SNOQUALMIE PASS Seventy-five years ago, when rope tows were the cutting edge of ski technology, it was unlikely anybody envisioned the sport evolving into what transpired Sunday afternoon.
Hundreds of spectators lined a man-made rectangle pond at The Summit at Snoqualmie and watched and cheered as skiers and snowboarders attempted to cross without sinking or wiping out.
The pond-skimming competition was a celebration of Summit Wests 75th anniversary.
As Matt Smith of Kirkland skied across the pond wearing a black cape and a Darth Vader mask, it was clear much has changed since installation of the first glove-shredding rope tow.
But, really, it hasnt changed that much, Smith said. Were still just sliding down the hill for the pure joy of it.
Not only was the Summit born 75 years ago, but the winter of 1937-38 proved to be one of the most important in Washingtons ski industry as a Tacoma lumber baron and an East Coast visionary started installing the states first rope tows.
Some of those rope tows blossomed into ski resorts, including the Summit at Snoqualmie and Stevens Pass.
Today, most of the rope tows that gave the Northwests ski industry such a lift are long gone, replaced with glove-friendly chairlifts.
The Summit, now Washingtons most popular ski area with nearly 600,000 visitors each year, was born three years after the first U.S. rope tow was installed in Woodstock, Vt.
Jim Parker, one of the men who helped run the Vermont tow, moved to Washington with plans of building more lifts.
He found financial backing from Chauncey Griggs, owner of a Tacoma lumber company. They built rope tows in several locations, including Mount Rainier National Park.
At the time, Paradise was the most popular ski destination in Washington, ski historian Lloyd Skoog said. Visitors parked near Narada Falls, then hiked the rest of the way to Paradise.
This would soon change. In the 1940s Webb Moffett purchased Summit West from Parker and Griggs for $3,500, Moffett wrote in a 1978 issue of Puget Soundings magazine.
He later installed chairlifts and rope tow operations such as American River and Cayuse and Chinook passes started to fade away.
Mount Rainier wouldnt allow permanent lifts in the national park, so Paradises tow also vanished, inspiring a new resort Crystal Mountain, just outside the parks eastern boundary.
Crystal Mountain is celebrating its 50th anniversary this season.
Over the past 75 years, Washingtons ski scene has blossomed into more than 15 ski areas and given birth to Olympic medalists and leading ski manufacturers, including K2.
Washington really does have a great ski history, said Dave Moffett, Webb Moffetts son.
Moffett, and Hugh and Dollie Armstrong have worked for 29 years to build a museum to showcase Washingtons ski history, and they hope it will finally open later this year.
Dollie Armstrong said designs have been approved and permits have been acquired for a building next to Summit West that will house a brew pub and the Washington State Ski and Snowboard Museum.
Armstrong said the building is scheduled to be completed in December. Her daughter, 1984 Olympic champion Debbie Armstrong, will lend her gold medal to the museum. Yakimas Phil Mahre, also an 84 gold medalist, has pledged one of his three World Cup overall champion globes.
Most important, Dave Moffett said, the 1,200-square-foot museum will tell the story of Washingtons skiing history.
And that includes paying homage to those first rope tows installed 75 years ago.
Moffett said one of the old Summit rope tows will be installed inside the museum and run on an electric motor.
Before he was channeling the dark side of the Force to skim ponds, Smith learned to ski on a Summit rope tow in 1978.
Hes not so sure how excited hell be to get reacquainted with the contraption once the museum opens.
And hes not alone.
I dont know, snowboarder Beau Amick of Redmond said with a smile. I lost a lot of gloves on those things.
Craig Hill: 253-597-8497
BRUSH UP ON SKI HISTORY
Seventy-five years ago, Washingtons ski scene took a big step toward what it is today with the installation of rope tows at several locations in Western Washington. Some of those ski areas no longer exist, while others have evolved into popular modern resorts. One, Meany Lodge, still operates much as it did in 1938.
Read and view pictures and video about what the 1938 ski scene must have looked like at bit.ly/X5Dowb.
SPRING SKI SCHEDULE
A look at when the Cascade ski areas plan to wind down their seasons.
SKI AREA CLOSING SNOW DEPTH
Mission Ridge April 7 62 inches
Mount Baker April 21 221 inches
White Pass May 5 140 inches
Stevens Pass May 5 139 inches
Crystal Mountain TBA* 129 inches
Summit at Snoqualmie TBA** 184 inches
* Crystal Mountain ends daily operations April 21, before switching to weekend and spring and summer schedules. The resort offers skiing as long as conditions permit. The final day was in July the last two seasons.
** Alpental typically stays open until May 5, but sometimes offers weekend skiing later in the season when conditions permit.