February 19, 2009 in Washington Voices

Mountaineers put muscle, love into clubhouses

Outdoors group built ‘cozy place’ in mountains
Wendy Huber Correspondent
 
Rich Landers photo

The Spokane Mountaineers Chalet is a walk-in, members-only facility on a property inholding within Mount Spokane State Park.
(Full-size photo)

In 1939 the outdoors club Spokane Mountaineers bought 40 acres on Mount Spokane, leading to construction of a present day landmark.

The idea for a club lodge surfaced in 1925. First, the Mountaineers built what was called the ski shack, near where the present day chalet sits about 300 yards from the public road. By the year’s end, the members had cleared a slalom slope.

Soon the first of several member-built ski tows was ready: a 600-foot cable tow powered by a Model A Ford engine.

Construction of the current chalet began in 1949. Although Mountaineers historian Lorna Ream didn’t become a member until 1959, she is familiar with its past and remembers her times there fondly.

“It was great having a home away from home in the mountains, with great congenial Mountaineers who loved the snow and loved to ski and have fun,” says Ream. “It was a warm cozy place.”

The new 30-by-50-foot, two-story lodge was the product of many energetic work parties, complete with kitchen, living room, upstairs sleeping facilities and a basement. There never was plumbing, though. A gravity-flow water line to the kitchen was attempted one year but it froze. In the 1960s a big, lighted, four-holer outhouse replaced the original. Ream bought pink and blue toilet seats for the women’s side.

That was when the chalet was the gathering place, reflects Ream. She and her family used to stay overnight almost every Saturday during the winter, as did many others. Year-round at the chalet they held potlucks, work parties, slide shows, and even some dancing.

“I used to hold the needle down on the phonograph because the floor would bounce as we danced in our boots,” smiles Ream.

The chalet soon boasted decorative balconies and big lights for night skiing. Brown paint and Swiss-style white trim enhanced the “chalet” image. Early on there was no wallboard inside, so tiny piles of snow blew in onto the sills and tables during storms.

A large two-barreled living room stove kept the place plenty warm. But much to the amusement of the “old-timers,” the younger members thought it was ugly, and replaced it with a small wood stove with far less heat-radiating capacity.

In 1961 the slope again swarmed with volunteers; this time to build the Elwood Ryker Ski Tow: a 1,100-foot electric-powered, very-modified T-bar type named after the member who was designer, master mechanic and construction supervisor.

“Once you got the knack of grabbing the rope, passing it around your body and hanging on for the ride, it was a great reward for our construction labors,” recalls Ream.

Members donated almost all of the furnishings and appliances. In 1962 Ream and her husband donated the first electric range to the chalet. She and others sewed curtains from old target-backing material from Fairchild Air Force Base. Cot and bunk mattresses were wrapped in heavy plastic to deter shredding by rodents.

“One interesting thing they did was an ongoing exchange of furniture,” mused Bill Fix, keeper of the Mountaineers library from 1961 to 2007. “Overstuffed chairs, that kind of thing. Even sofas.”

Though in winter members skied, snowshoed or just plain trudged in with heavy packs of food and sleeping gear, they didn’t think of themselves as rugged.

“It was fun,” Ream reminisced. “We were like one big family in the early days. Remember, membership hovered only around 100 then.”

Major changes came in 1990, when members replaced wood siding with white vinyl, insulated walls and ceilings, installed new wiring and lights, and built a large deck with a scenic view.

The chalet is a quieter place now, with a small forest filling the old downhill runs. Running ski tows took much effort and repair work. Nordic skiing became very popular, and the public Selkirk Lodge was built nearby, to which one can drive in winter. Downhill skiers became more affluent, with vastly improved choices in chairlift-served slopes and amenities an easy drive away.

But the chalet is still a much-loved place. Hiking, skiing and snowshoeing parties still often begin and end their days at the chalet, and the Mountaineers annual retreat is held on its premises. Co-chair Steve Fenick of the Spokane Mountaineers chalet committee sums up his sentiments simply.

“Just 45 minutes from Spokane there is another world, where for the price of a Mountaineers membership you have access to the chalet and a million dollar view,” he said.

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