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The Patrol Race

Photo by Lowell Skoog. This crew retraced the Patrol Race's route in the 1980s. Local skier Tom Janisch is standing on the far right.

The Mountaineer's Patrol Race was once an 18-mile rolling mountain ski route that was raced before the 10K races, marathons, and ultra marathons that now populate weekends in the Pacific Northwest. The Patrol Race took place from 1930 – 1941 and was an annual endurance event that was revolutionary for its time. For those who participated in the race, it was a strenuous journey filled with shenanigans like sneaking weight into the packs of fellow competitors. No team, however, has raced the route in over 70 years. 

This February (snow providing) the race is scheduled to be back and promises to be as adventurous as ever. Several Wenatchee Valley locals have skied the route the race follows and one of them, Tom Janisch, has assembled a team to participate. Seattle skier and mountaineer, Lowell Skoog, has completed the route several times and has researched the event's history thoroughly. Below is the beginning of an article Skoog wrote describing the Patrol Race and a link to the entire story.

"In the Beginning was the Railroad.

The first railroad breached the Cascades in 1888 through a tunnel under Stampede Pass. Twenty-seven years later another tunnel was bored under Snoqualmie Pass. A young outdoor club, The Mountaineers of Seattle, realized that the Snoqualmie railroad offered them an opportunity to make their own home in the mountains. So they built a lodge a mile and a half from the tunnel (near Lodge Lake) and began to visit their new home in every season. (This was long before the Snoqualmie Pass highway was open in winter or any ski areas existed at the pass.)

In winter they came on snowshoes. But before long a few started to bring skis. The Mountaineers declared skis to be Good and began using them to explore both north and south from their Lodge. In 1928, a band of Mountaineers spent a weekend in railroad shacks near the Stampede Tunnel to see how this country compared to their home skiing grounds at Snoqualmie. They liked what they found and before the year had ended they built another home, the Meany Ski Hut, near the Stampede Tunnel.

Adventurous Mountaineers soon scouted an 18-mile ski route between their two mountain homes. In 1930, they inaugurated a race over this route, the Patrol Race. This race was the first of its kind in North America. Three-man teams would start at intervals from the Snoqualmie Lodge over a trail broken by a party that left before dawn. Each man was required to carry a ten-pound pack of emergency provisions and the three team members had to finish within a minute of each other at the Meany Ski Hut. The race ran for twelve years and produced tales of both misadventure and great ski prowess. (Click here for a map of the course from the 1930s, 500kb.)

During World War II, the race was discontinued and in 1944 the old Snoqualmie Lodge burned to the ground. Travel by railroad was supplanted by the automobile, large sections of the Cascade crest between Snoqualmie and Stampede Passes were clear-cut, and skiers turned to groomed trails, chairlifts and slalom. The Patrol Race passed out of memory for all but a few old-time skiers."

Read the rest of the story at the Alpenglow website (this is a website regional  skiers and mountaineers should know about.)


The Mountaineers Patrol Race

First Race: 1930.

Last Race (until now): 1941.

Upcoming Race: Saturday, February 8th 2014.

Race Length: 18 miles.

Race Teams: 3 people maximum.

Equipment: 10 pound minimum backpack with first aid equipment and emergency rations.

Race Route: S
tarting at Snoqualmie Lodge (3,200 ft – which actually burnt down in 1944 and was rebuilt in 1949 just east of the pass), moving up to Tinkham Peak (4,500 ft), heading down into Yakima Pass, then back up to Dandy Pass (3,700 ft) before ending at Meany Hut (2,900 ft). Just a few rolling mountains that make for some magnificent skiing. However, anyone can note that this route is not for beginners to the sport, nor is it for the faint of heart.

Record Time: Wolf Bauer continues to hold the record for fastest time on the course, at 4 hours, 37 minutes, and 23 seconds, beating the previous record by almost a full hour.

Registration: If you want to take on this all-day endurance ski race and want to create another Central Washington team, visit the Patrol Race Facebook or the Meany Ski Hut page for updated information and ways to get your team registered.