Freeze the Day! A History of Winter Sports in Oregon

Champion skier Hjalmar Hvam performs a gelandesprung, a type of jump used to clear obstacles, January 1937. OHS Research Library, 011221.

December 3, 2021 – July 17, 2022

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Oregon Historical Society
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Portland, Oregon 97205
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Oregon’s unique topography and climate have created an environment of endless possibility for outdoor recreation. Whether engaging in leisure activities on the weekends or competing in professional athletic events, Oregonians have long enjoyed experiences shaped by snow and ice. The Oregon Historical Society’s original exhibition, Freeze the Day! A History of Winter Sports in Oregon, celebrates this history, shares stories from across the state, and illustrates the emotional draw of winter sports — the magic, awe, thrill, and camaraderie Oregonians have enjoyed for generations.  

Countless individuals have shaped the history of winter sports in Oregon, including Native people who developed and adapted technology and cultural practices to survive and thrive with the snow and ice of winter months. Euro-American emigrants who arrived in the nineteenth century began to explore ways to recreate in the mountains, lakes, and rivers. In the beginning of the twentieth century, Oregonians started building alpine resorts, sporting clubs, and recreational facilities across the state.

This work set the stage for championship athletes to thrive. Freeze the Day profiles 13 such athletes, including Olympic snowboarders Ben Ferguson and Chris Klug, luger Jack Elder, figure skater Tonya Harding, and Special Olympics Oregon snowboarder Henry Meece. Innovators also flourished, such as Hjalmar Hvam, who developed the world’s first workable safety ski binding, and Oregon Adaptive Sports, which provides snow opportunities to community members with disabilities. Visitors will also discover many of the ice sports that people enjoy throughout the state as well as beloved teams past and present, from the Portland Rosebuds to the Portland Winterhawks.

Freeze the Day! is a fun and immersive exhibition for visitors of all ages. While snow may not be falling in the gallery, visitors can hold out their hand to “catch a snowflake” within the exhibit, look for friends and family in a community scrapbook, and share their love of Oregon’s wintry weather online using the hashtag #OHSFreezeTheDay. Freeze the Day! shares how winter sports continue to shape Oregon’s cultural fabric and offers something to all visitors, whether they are avid winter sports participants or simply admirers of Oregon’s natural wonders.

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Hjalmar Hvam watches Hermod Bakke during a tournament 0020P030

Inventor and ski legend Hjalmar Hvam watches Hermod Bakke take flight during a tournament at Multorpor in February 1942. Inducted into the National Ski Hall of Fame in 1967, Hvam was the dominant downhill and cross-country ski racer in the Pacific Northwest during the 1930s. He was also the inventor of the world’s first workable safety ski binding.

OHS Research Library, 000030.

A group of women pose Timberline Lodge 0095P274

In this photograph, Vera Hvam, Eileen Smith, Alma Hansen, and Christian Latta pose in front of Timberline Lodge during a day of skiing on March 8, 1942. Funded by the Works Progress Administration, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt dedicated Timberline Lodge on September 28, 1937, and it was declared a national landmark in December 1977. It hosts more than two million visitors each year.

OHS Research Library, 013097.

Annual skating party at Lloyd Center 1981 OrgLot1027_B236F53_202107_001

Photograph of an annual skating party at Lloyd Center Mall in Portland benefitting the Toy n Joy Makers program on December 14, 1981. Pictured is Jeffrey McAllister and Lilian McAllister of NE Portland. Two-time Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding famously learned to skate at the Lloyd Center Ice Arena.

OHS Research Library, Oregon Journal Collection, Org. Lot 1027, box 236, folder 53.

Brodie Leitch of Portland 1939 0094P052

Portland’s Brodie Leitch was noted as being one of the few U.S. women ski jumpers of her era. Here she is photographed landing a jump at Timberline Lodge in May 1939.

OHS Research Library, 012375.

Cloud cap inn 1890s 0338P033

Cloud Cap Inn stands at nearly 6,000 feet on Mount Hood’s northeastern flank. Built in 1889, the one-story, crescent-shaped, log-and-shake inn was the mountain’s first permanent resort. This photograph shows a view of the Cloud Cap Inn in 1890.

OHS Research Library, 019210.

man with snowshoes and dog, 1925 0301P161

In this photograph, a man with snowshoes stands by a dog hitched to a sled near Crescent Lake in Klamath County, 1925.

OHS Research Library, 002900.

OMSI Outdoor instructor OrgLot1027_B238F51_202107_001

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) Outdoor instructor Dick Bishop teaches a class on Mount Hood in 1979. OMSI entertains and educates 1.1 million visitors annually with in-house and traveling exhibits and by building on its legacy of science classes, outdoor camps, and partnerships with schools, businesses, and science clubs. 

OHS Research Library, Oregon Journal Collection, Org. lot 1027, box 238, folder 51.

Workers cut fabric White Stag 0028P091

The namesake White Stag building at 70 Northwest Couch Street in Portland, Oregon, was built in 1907 and was originally known as the Hirsch-Weis building after its owners Max and Leopold Hirsch and their partner Harry Weis. In 1931, Max’s son Harold Hirsch began a new venture. Upon returning to the family business after graduating from Dartmouth College, the former ski team member sensed an opportunity to use the family factory to make ski apparel. The name he chose was White Stag Sporting Goods, using the English translation of the German names Weis and Hirsch. This photograph shows workers using patterns to cut fabric at the White Stag factory in July 1954.

OHS Research Library, 006824.

Snocat 0020P370

Tucker Sno-Cat® Corporation, founded in Medford, Oregon, is one of the world’s oldest and most successful makers of snow vehicles. The company’s motto is “No snow too deep. No road too steep.” This photograph shows the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Tucker Sno-Cat® during inspections at Paulina Lake in Newberry Crater on March 4, 1951.

OHS Research Library, 000370.

Sledders on toboggan run mount hood 374N0498

Mount Hood is a stratovolcano in northwest Oregon located about fifty miles east of Portland and thirty-five miles south of the Columbia River. At 11,244 feet, it is the highest point in Oregon and the fourth highest peak in the Cascade Range. Mount Hood has played a central role in the geology, history, natural environment, and culture that have helped shape northwest Oregon and the entire Pacific Northwest. Sledders are photographed here on a toboggan run on Mount Hood, possibly at Battle Axe Inn, in 1930.

OHS Research Library, Oregon Journal Collection, OrHi 61723.