Dining among the clouds at the base of Oregon's Mt. Hood, Timberline Lodge's Silcox Hut.
Tue, Jan 24, 2012
In the Clouds: Timberline Lodge
The historic resort offers memories for the travel-weary soul and the best meal you'll eat in 2012.
I’m not often ferried by a snowmobile to meals, unless the grub is trail mix that tastes like icy tundra and stale Halloween candy. But on Mt. Hood, the differences are striking. First, my chariot, the snowmobile, is heated and seats 15 hungry passengers. And our destination is decidedly different from a lonely stretch of cross-country ski tracks. We’re heading to Silcox Hut, a fully restored, handcrafted stone-and-timber cabin a mile or so from Mt. Hood’s summit.
I experience the monthly winemaker’s dinner at Timberline Lodge (timberlinelodge.com; from Jan.–May, book a Queen room and get a second night for $75), hosted by a vineyard owner from Willamette Valley. The dinners run 10 months a year. Six courses are prepared by the soft-spoken Jason Stoller Smith—who was recently invited to cook at the White House—and paired with some of Oregon’s best wines.
On the night I visit, Maria Ponzi talks about her family’s 120-acre vineyard, launched by her bohemian parents in the 1970s. Because the room is small (communal dining adjacent to a toasty hearth) and the wine flows, it’s an intimate evening of dining, as if Ponzi were a neighbor who has wandered over the fence to chat up her prize tomatoes.
The cabin’s windows usher in the night skies, which cradle an orange moon for a couple of hours. By the time we leave, mountain headwinds deliver long silver pillows of clouds above us.
Back at the lodge, which sits at 6,000 feet, we sit around a massive stone fireplace in the great room. Guests stretch out on the comfy chairs fashioned as part of a federal arts project. A fire hisses as a lodge staff member teases it with cast-iron rods. Bruno and Heidi, two affable St. Bernards who live at the lodge, wander through, sniffing and offering their soft blockheads for petting.
This is alpine tranquility writ colossal. The unfussiness of the place was the intent during the height of the Great Depression, when locals recruited by the Works Progress Administration in 1937 crafted the national historic lodge in 15 months. It’s easy to breeze through this setting, scan the timber abundance and move to the Ram’s Head bar to throw down Ice Axe brew all night.
But those who allow their eyes to linger are in for architectural treats, including a 98-foot great-room chimney with six working fireplaces built by Italian immigrants, Oregon white oak floors, original fireplace anvils recast from railroad ties, Cascadian arches and 25-foot Douglas fir columns supporting timber trusses.
Rooms are austere, with fireplaces, tongue-and-groove panels and wool throws on sturdy pine beds. The oak floors moan when I tiptoe across them at sunrise to spy the Three Sisters range, breaching through light fog some 100 miles away.
Too many of America’s buildings seem ephemeral; they are interim projects and architectural placeholders for the next big thing. If you return to them in 10 years, you might find a futon store or a burger joint.
Not so with Timberline. It’s a testament to salvaging our old places: All money made here—on skiing (the U.S. ski team practices at the resort in the summer), food, events, festivals and more—goes back into the lodge. It’s preservation through good use.
When leaving this mountaintop, a brilliant feeling takes hold. Perhaps it’s the air up here, and I can vouch for the food and wine. But it’s something else, too: a comforting awareness that some things, iconic and bridging past and present, are permanent.