The Skier's Paradise
The Rainier National Park Company envisioned Paradise as a haven for winter sports. Snow skiing easily lasted into May, often June, right outside the Inn. Unfortunately the Inn was situated such that it was a magnet for snow; drifts usually piled to the roof peak. With a better designed structure on a different slope, the Company believed they could conceivably keep a new ski lodge open straight through the winter.
The road, of course, was impassable for most of the winter; the repeated plowing and east side access made the entire concept seem ludicrous. Thus it was planned that a massive aerial tramway would be built to ferry skiers up to the ski area and Lodge. All of this was approved by the Park Service, and the Lodge was built.
Unfortunately the timing couldn't have been worse. The RNP Co. found its treasury severely strained by the new construction, and when it came time to pursue the tramway, the stock market crash said otherwise. The company was continually strapped through the 1930s, and went to great lengths to move skiers up to Paradise.
Despite the lack of a tram or other means to do this, Paradise gained a reputation as an excellent ski resort for the times. It was easily the top ski destination in the Pacific northwest, and even served as the site of U.S. Winter Olympic trials.
During World War II Paradise served as a training ground for U.S. Army Mountain troops. The Army used the rope tows during ski training; at times training right alongside recreational skiers. The RNP re-opened the Lodge for skiers immediately after the war, but continued to lose money on the operations. It ultimately sold out to the National Park Service in 1952, which ran winter operations through various concessionaires over the years.
The Paradise Lodge, which was not nearly as charming nor well constructed as the nearby Inn, fell increasingly into disrepair. By the early 1960s it was more or less beyond renovation, and the NPS determined that a day-use facility would receive more visitor use at the site. The Lodge was razed in 1965, and a new visitors center was built on the spot. It was an odd, extremely modern circular building. Nicknamed "the flying saucer" and "the space ship," some observed that it appeared as if the top of the Seattle Space Needle had detached and crash landed at Paradise meadow. Later named the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center, it lasted until 2008 before the NPS determined that the design was too difficult to heat, let alone maintain. A new Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center was built on the site, more in tune with the architecural style of the rest of the Paradise complex.
Above, the exterior of the new Henry M Jackson Visitor Center traces its architectural lineage to the old Paradise Lodge. Photo courtesy Acroterian/Wikipedia
The site has changed significantly since the lodge was demolished in 1965 such that further on-site study is virtually pointless. Further study of photographic and written record is essential to successful interpretation and preservation of that history.
Former employees of the Paradise Lodge are encouraged to contact the NPLAS by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org to share any comments, anecdotes, recollections, etc. to aid this preservation.