Santiam Stopover

A Historic Oregon Ski Lodge Gets a Major Revamp

Built by the Depression–era Civilian Conservation Corps, the 78-year-old hostel will welcome travelers once again.

By Ramona DeNies June 19, 2018 Published in the July 2018 issue of Portland Monthly

In 1976, a teenage Dwight Sheets hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. He started to struggle north of the Newberry lava beds; by the time he reached Mount Washington, he had a full-on fever. 

Luckily, Alice and Ed Patterson had a bunk for him at the 60-bed Santiam Pass Ski Lodge. The dorms, above a timbered great hall built by the Depression–era Civilian Conservation Corps, were noisy but warm, though he opted to stay downstairs where it was cooler. There were square meals and a locally quarried fireplace—where Sheets’s future wife, Susan, a frequent skier at Hoodoo, might sometimes enjoy après-ski cocoa.

Some 40 years later, the once-bustling lodge just off US 20 is near collapse: shuttered, empty, and repeatedly vandalized since the Pattersons closed shop in 1986. Not that locals don’t still love it. In 2003, firefighters papered the lodge in Kevlar, barely beating back the massive B&B Complex Fire. The blaze came within 100 feet, as scorch marks still show.

In January, the US Forest Service granted the Sheetses—now semiretired divinity and music professors from Salem—a special-use permit to rehab and run the historic structure. The couple is ecstatic—and understandably overwhelmed.

“We’ve restored a lot of old houses,” says Susan, “but we’ve never restored a 78-year-old lodge.” They’ve launched a supporting nonprofit, the Friends of Santiam Pass Ski Lodge, and now face a doozy of a task: raising an estimated $2–3 million to remake the place. It’ll need to be sanitized to admit structural engineers before even proceeding to plans, permits, and securing contractors for a challenging mountain-country build-out.

The Sheetses concede their dream is ambitious. But they’re adaptable, recently recalibrating their vision from an overnight hotel, like the Pattersons’ camp, to a public waystation. That designation, they say, opens the door to federal grants. It’d be day-use only, and ADA-accessible, with a gift shop, café, community center, abundant trail access, and kiosks devoted to the area’s rich history. Also, you know, facilities.

“Right now, if you travel from Detroit to Sisters, there’s nowhere to go to the bathroom,” Susan says.

That sweet relief is years away; for now, the Sheetses are preparing for a move to Sisters—closer, still, to their dream.

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