The Washington State Ski and Snowboard Museum is kind of like last winter.
It was supposed to be here quite some time ago.
But the wait is finally over (For the museum. We’re still waiting on snow.)
Decades in the works, the museum’s grand opening celebration is set for 3 p.m. Oct. 10, on Snoqualmie Pass.
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Museum backers hoped to open as early as 2013, but construction on the facility that houses the museum wasn’t complete. Plans to open last ski season were also scratched.
“With the disastrous ski season there was no momentum for opening,” said museum President Dave Moffett. “And a July opening didn’t make sense.”
The 1,200-square-foot museum, free to tour, is in the midst of a “soft opening” and Moffett expects an overflow crowd for the grand opening.
Efforts to build a museum to tell the story of skiing in Washington date to the 1980s, but it really picked up steam in the past four years. Moffett and Hugh and Dollie Armstrong, parents of Olympic gold medal skier Debbie Armstrong, have led the push that included raising about $575,000. They hope to reach $650,000.
There are plenty of interesting artifacts in the museum. A rare single-seat lift chair hangs from the ceiling as does a chandelier made from a double chair and shell casings from artillery once used for avalanche control.
But Moffett is particularly proud of the video displays and short documentaries of the state’s skiing history. One monitor allows visitors to view footage of six Washingtonians participating in the Olympics.
“It’s not a museum in the old-fashioned way, where you come and see a bunch of artifacts,” Moffett said. “Right away people will notice the monitors and touch screens. It’s right at the top when it comes to technology.”
Moving from monitor to artifact to monitor experiencing the story of Washington skiing, Moffett says the South Sound is well-represented.
Tacoma’s influence on skiing in Washington literally spans the museum.
A working rope tow stretches below the rafters. Visitors can push a button to fire up the contraption. There are still a few of these in operation at Washington ski hills, but most are long gone.
The rope tow, the first of which were powered by automobile engines, was instrumental in the launch of the state’s resort scene in the 1930s and a Tacoma man was at the forefront of the movement.
Tacoma lumber baron Chauncey Griggs was inspired by an East Coast visionary to build Washington’s first rope tows.
Three years after installing the nation’s first rope tow in Vermont in 1934, Jim Parker, one of the men who helped run the lift, moved to Washington. He and Griggs teamed up to set up rope tows in the Cascades.
Webb Moffett, Dave Moffett’s father and longtime owner of resorts on Snoqualmie Pass, eventually bought the rope tow operations from Parker and Griggs.
The centerpiece of the museum is a tribute to some of the state’s most talented ski and snowboard racers. Washington has produced 29 Olympic skiers and snowboarders, according to the museum’s research.
Most recently Vic Wild, a snowboarder from White Salmon, raced in the 2014 Olympics. He narrowly missed making the U.S. Olympic team in 2010 and later Team USA cut the program. Wild married his girlfriend on the Russian team, making him eligible to race for Russia. Not only did he make the team, he won two gold medals in Sochi.
Tribute is paid to Washington’s most famous Olympic skiing medalist, too. The gold medal Seattle’s Debbie Armstrong won at the 1984 Olympics is on display. Yakima twins Phil (gold in ’84, silver in ’80) and Steve Mahre (silver in ’94) also are honored.
Mahre’s 1982 World Cup overall championship trophy (his second of three) is, Moffett says, “probably the star artifact.”
Washington’s Olympic gold rush started in 1948, thanks to a University of Puget Sound graduate who grabbed gold in the slalom and silver in the combined in Switzerland. Gretchen Kunigk Fraser’s medals were the first alpine ski racing medals for the United States.
The Stadium High graduate’s husband, Don Fraser, was Washington’s first male Olympic alpine skier in 1940.
A 1909 National Geographic article by University of Washington professor Milnor Roberts tells the story of what may have been the state’s first recreational skiing expedition, at Mount Rainier.
The small party was welcomed at Longmire by 3 feet of snow and set about exploring on their wooden skis. They wore wool pants and ties and each used just one long wooden pole as they made their way to Paradise.
During the next 30 years, Rainier became the epicenter of skiing in Washington. There was a rope tow that cost 10 cents to ride. By the 1950s many visitors wanted to install a chairlift.
The national park resisted, and pressure finally relented in the 1960s with the opening of ski areas such as Crystal Mountain and Alpental.
In a 1999 interview with The News Tribune, ski pioneer Otto Lang said he was happy the park never opened a ski resort. “I’m so glad that they left the mountain untouched and as beautiful as it was,” said Lang, who died in 2006.
Today most of Mount Rainier National Park is designated wilderness and remains much like it was for the Roberts party 106 years ago.
The new museum pays tribute to Rainier’s place in the sports history with tales of the famous Silver Skis Downhill Race above Paradise.
The museum also tells the story of Lang, a Bosnian-born skier who founded America’s first ski school on Rainier in 1936 before going on to become an Academy Award-nominated director and producer.
Lang, who instructed Gerald Ford, Gary Cooper and Groucho Marx in Sun Valley, Idaho, is often credited with introducing stem turns to Northwest skiers. Lang moved on to Sun Valley where he ran the ski school and an encounter with a 20th Century Fox executive led to a Hollywood career.
He was inducted into the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1978.
“Our state has such a great skiing history,” Moffett said. “That’s what’s so great about this museum. We have a place where people can come and learn that history.”
SKI AND SNOWBOARD MUSEUM
WHAT: Washington State Ski and Snowboard Museum
WHERE: 10 Pass Life Way, Snoqualmie Pass.
DIRECTIONS: From Interstate 90, take Exit 52 and follow state Route 906 to Pass Life Way. Turn right into the new development that includes the Commonwealth restaurant, Dru Bru Beer Tap Room and Brewery and the museum.
HOURS: Hours determined by volunteer staffing but museum plans to be open Wednesdays-Sundays. Check website for more information.
COST: Free, donations are accepted.
VOLUNTEERS: The museum is staffed by volunteers and the venue is currently looking for volunteer docents. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
MORE INFO: wsssm.org.