Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 25° Cloudy
Sports >  Outdoors

Bill Jennings: Exploring Spokane’s rich skiing history

Bill Jennings is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review writing about living off the grid. (SR)
Bill Jennings is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review writing about living off the grid. (SR)

Cris Currie has been president of Friends of Mount Spokane for more than 20 years. He knows the place backward and forward and has channeled that passion into a 247-page book, “Spokane’s History of Skiing: 1913 to 2018.”

I talked with him last week after he spent the day skiing there, which the retired registered nurse gets to do more than most of us.

“I love history, I love skiing, I love writing and I love Mount Spokane,” he said. “I believe people need to know more about it.”

If you need to know more, you can meet the author in person and get an autographed copy of his book when he speaks about it at REI on Tuesday night at 6:30.

“In a lot of ways, Mount Spokane is considered a backwater in the state,” Currie said. “I think most people on the west side believe skiing started in the Cascades. But it started here. That was an impetus for writing the book.”

Currie spent three years digging through archives from sources including The Spokesman-Review, the Washington State Parks Commission and the Museum of Arts and Culture. He logged countless hours scanning microfiche in public and institutional libraries around the Inland Northwest.

Mount Spokane was a pioneer of skiing. The first ski club in the state was founded there. The first ski jump and first rope tow in the state were built there. Mount Spokane had the first double chairlift in the world. One of the first ski patrols in the country was founded there.

Many people know these facts already. Clarifying the uncertain and discovering the unknown is where history gets exciting.

“There were a lot of mysteries that I worked pretty hard to solve,” Currie said. “You can never simply trust people’s memories.”

For example, Currie figured out the true sequence of rope tows built on Mount Spokane’s south and east faces in the 1930s and ’40s. Piecing together old articles, he learned that a rope tow reached within about 200 yards of the summit. People were skiing the south face of the mountain as far back as the early 1940s.

Three rope tows were moved around, extended, expanded and reconfigured. The world’s first double chair ran from 1947 to 1949 before it broke down for good. After the original Mount Spokane lodge burned down in 1952, there was chaos for a while. Nature has reclaimed it all now. You wouldn’t know there was a ski resort there.

“I found the remains of the old double chair,” he said.“It’s still where B-29 comes into Hourglass, close to the trees on the south side, a pile of wheels and cables, just rusting away. The Selkirk Ski Club built a pretty long rope tow on the west side back in the ’40s. The top shack, gears and the winches are still there.”

Currie’s book also clarifies a long history of conflict about the new triple chair.

“The process has gone on longer than the north-south freeway,” he said. “It started in the ’50s. Mount Spokane 2000 and the previous concessionaire were expected to put in a new chair on the west side. It was just a matter of when. Nobody expected such huge resistance.”

Currie said Mount Spokane’s expansion is unique because it’s a state park. There’s a big difference dealing with state government versus the federal government.

“There’s a whole different attitude and approach to land and recreation than with the feds,” he said. “The Forest Service loves timber sales. In state parks, forest isn’t timber, its called trees. When a ski area cuts down trees, it’s a huge issue.”

As President of Friends of Mount Spokane, Currie is satisfied with the results of the arduous process.

“I think the outcome was as fair as it could be,” he said. “The commission managed a very difficult process. It ensured as much long-term preservation as possible while still accommodating recreation. It’s a major improvement for the whole park.”

Currie said that’s one of the big takeaways from his book.

“The volunteerism and the passion that people have had for both the preservation side and the recreation side is working out really well,” he said. “When you have that much passion on opposite sides, you get interesting conflicts developing.

“It helps us appreciate what we’ve got. Mount Spokane is a priceless treasure. We have to think very seriously about taking care of it.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the sports newsletter

Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.