The Mt. Hood Ski Patrol traces its beginning back to 1937 when Hank Lewis (National #78), a member of the Wy'east Climbers, became the first patroller on Mount Hood . In those days, skiers climbed the three miles and 2,000 vertical feet from Government Camp to the Timberline level for winter skiing. In 1937, the Timberline road was kept free of snow for the first time to allow WPA workers access to Timberline Lodge, then under construction. Skiers took advantage of the opportunity to drive up and ski down the trails between Timberline and Government Camp. The increase in skiers meant an increase in injuries.
Hank Lewis and others who were around during that period of time recall that the Wy'east Climbers and Nile River Yacht Club had cabins near Timberline before the lodge was built. Club members tired of seeing injured skiers with no one to take care of them so Wy'east President Everett Darr (National #18) and Barney Macnab (National #17), captain of the Nile River Yacht Club, prevailed on the Forest Service to do something.
In 1937, the Forest Service hired Lewis for $10.00 a weekend to render services and organize a formal patrol. Lewis provided his own equipment, using an old, roll-nosed toboggan from the Wy'east cabin, and learned first aid in a class in Portland . Working with members of the two clubs and other interested individuals, assistance was provided to injured skiers. The Mt. Hood Ski Patrol was formally organized and incorporated March 2, 1938 , with Barney Macnab as president, Hank Lewis as patrol chief and some 50 members. The Forest Service had given Lewis a sheet metal pin in the same shield-like form as the Forest Service emblem. Using it as a model, the patrol decided to make a silver version for each patroller, with the patroller's number inscribed on it. The first fifty numbers were drawn and assigned by lot and Lewis came up with number 22, number 1 going to Barney Macnab. To this day, every member of the Mt. Hood patrol wears a numbered shield, the only organization permitted to use the Forest Service emblem.
The patrol grew, along with the skiing sport, until World War II, when skiing was severely curtailed. A few members pooled their meager gasoline rations to reach the mountain and patrol the slopes during wartime. Patrol records for 1943 show but one broken leg treated by mid‑February. Most of the younger patrollers saw military service during the war and patrol officials were active in assisting with mobilization of the 10th Mountain Infantry Division. Randall Kester is credited with maintaining the operation of the patrol during the war and this is recognized by a plaque that is still on display in the Patrol's building in Government Camp.
Timberline Lodge was closed during the war and only one rope tow ran sporadically in the Government Camp area. Nearly all skiing involved climbing without aid of lifts, as it had been at the time of the patrol's organization. Toboggans had to be pulled the three miles back up the mountain.
Once the war was over, four years of pent‑up skiing enthusiasm brought hordes to the mountains. Nearly all the former patrollers returned but there was a need for more members. Many returning war veterans took up skiing for the first time and a number of them joined the patrol, along with high school and college students.
Patrolling consisted of showing up at Darr's Mountain Shop in Government Camp, where Everett Darr set aside a few beds for patients, and patrollers were dispatched from there to Timberline, Multorpor, Ski Bowl (separate areas at that time), Summit , and the Glade and Alpine Trails. Patrollers would show up on weekend mornings and be sent out to the areas. In the mid 1960's, Everett Darr wanted to expand his Mountain Shop and the patrol began looking at alternative locations to store first aid supplies, akjas and other equipment. The Forest Service said it did not have money to help with this and it was decided to contact various members of the congressional delegation and petition for funds to construct a building in Government Camp. Within a week, Senator Wayne Morse sent a letter indicating that he would provide funds in the Forest Service budget for a building. The patrol now operates out of this building in Government Camp, which is shared with the Mt. Hood Nordic Patrol and Forest Service. It provides the storage space for supplies and equipment, as well as a kitchen, bathroom and limited sleeping facilities for patrollers and their families.
The early toboggans for transporting patients were sleds that were straddled by straining patrollers. These evolved into the dog sled, which was also straddled by two patrollers, but provided a lever operated brake for the rear patroller. Eventually it was determined that the toboggans needed to be modernized. The dog sled was not suitable for steeper slopes and the Sun Valley shay was soon adopted because patrollers could control it better. Patrollers developed a false bottom, enabling the Stokes litter to be lifted out of the shay for carrying a patient into the first aid room.
Several patrollers saw an old European mountain rescue film showing an akja, a boat like sled with handles fore and aft, used in mountain rescue work in Bavaria . In 1958, the patrol borrowed an akja from a climbing group and modified the handles for patrol work. The patrol also devised a plastic pad for use with the akja. The pad has built‑in handles, which allows a patient to be picked up from the akja and carried into the first aid room without additional handling. Mt. Hood patrollers took the akja to a number of other ski areas to demonstrate their use and arranged to have akjas imported and delivered to Squaw Valley , California , for use at the 1960 Olympics.
In 1960, a number of patrollers and several akjas were flown from Portland to Mt. McKinley to assist and provide leadership in a rescue operation. The akjas were dropped to the rescue site and were used to evacuate the injured climbers. One of the akjas is still on Mt. McKinley to this day.
Some of the early first aid supplies were crude board and blanket splints to immobilize fractured legs. In 1949, Harold Johnson, who had joined the patrol before World War II, had an idea for a splint that would be easily applied and do a better job than the old board and blanket splints. The Johnson splint has been adapted, with local improvements, by nearly every western ski patrol. It is simply constructed: two pieces of plywood with holes bored for lacing. A piece of muslin stapled across the bottom joins the two boards and cradles the leg. Larger holes are bored to eliminate ankle pressure, and a piece of foam pads the entire leg.
In the mid 1960s, some of the women patrollers decided that they would focus their patrol time in the first aid room rather than out on the hill. They were raising families and found the physical requirements of the hill to be overly demanding. The First Aid Chief at that time, Dick Pope, had an association with many people in the medical field and began recruiting some of them to work in the first aid room. This continued for approximately 10 years and in the mid 1970s, Dave Nelson was appointed assistant First Aid Chief and was charged with determining what to do with this mixture of patrollers and non-patrollers working in the first aid room. As a result, the Council brought a vote before the membership to change the by-laws and form an Associate Program, providing Associate Patrollers with voting privileges and a vote on the Council by establishing a position for Associate Director. Dave Nelson, as president, had the privilege of awarding the first Associate shield in 1976. Within the National Ski Patrol system, Associate Patrollers are known as Auxiliary Patrollers.
In 1961, the Mt. Hood Ski Patrol was named National Ski Patrol's Outstanding Alpine Ski Patrol. The following year, on February 14th, the patrol dropped out of the National Ski Patrol system. Different explanations for this have been offered but it is generally acknowledged that the main issue was accountability of funds related to the NSP requiring each patroller to pay $2.00 for liability insurance. The patrol president was advised that adoption of compulsory insurance might leave the patrol vulnerable to a suit under Oregon law.
It would be twenty-seven years later in 1989 that, through the efforts of Jack Mitchem and Dave Nelson, Mt. Hood Ski Patrol rejoined the National Ski Patrol. The patrol recognized the importance of being part of a national organization for several reasons. The ski industry and skiers had changed, as had attitudes and legal issues. Mt. Hood needed to be part of a national organization that others could recognize. And because the patrol works at areas that have Forest Service contracts, it had to stay a step ahead in training and expertise.
In the 1980s, snowboarders began to make an appearance at the Mt. Hood ski resorts. Boarding quickly grew in popularity and as the proportion of snowboarders to skiers increased, the patrol recognized the need to add snowboarders to its ranks. Snowboarders were put through the 'ski' test, participated in the training program with other skiing apprentices, and in 1996, the first snowboarder was inducted as a member of the Mt. Hood Ski Patrol.
For many years, the patrol's only source of funds, outside of voluntary donations, was sponsoring a benefit dance at Timberline Lodge each winter. It was eventually replaced with a button program, where a small, metal button is designed and produced each winter that would be distributed for a $1.00 donation. The button program is still in place but has been outpaced in fund raising since 1997 when the patrol began the John Keyes Memorial Golf Tournament.
Over the years, the patrol has been active in accident prevention through speeches, TV programs, and appearances before ski clubs and civic groups. The patrol is a part of the Portland scene and is one of the most well known of the city's public service organizations. Among its current and inactive members are numerous business and professional people, including an ex‑justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, members of the Oregon Legislature, and brigadier general in the Air Force.
Mt. Hood Ski Patrol serves alpine skiers and snow boarders at Mt. Hood Ski Bowl, Summit Ski Area, Mt. Hood Meadows and Timberline. The patrol also includes the Nordic Patrol, which provides an invaluable service to cross country skiers and search and rescue operations on the mountain. Since Timberline's ski season runs nearly the entire year, patrollers have an opportunity to provide a service to the mountain nearly year round. The Mission Statement of the Mt. Hood Ski Patrol is as follows:
The Mt. Hood Ski Patrol is a member-driven organization dedicated to rescue, emergency care and public safety for the Mt. Hood recreational community.
If asked, it's likely that any patroller will echo the sentiment that patrolling is one of the most rewarding activities in their life.