpaugh, and Phil Manson
at Auburn home, 14 I Street, early 1930s.  WRVM #2168

Alyssa Shirley Morein