Carving a 50-year legacy
When construction mogul Franklin Drake first took on the Mt. Hood Meadows project in 1966, one thing was clear: the more than 2,000-acre swath of land was made for winter sports.
"The terrain (is what makes Meadows unique)," Dave Tragethon, vice president of marketing, communications and sales for the ski area tell The Post. "It's the nuances, the undulations. The mountain itself is so playful and has character. I think that's one of the things that keeps bringing people back — the character."
Drake first learned of the open land from a U.S. Forest Service prospectus printed in a local newspaper. After visiting the site, Drake threw his hat in the ring to develop the new ski resort, with encouragement from Hood River and Clackamas Counties groups, and was awarded a 30-year special use permit to create Mt. Hood Meadows.
Now 50 years after Meadows opened, in mid-winter 1968, the company is preparing to celebrate the best way they know how, with fun in the snow and some rocking entertainment. From 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday Jan. 27, the Meadows staff invites all to come party with them. The event will include a vendor village, plenty of possibilities for snow play, live music, a retro skiwear fashion show, fireworks and opportunities to win a golden ticket and a chance to go home with a 50-year pass to the ski resort.
People's mountain home
The popular ski area officially opened on Jan. 27, 1968. American gold medalist Gretchen Fraser made the inaugural run of the slopes ending in a 1,061-foot vertical drop through the finish gate on Jan. 26 for an audience of 200 community members and dignitaries, who attended the VIP event despite poor traffic conditions, according to Meadows' history web page.
In its initial years in business, Meadows saw a few thousand snow enthusiasts every year, which gradually built through the decades up to the more than 400,000 annual visitors common today.
Though no one could have anticipated how popular the resort would become, Tragethon says the "idea that it would grow over time and become popular was an expectation."
The variety of the terrain helped distinguish Meadows from its competition to the west, including Timberline Lodge and Mt. Hood SkiBowl. Because of the debris deposited by massive snowmelt and volcanic activity, the area where Mt. Hood Meadows operates features many naturally sculpted hills and valleys, perfect for carving along with skis or a snowboard.
"Meadows is on the side of the volcano where eruptions deposited debris, so it's not uniform," Tragethon says. "It is a lot of diverse terrain. ... Franklin and the others in the early days said the lifts and runs were so easy to place and took very little (timber) cutting. It was pretty obvious that this was the place on Mount Hood where people would come to ski and snowboard."
An avid skier, Tragethon has worked at Meadows for 24 of its 50 seasons.
"The main thing that intrigued me about Meadows is it was a mostly weekday (operation) ... but had so much potential to be so much more," he observes.
That potential has been easily exceeded in the time he's been on staff.
"We've done a lot of events in the time I've been there. So many incredible athletes (and artists have visited)," he notes. "I remember I was dancing with my son who was 4 or 5 at the time. It's those memories, like skiing with my family, that pop out."
Portland-based rock 'n roll nostalgia band Johnny Limbo and the Lugnuts was playing at the resort that night, and that is just one of many moments that have made Meadows a memorable, enjoyable place for Tragethon and so many others.
He sees many enthusiastic children enjoying the powder every day, and recalls one in particular yelling, "This is the best day of my life!" creating a moment Tragethon will never forget — and a goal for the upcoming anniversary event.
"If we can create a moment like that, making people feel like this is a day worth living and a moment worth remembering, that's what I'm looking forward to," he adds.
Though the snow fall thus far hasn't quite lived up to the record set in 1968, which is said to have nearly covered the Blue Chair, Tragethon is optimistic the powder available on Jan. 27 will not disappoint.
"It's been an amazing season so far, considering," he says. "The turnout's been great. People are wanting to get out there and we've been able to provide an experience for people. The weather is taking a significant turn for the better. I think we're going to have an ample amount of snow for our celebration."
There are about 30 different ways people can enter for a chance to win a golden ticket and the opportunity to win a 50-year pass to the resort. For more information about how to enter that contest and upcoming events, visit www.skihood.com.
"When we're through on Jan. 27, it's still going to be our 50th anniversary year," Tragethon emphasizes. "We're still going to be celebrating why people have made Mt. Hood Meadows their mountain home."