It's a bustling mountain inn, feeding and sheltering several hundred people a day.
But it's also a vibrant museum, a National Historic Landmark crammed with remarkable paintings, carvings, and sculptures, all crafted specifically for the lodge.
It's a powder-packed playground, drawing more than 250,000 skiers and snowboarders annually (including the U.S Ski Team in summer), not to mention snowshoers.
But it's also a legendarily quiet and romantic refuge at night, complete with fireplaces in some of its 71 rooms, an outdoor hot tub that burbles cheerfully through the wildest storms, and a chef noted for his wizardry with local game, fish, and wines.
It's renowned worldwide, drawing more than a million visitors a year from around the orb, but it's so close to the city of Portland (about an hour's drive) that denizens of the Rose City consider it a cool local hotel that just happens to perch 6,000 feet up on the shoulder of Oregon's Mount Hood.
It's a public building, owned by the U.S. Forest Service, built by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration, and dedicated by FDR and Eleanor in person. But it's run by a family corporation so devoted to the lodge that the clan has lived in and around it for nearly 50 years.
This curious amalgam of identities is Timberline Lodge, one of the most unusual and beautiful of America's great lodges. Both the structure and its furnishings were crafted by hand in 1937 using wood, stone, flax, iron, and wool from Mount Hood and its environs. It had all fallen to rags and tatters by 1955, when a ferociously energetic social worker from New York named Richard Kohnstamm took the helm. Kohnstamm plunged headlong into debt, restored the building, signed a lease with the Forest Service, and eventually inspired the nonprofit Friends of Timberline, which now refurbishes and maintains the lodge's extraordinary art and furnishings—glass tile mosaics, wrought iron chandeliers, and handmade bedspreads and window drapes. He was aided by the occasional "miracle," he says, like the year no snow fell but a movie studio rented the whole lodge while filming All the Young Men with Sidney Poitier and Alan Ladd. He also helped introduce summer skiing to the United States (Mount Hood, at 1,235 feet, normally has snow all summer long).
Kohnstamm saved Timberline, however, not so much by incredible energy or financial acumen as by seeing and selling a unique experience. Timberline is a sensory adventure, first and foremost: the winding drive up through endless corridors of Douglas fir trees, the initial stunning glimpse of snowfields far above, the massive wooden dignity of the lodge itself, the tromp and tramp of ski boots, the rusty croak of ravens, the astounding vistas (on a clear day you can see for 100 miles). Once inside the lodge, you're swimming in the smells of fir, salmon, and excellent beer and the odd music of a dozen languages, absorbing all sorts of lovely visions: feather beds the size of boats, a fireplace roaring while a snowstorm howls outside, and the rugged holy muscle of Oregon's great mountain looming in your window. All told, an experience inimitable and delicious in every sense.
Photography courtesy Timberline Lodge
This article was first published in September 2005. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
For more information, call (503) 622-7979 or visit www.timberlinelodge.com. Reservations: (503) 231-5400 or (800) 547-1406. Restaurant (Cascade Dining Room): (503) 622-0700. Snow conditions: (503) 222-2211 or (877) 754-6734.