You can ski 12 months a year at Timberline Lodge on Oregon’s Mount Hood. In other words, you can drive your Buick Regal TourX there even in the middle of summer, and be more or less assured of snow.
When Buick and General Motors invited us to join a small group of other travel and automotive writers and photographers in a two-night visit to the iconic lodge, we were quick to say “yes.” After all, how often can you say you slept with a movie star?
That’s exactly what Timberline Lodge is: a movie star. Even if you’ve never visited the iconic Cascade Mountain ski lodge, you probably know its featured role in the 1980 Jack Nicholson horror film, “The Shining.”
Although director Stanley Kubrick didn’t film any indoor scenes here, the imposing structure provided the exterior set for the movie. Evil Room 237 of the Outlook Hotel was located in the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, but Timberline was the set for arrival and snowcat scenes. A model of the hotel was created at a studio in England as a backdrop for the infamous maze.
Fortunately, we had only a winding mountain road, no maze, to negotiate before arriving at the lodge, which is situated at the 6,000-foot level (the timberline) of 11,245-foot Mount Hood.
Driving the Columbia Gorge
At noon on a Monday, we arrived at Portland International Airport to meet a GM representative and begin driving a 2018 Buick Regal TourX. With four hours to drive the 60 miles to Timberline, we ventured out the Historic Columbia River Highway,between Troutdale and Multnomah Falls.
The skies were blue and cloudless, the Columbia River remarkably calm. It was a perfect late winter day. We took in the view of the Gorge from Chanticleer Point, in the Portland Women’s Forum State Park, and swung by iconic Vista House before descending the winding road past the route’s famous waterfalls. Latourell Falls was especially stunning on this day.
Returning to Gresham, we turned up U.S. Highway 26 and followed it through Sandy, Zigzag and Government Camp. We reached Timberline Lodge around 4:30 and climbed two flights of stairs to our cozy, but comfortable, second-floor room.
Before dinner, we met the rest of our group — writers from Seattle, Denver, Southern California and as far away as New York. Dinner and a movie were presented in a conference room at the end of a labyrinthine corridor well removed from public areas. The movie, of course, was “The Shining.”
The only ski-in, ski-out lodge in the Pacific Northwest was built by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1936 and 1937 at a cost of $1.2 million. The second chairlift in North America (after Sun Valley, Idaho) was installed here in 1939. Today, Timberline boasts the longest ski season on the continent, closing only during October for maintenance.
ut of the 1.9 million visitors the lodge now sees each year, fewer than 20 percent (between 350,000 and 380,000) are skiers. “We’re more important than that,” said Jon Tullis, Timberline’s director of public affairs. “This is an icon that resonates with people on the physical and metaphysical landscape of Oregon.”
A National Historic Landmark since 1977, Timberline is a work of art. Funded as a federal arts project and built almost entirely by hand, it offers something unique to see in every direction. Hand-carved animal heads — beavers, bobcats, eagles and more — sit upon the posts of every newel on the rustic staircases. Illuminated paintings of WPA workers surround the walls of the mezzanine-level Ram’s Head Bar. Unique stone arches, light fixtures, wrought-iron accents and massive fireplaces of rough-cut stone are everywhere you look.
A skiing adventure
We started Tuesday with a full buffet breakfast in the lodge’s 140-seat Cascade Dining Room, then drove 10 miles downhill to the Trillium Lake snow park, where a guide from Mount Hood Adventure greeted us for a morning of cross-country skiing.
We had only two hours reserved for this activity, not enough for a party of a dozen skiers — some of whom had never before stepped into skis of any kind — to complete a five-mile circuit of the partially frozen lake. The approach to the main loop was daunting even for intermediates like ourselves: a half-mile of continual downhill on the way in, an equal amount of uninterrupted uphill at the end.
Wearing sufficient sunblock, it was a glorious day for a nordic trek. Patrick, a California photographer who could as easily have been a model, wore a tuxedo for his first foray into the snow, hamming it up for colleagues. (His struggling companion, who lives in Palm Springs, said the experience proved to him why he’d never skied before and never will again.) Others were much more adaptable. Maria, a Guadalajara woman now resident on the East Coast, climbed the final hill on skis as if she were in Central Park.
Those of us not in prime aerobic condition found our garb wet with perspiration by the time we had returned to the snow park. But the heating and ventilation system of the TourX assured that we warmed up and dried out during the next leg of the day’s action, a 90-minute drive to Multnomah Falls Lodge for lunch.
From the fire to the icefield
In case you missed it, a section of the Columbia River Gorge was devastated in September by a fire that began when a school-age youth sparked a blaze while playing with fireworks.
Waterfalls, of course, don’t stop flowing during fire, but surrounding vegetation and the trails through that foliage can suffer. Such was the case with the Northwest’s highest waterfall. For the moment, chain-link fences at Multnomah Falls restrict visitor access to trails that normally climb to a picturesque bridge and beyond.
The historic 1925 Multnomah Falls Lodge itself, however, is once again open. It certainly felt the heat of September’s flames and stifling smoke, but thanks to the heroic efforts of firefighters, its restaurant, gift shop and other facilities continue to welcome guests.
We were back at Timberline by mid-afternoon, completing a picturesque circuit of Mount Hood by taking Interstate 84 to Hood River (known for its wind surfing and fruit orchards) and turning south up Oregon State Highway 35. That left us time to thaw in the lodge’s outdoor hot tub before dressing warmly for dinner. We were going out, far out …
… and 1,000 feet higher in elevation, to the Silcox Hut, half-buried in a 12-foot snowpack near the Magic Mile chairlift terminal. Built of local stone and timbers in 1939, it was for decades a way station to give climbers a head-start on Mount Hood ascents. Today it is operated mainly as a bunkhouse for groups of up to two dozen guests.
Scatman Crothers, the actor who drove the snowcat in “The Shining,” had nothing on our driver. No sooner had our group packed into the enclosed cab of the tracked vehicle than he accelerated up the slope to Silcox. About 10 minutes later, we were sipping sparkling wine and dining on Shigoku oysters, prunes stuffed with fois gras, sea scallops and beef tenderloin with beet spaetzle.
“A true crossover vehicle”
We slept in on Wednesday morning and enjoyed a casual breakfast before taking several back roads while returning to Portland. Winding roads and altitude were no obstacle for the versatile TourX, which handled beautifully in all conditions.
Buick markets its streamlined TourX as “a true crossover vehicle.” “Too many people think of Buick as a car that your parents drove,” said product communications manager Michael Ofiara. “But the image is changing. We really believe this vehicle is ideal for a youthful, adventure-driven segment of the market.”
Not designed for off-road driving, and not quite an SUV, the TourX is more of a weekend-getaway car for busy urbanites. Its low clearance may not be great for rocky roads and potholes, but the reduced load height makes it a snap to mount skis, a surfboard or a kayak on a roof rack. And there’s a full 73½ cubic feet of cargo space in the rear.
We were perhaps most impressed by the performance quality of the TourX, which features keyless ignition, all-wheel drive and eight-speed automatic transmission. Twin-clutch rear differential enables more control to each rear tire for better traction. Specs include a 2.0L turbocharged, four-cylinder engine, a 250-horsepower engine and a 21/29/24 fuel economy rating. Base price is $29,995; fully loaded, it retails at $35,995.