Witness Post: Silcox Steve
“Silcox Steve” Buchan welcomes our group to his Hut
“Forty years ago,” he says in a thick Boston accent, “I came here for the skiing and never left.” Riding on the Magic Mile Chair Lift, the second oldest electronic ski lift in the country, Steve Buchan arrived at the slopes 1,000 feet above Timberline Lodge on Oregon’s Mt. Hood. Silcox Steve’s story of four decades on Hood is a romance with the mountain that has no rivals.
Our prime mover to stay overnight at Silcox Hut was Julia Hall, whose husband, John, has joined her on many special visits to the Hut. We are grateful for her encouragement to plan ahead and go for it, no matter the weather. Besides, with Silcox Steve as the host, we were sure to have a great adventure.
Steve Buchan, a native of New England, was drawn to the area by his passion for skiing and climbing. He says that one year led to another and here he is. He feels he has been continuously challenged to provide the best hospitality and customer service he can imagine. A jack-of-all-trades, Silcox Steve loves his work. Managing the Hut requires cooking, cleaning, transportation, creativity, and, most importantly, a sense of humor. He sees his primary goal as making sure that the guests have a good time.
“When people come to Silcox Hut they are already pleasantly surprised,” Buchan says. “So all I have to do is keep them happy.” He does so by preparing and serving a sumptuous dinner, allowing them to control their own beverages, and basically turning the Hut over to the guests. By allowing them free rein, he feels the guests bring their own unique character to the alpine lodge experience. If they have a good time, then they will recommend it to others to experience. “Word of mouth is the best advertising money can buy,” he says.
Visitors can’t get to Silcox unless they first visit Timberline Lodge. No trip to the ski area would be complete without a tour of the Lodge, so we ate some tapas, drank some beverages and did our obligatory walking around. Timberline is a showpiece of Cascadian architecture and it highlights the skillful use of local building materials. The main part of the lodge is built around Douglas fir columns and a massive, four-sided, volcanic rock fireplaces. Recycled materials make for unique decor throughout the lodge, including wooden staircases with newel posts made of old telephone poles and decorated with native animal carvings, andirons forged from railroad steel, and rugs woven from old army uniforms and Pendleton blankets.
History of Silcox
Named after Ferdinand Silcox, the head of the US Forest Service, Silcox Hut was completed two years after the construction of Timberline Lodge. Originally built in 1939 as a warming location for skiers, Silcox Hut is located at the upper terminus of the Magic Mile ski lift. Today it is a rustic and welcoming alpine lodge on the south side of Portland’s landmark extinct volcano. Perched at an altitude of 6,950 feet, the Hut sits at the base of one of the best late-season ski runs in the country. The Hut is 1,500 feet below the Palmer Snowfield ski lift terminus. The Palmer Snowfield has been the summer training ground for the US Ski and Snowboard Teams for many years, because of its consistent late-season glaciers. We will have to wait and see if global warming changes that elite status.
Call for friends along the way
There have been many challenges to the survival of the alpine hut over the generations. By the early ’80’s the US Forest Service reportedly considered burning down the structure, because the Hut was so neglected and in such disrepair. The estimated costs of stone and timber reparations were formidable. It took the efforts of a dedicated group of climbers, architects, craftsmen and other mountain fans to save the Hut. In 1985 they formed the Friends of Silcox Hut. Their stated goal was to raise enough money to refurbish the Hut and bring it back to its original splendor. The Friends rallied, landed a few grants, notably a $50,000 grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust, and overhauled the Hut rock by rock and beam by beam over the next eight years.
Friends of Silcox Come Through
Silcox Hut reopened to the public in 1993. Today it is managed by Timberline Lodge operator, RLK & Company and holds a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Steve Buchan is the on-site manager, proprietor, chief cook and bottle washer. He does much of the repair work himself, but admits that the Friends of Silcox still volunteer each year to tackle maintenance issues and special projects. At this altitude, plumbing leaks are always formidable and tricky to repair. Steve has seen to some remarkable winter repairs. Artisans, like blacksmith Darryl Nelson, help preserve the lodge’s classic wrought iron flair. Originally open to all climbers and skiers who were passing bye, the Hut is only open to private parties, who book their stays well in advance.
Sample Silcox Bunkroom
The six small bunkrooms can accommodate up to two dozen guests. These rooms are reminiscent of double decker train berths from a bygone era. There is an open area among the bunkrooms that makes for nice small gatherings, while larger crowds are best suited to the great room. We were encouraged to bring ear plugs in case of night time snoring got too loud, but we were so tired the plugs were unnecessary. The bunks were surprisingly comfortable.
Guest Meeting Space outside the Bunkrooms
The Hut’s great room, called the Overlook Room, boasts hand-carved tables and chairs, wrought iron accents and a roaring stone fireplace. The fireplace seems to light and heat up the entire space. It is not as massive as the Timberline fireplace, but it is more intimate, where guests like us, after a frigid climb to Silcox from the Lodge, can warm their front sides and back sides with equal ease. The snow crusted windows and heavy Ponderosa beams add to the character and charm of the setting. We could see why the place is a popular venue for so many summer and winter weddings. It is a terrific space.
Steve Moore and John Hall in the Overlook Room
We understand that when the weather is nice and the windows clear of snow and ice, that guest congregate to take in a sweeping southern view of the Cascades, which stretch nearly to the California border. It is known for its OVERLOOK, after all. We saw nothing of the sort this trip, as the frost made all visibility impossible.
When it is cold outside, the guests must make it warm inside, so several members of our group brought guitars and their camp songs into the room. The songs made for a nice musical backdrop to the romantic evening. We could not have had a better place to land.
Steve Buchan baking up some mean potatoes
Steve proved to be an outstanding chef and beverage steward. We brought our own specialty wines, which was part of the plan. He offered us craft beers which he opened and served us the first round. After that we were on our own.
The appetizers, highlighted by grilled Bolete Mushroom hors d’hourvres, were fantastic, followed by a seven course meal with self-serve meats, poultry, fish, salads, vegetables, breads, and desserts. It was a delightful feast. Even with the high quality of the food at Timberline Lodge, we felt we would be hard-pressed to find equal quality dining anywhere else in this part of Oregon.
Dining in the Overlook Room
Several of the guests who joined us at Silcox had piled into the Sno-Cat that lumbered up from Timberline to the Hut. Steve Buchan was the driver, of course, because he can do it all. He gave my wife and me a Sno-Cat ride back down to Timberline early the next morning, rising before anyone with good sense would. He had coffee ready for us when we packed and stuffed our bags into the rugged rig. One regret is that because of our early departure, we missed having Steve Buchan’s signature mountain breakfast. All the more reason for a prompt return visit.
Silcox Steve cooking away for our great feast
There was a single flaw in our planning: we only stayed one night at Silcox Hut. Next time we will have to correct that error.
Thanks, Silcox Steve Buchan, for a fabulous evening in your Hut. And thanks, Julia, for the idea.
— Men of Wednesday
 Magic Mountain is the oldest chair lift (1939) after Dollar Mountain in Sun Valley, Idaho.
 If you go: Silcox Hut
Booking: Weekends and holidays fill up fast; already, many weekends in early 2017 are spoken for. Call the number below to check 2017 rates and availability. The hut is also available for weddings and other events.
A cold winter blast at Silcox, by Jonathan Ley
Weddings are popular any time of year at Silcox Hut