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Timberline shines through time

Historic lodge ages gracefully as it approaches its 75th anniversary
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Timberline Lodge and Ski Area has embraced snowboarding over the years; Molly Kohnstamm, wife of longtime owner Richard Kohnstamm, loved snowboarding and was an early trendsetter for the sport locally.

It's almost spring, but snowfall this week has spread the love for the scores of skiers and snowboarders still hoping to get in runs on Mount Hood.

'It's been snowing like crazy,' reports Jon Tullis, director of public affairs at Timberline Lodge. 'It's back with a vengeance. The people's enthusiasm for skiing hasn't waned and gone to golf and gardening.'

Meanwhile, a significant milestone is approaching at Timberline - the lodge's 75th anniversary, an event that has already spawned celebration. Tullis has edited a republished version of the coffee-table book, 'Timberline Lodge: A Love Story, Diamond Jubilee Edition' ($34.95, R.L.K. and Co. Inc.), outfitted with more spectacular photos and essays about the history of the lodge built by the Works Progress Administration. Construction began in June 1936. President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the lodge on Sept. 28, 1937, and it opened in early 1938.

With skiing and snowboarding season in full swing, Tullis, who has been at Timberline for 26 years, took some time recently to discuss the lodge and its history, the resort and the ski business in general:

Tribune: How are you folks celebrating Timberline's 75th anniversary?

Tullis: We're planning that now, and we're going to do some neat things. We're essentially celebrating the 75th anniversary for 15 or 16 months. We've launched a few things, focusing on the book now.

Tribune: You served as editor of the book - what makes Timberline special to you?

Tullis: I wrote this in an essay in the book, and I think Timberline really resonated with me. I came from the East Coast, with a background in the antiques business, and I'm an outdoorsman and a skier and everything came together for me at Timberline. I was struck by the old-world quality and the arts and crafts and everything going on there (at the lodge). I was here out of college, footloose and fancy free, and I loved the Northwest, but was uncertain whether I would stay. I found Timberline and it inspired me to stay. I got a job here, met my wife here. It has provided me with a great career and a lifestyle, a real sense of belonging. It's a pretty powerful place. What I really like about it is the sense of ownership and pride that all Oregonians have in Timberline. It's an iconic place.

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TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT • Skiers enjoy a recent recreational day at Timberline, which, along with SkiBowl and Mount Hood Meadows, has seen a ton of snow fall this week. The ski industry has survived the economic downturn, Timberline's Jon Tullis says.

Tribune: What are some of your favorite places on the mountain?

Tullis: Taking a hike on the Lower Salmon River trail and, come summer, I love hiking on the Timberline trail heading west into the high meadows such as Paradise Park. Fantastic, stunning views of the mountain. I love the variety of the different ecological zones of the mountain, love the transitional zone over by Hood River.

Tribune: What improvements have there been at Timberline in your time?

Tullis: We've done an awful lot of updating out on the hill, with the new generation of high-speed chair lifts (seven in all), built eight new ski trails. Still Creek Basin has really made the ski area. Timberline Lodge itself, we pride ourselves on remaining the same, and people appreciate that. We call it, 'Preservation through use.' Parents can take their kids to a place where it looks like when they were kids. That's a rare opportunity anymore.

Tribune: But there have been upgrades to the lodge?

Tullis: The lodge is entirely barrier-free with ADA accessibility - a new entry, a series of lifts, elevators and ramps. Of course we have re-roofed it. We did seismic upgrades to chimneys with stimulus money; tore down and rebuilt them. We've done a lot of important guest room upgrades, like window replacements, treatment to guest room bathrooms, sound proofing and insulation. There was the rebuilding of the swimming pool, which was built in 1958. The Friends of Timberline did a really cool landscaping project in the 1980s. We restored the historical outdoor amphitheater.

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TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT • Roni Heyman, 9, and her sister Gili, 5, watch DVDs at Timberline Lodge during a lunch break from skiing on Mount Hood with their family. Timberline Lodge turns 75, and is a national historic landmark that continues under the ownership of the Kohnstamm family.

Tribune: People always marvel at the fact that Timberline Lodge was constructed as a means to get people back to work in the post-Depression years.

Tullis: It put roughly 500 people to work, intentionally a master apprentice situation. Blacksmithing, carpentry and stonemasonry were being lost, the country was idle and men out of work. It provided them 50 cents an hour, and they camped at Summit Meadows. It was built in 15 months, for $1.2 million, using a lot of recycled materials. It did become a regional architecture of the people, indicative of the Cascade Mountains. The lodge was designed to look like it grew out of the mountain. … It's been through horrendous snowfalls and crazy storms. It's stood the test of time.

Tribune: People also may not realize that Timberline Lodge was almost torn down in the 1950s.

Tullis: I think of (the late) Mr. Richard Kohnstamm, who took over in 1955 and literally saved Timberline. The U.S. Forest Service wasn't about recreation and hospitality back then, they were about cutting trees. You had this big, beautiful ski lodge, and they didn't know what to do with it. It was on the (elimination) list, as the story goes. … Mr. Kohnstamm convinced them to give it one more try. He took the long view, knew it was important to the people. What he was about and what we're still about is historical preservation. Rather than turn it into a museum, we operate Timberline for what it was intended to be: a ski lodge. 'Preservation through use.' The Kohnstamm family has been dedicated to this place since 1955, with the longest held special-use permit in the history of the U.S. Forest Service. And, it's now a national historic landmark (on the National Register of Historic Places).

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TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT • Timberline has upgraded several features in its lodge, as well as built new ski trails, including Still Creek Basin, and modernized its seven chair lifts. The Palmer lift operates for snowboarders and skiers during summer days.

Tribune: Now headed by Jeff Kohnstamm, business has been good, not affected by the economic downturn?

Tullis: The last real challenge was 2004, a serious drought, a tough year for the ski industry. It's been good ever since. In a way, (the poor economy) has helped. There's something to this stay-cation idea - the economy has prompted Oregonians to stay closer to home. About 12 to 18 percent of Oregonians consider themselves skiers, and they haven't hung up their skis. … Timberline is also one of the biggest tourist attractions in the state. There's roughly 2 million annual visits a year, with only about 300,000 of them being skiers. I'm not sure any other ski area in the world can claim that (tourist number).

Tribune: There are six new essays in the book?

Tullis: I thought they completed the story. Forest supervisor Gary Larsen, since retired, wrote a wonderful essay about the forest service's 'collaborative stewardship' with R.L.K. and Company. Archaeologist Jeff Jaqua wrote one. I asked historian Sarah Munro to write about her favorite part of Timberline, and she chose the original C.S. Price paintings. I wrote an essay from a local employee's perspective. John Ingersoll, owner of a snowboard camp, talked about the evolution of snowboarding. Jeff Kohnstamm wrote about growing up at Timberline.

Tribune: Snowboarding accounts for half of the hill's users, and Richard Kohnstamm's wife was one of the first snowboarders?

Tullis: They didn't hit the slopes until 1982 or '83 and the talk then was, 'Should we even let them be here?' Mr. Richard Kohnstamm embraced it, and his wife Molly was an early trendsetter. She was shredding out there with the kids.

The book, 'Timberline Lodge: A Love Story, Diamond Jubilee Edition,' can be purchased at Timberline, online at timberline lodge.com or at local book stores.