Back in the winter or 1937-38, Stevens Pass was started by two young men from Seattle, Don Adams and Bruce Kehr, both passionate skiers. With a permit from the U.S. Forest Service in hand, they cleared some big trees on Big Chief Mountain and built the area's first rope tow. An old Ford V-8 engine, assorted wheels and shafts and some sturdy rope they purchased for $600 were used to construct this fancy contraption that pulled skiers up the hill.
Their start was slow since the area, at that time, was not fully accessible in the wintertime. The road was closed at Scenic on the West side. Perseverant skiers either hiked six miles to the area or bought an eighteen cent, one-way rail ticket for passage through Cascade Tunnel on the Great Northern Passenger Train. From there, they were transported to the area on an old school bus. That first season, each ride on the tow was five cents and the partners gross ticket sales were just $88.
The original lodge, built in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a depression era work force, was destroyed by fire in 1939. In 1940 skiers, desperately wanting a new lodge, pitched in to help Kehr and Adams build a new lodge that became known as the T-Bar Lodge.
A new beginner tow was added for the 1941-42 season. Plans for a second new tow were mothballed when Kehr and Adams were called to help the war effort. During their absence, a mutual friend, who had hurt his leg skiing, took over area operations. Upon their return in 1945, two new beginner tows were added on Big Chief Mountain; an intermediate tow was installed on Cowboy Mountain.
With new found prosperity after the war, the area was expanding quickly and the sport becoming more popular. So, in 1947 the partners, along with new partner John Caley, embarked on their biggest and most costly project to date - the mile long T-Bar lift that was installed on Cowboy Mountain at a cost of $100,000
The heyday of the rope tows ended in the late 1950's. The chair had proven far superior. In 1952, the T-Bar was replaced by the first rubber tired, double chair in the Northwest. The Blue Jay chair was built in 1956 followed by Seventh Heaven chairlift in 1960. Extending nearly to the top of Cowboy Mountain, Seventh Heaven changed the character of the area by opening up some of the most advanced skiing terrain on the mountain. That year saw a change in ownership as well. Don Adams, an original partner, sold his interest to Kehr and Caley.
In 1964, Big Chief, the fourth chair, was added, replacing rope tows No. 1 - 4. When several skiers complained about the $4 chair lift price, the No. 1 rope was re-installed. However, it operated for only two more seasons. Technology had truly made its mark; skiers were willing to pay more for the convenience of the chairlift.
Thus, more chairs were added. Brooks chair in 1968 and Daisy, a triple chair, were added in 1973 to serve the growing number of beginners. In 1976, Stevens purchased its seventh lift from the nearby, defunct Yodelin Ski area. The chair, now known as Tye-Mill, was upgraded and brought to Stevens by helicopter. That year, a three million dollar sewer system went on line, ending the "no growth" moratorium and paving the way for a badly needed new day lodge. And, after nearly 40 years at the helm, Kehr and Caley sold the popular ski area to Seattle based Harbor Properties.
Following the tradition of expansion and growth, Harbor Properties constructed a second day lodge in 1978. The following year, the hardworking Hogsback triple chair was added to ease lift line congestion. To access the pristine, more advanced terrain of the Mill Valley area, the Double Diamond and Southern Cross chairlifts were added in 1987. A third day lodge was constructed in 1988 to enhance ski area amenities and provide needed office space. In 1989, twenty small huts housing the many area ski schools were replaced with the construction of a new Ski School Center.
Night skiing became a more important part of the operation in 1990 when lights were added to the Hogsback triple chairlift. The 1992-93 season saw the opening of the Nordic Center, located just 5 miles east of the main area, featuring 25 km of groomed trails with tracked trails, a skating lane and The Cascade Depot offering rentals, accessories, lessons and light snacks. In 1993, the Jupiter chair was built in Mill Valley to expand that area's skiable terrain and lessen lift lines. The Tye-Mill lift was lighted in 1994, adding four more major runs to the night skiing lineup.
The SkyLine Express, the first high-speed quad chair at Stevens was added in 1996. It was the first lighted high-speed quad in Washington, and boosted both day and night operations at Stevens. In 1998 the Hogsback Express was installed, the area's second high-speed lift, quickly becoming Stevens' most popular chairlift with outstanding day and night terrain for skiing and snowboarding.
In 1999 Stevens embarked on its busiest summer ever with projects on the mountain and in the base area. An 8.2 million dollar re-development of the base area has included the new Granite Peaks Lodge, a surrounding plaza and inviting entryways, and extensive remodeling of the Tye Creek and Pacific Crest Lodges. In addition the Tye-Mill lift was re-built, giving guests a modern, triple chair.
The original owners and visionaries of Stevens Pass are long gone, but their legacy continues. Today, just as pioneering Kehr, Adams and Caley sought to enhance the enjoyment of the sport, Stevens Pass continues that commitment.