Cay with her husband Al when they were dating.  This is in the parking lot of Stevens in the late 40s after a day of skiing.  

Cay Heitman

Q: Are you from the area? If not, what brought your family here?

Yes – I born in Ohio in 1932, but raised in Ballard since I was 2.  I’m 91 now. My dad built smokestacks all over the United States and it was a dangerous job.  He lost many friends from falls, so he got tired of that and came here to Seattle to become a mechanic.  I was raised in Seattle my whole life and graduated from Holy Names High School.  My husband Al, who passed away 10 years ago, and I also raised our family here in Seattle.  We have six kids, 16 grandkids, and 14 great-grandkids.  After my husband retired we built a house in Everett and I have lived in Everett for the past 30 years.  I have many kids, grandkids and great-grandkids who live close and we like to spend time skiing together at Stevens in the winter and playing at our lake house in Stanwood in the summer. 

Q:  Who introduced you to skiing?

My brother.  My first trip up to Stevens Pass was when I was 13 years old, in 1945.  We went up in a rented box truck, kind of like a U-Haul.  It was loaded with 15 kids from a church youth group.  We all signed up to go skiing and my brother was 17, so he drove the truck.  Up we went.  We spent the day.  We were supposed to be back at the truck at 4pm.  I was the youngest one in the group and I knew no one.  My parents thought my brother would take care of me, but he just let me go on my own all day.  I started off by Daisy and I didn’t have enough money to buy a pass, so I scooted around all day on my skis and I had such a good time that I forgot to come back to the truck at 4pm.  My brother was not too happy with me when I didn’t show up back at the truck, but he saw I liked it as much as he did, so the next time we went up he bought me my skis so that I didn’t have to rent them and instead I could use my money to pay for a pass.  That was it.  I have loved it ever since that first day.

Q: What was Highway 2 like when you skied here with your family?

No one had 4 wheel drive.  There was no such thing at the time.  It was very challenging.  There was snow on the roads.  Riding in the trucks was really something.  There was a door on the back.  They’d pile the skis in first and then the kids.  There would be 15 of us sitting criss-cross on the wood floor in the back of the truck.  It was very cold and dark and there were no windows.  We’d sing 99 bottles of beer on the wall all the way up and all the way back.  Going up it was fun.  You’d chatter.  Coming back you were so tired you couldn’t care less. 

Q:  What was a weekend at Stevens Pass like in the 40s? 

We’d leave on Saturday very early in the morning.  Sometimes we would go to the 5am mass at church and then pile in the truck.  I would spend $5 a weekend for skiing and lodging.  I’d pay $1 for a ride up the mountain in the back of a truck.  The tow ticket was $1.50.  It was $3 for bunk, but if you shared the bunk with a friend you would split the cost and it would only be $1.50.  There would be two of us sharing one sleeping bag in a bunk but that left us $1 in case we needed anything else.  You packed a bag of sandwiches for the whole weekend.  If you were lucky someone bought you a bowl of soup at the tavern across the street.  After the rope tows closed down for the day everyone would walk across the street to the Tavern and have soup for dinner if they could afford it.  After dinner they’d have music in the lodge and we would dance all night.  Went to bed, woke up and skied all morning until we had to go home. It was a lot of fun! 

There were some guys who would party in the Tavern and dance all night and then they would put their skis on and ski all the way down the pass in the middle of the night to their cabins in Scenic or Skykomish.  I always thought that was crazy. 

Q:  What was the mountain like? 

There was a girls dorm and a boys dorm with bunks in it and old toilets with bad plumbing.  No showers.  Upstairs in the old lodge there was a cafeteria and a cool fireplace.  There was a tavern across the street that sold soup for dinner.  The lines for the rope tow could be very long on the weekend.  They were twisted from where Big Chief is right now all the way across the base area by Daisy and they were doubled up.  It was harder to ride the rope tow up than to get down.  You had to take three ropes to make it to the top of the hill.  You could usually make it to the top of the first rope without falling off.  If you made it to the top of the second rope you were lucky.  The third rope was a miracle if you made it up.  It whipped you all over the place.  It was straight up a very steep hill on Big Chief and you would  hang on for dear life.  You spent a lot of time on the first rope tow.  I broke my wrist skiing when I was 16 or 17, but I was back up there the next weekend.  If you got hurt you didn’t want the ski patrol to take you.  Lou and Jim Whitaker (Jim was the founder of REI and a famous mountaineer) were part of the ski patrol.  I never wanted to have to get help from Lou or Jim! 

Q: Who did you ski with?

I skied with my girlfriends from Holy Names.  There were four of us and we spent every weekend we could up there together.  Then, when I went to Seattle University there was a Four Loffers Ski Club and we would go up on the weekends with a big group of women. 

Q: What do you remember about the community at Stevens Pass?

I had four girlfriends and we were together all the time.  We skied together every year until our early 80s.  When you were up at the mountain everyone just mingled.  You didn’t know half their names, they didn’t know yours, but you mingled. Everyone was happy and chatty. 

Q: Looking at images from the last 85 years, the clothing and equipment have changed a lot! What did you normally wear to go skiing?

You’d wear buckle boots, a couple pair of socks, long johns, stretch ski pants and regular ski pants and whatever you could get on underneath them.  The gloves were the worst.  They were always wet.  You’d wear ski gloves with overmits over the gloves and you’d go through two or three pairs in a season from the rope tow wearing them down.  For the rope tow you could get a clamp to hold on, but it was hard.  Skis were very, very long.  My first pair of skis you couldn’t get out of because there was no release.  You had a broken leg if you fell wrong.  Then they came out with a toe release. 

Q: Tell us about your family! We’d love to learn about your mom, dad, siblings, and then if you married, your own kids, etc.

I met my husband, Al, in June before my senior year of high school and we dated through the summer. In July he asked me to go steady.  I thought to myself “I can go steady, but I’ll break up with him the first of November when skiing starts.”  Then in the fall we were at my parents’ house and we were playing ping pong in my parents basement and he said “You’re a skier, huh?”  I said yes and he said “Oh I love to ski!”  Well – that was it.  I didn’t have to break up with him!  We married the next year.  He knew how much I loved it.  He liked it too, but he didn’t love it like I did.  That winter he would drive me up in his car with our friends.

Al and I had six kids.  Our kids all took lessons and only one wasn’t into it, although she finally did ski a bit when she got older.  Two of my boys became ski bums and turned into really amazing skiers.  We loved it so much that we bought a lot in Timberlane Village in the 60s because my husband knew I loved to ski.  My husband worked for Boeing and we held our property in Timberlane Village for many years while we lived all over Europe and Australia for his job.  When we returned in the late 70s that’s when we built our cabin and started spending every weekend up there again.  We had many dear friends who loved skiing just as much as we did and we had a lot of fun up there in the 80s and 90s. Thirteen out of my 16 grandkids are skiers and we spent a lot of time skiing with the grandkids when they were growing up. The last 40 years have been especially wonderful.  It was fun getting to see each of our grandkids skiing.  I remember them in their little outfits going down the mountain and watching them develop.  Many of my grandkids have married skiers and I now have eight great-grandchildren who are skiers.  They are continuing the tradition.  I got to ski with most of my great-grandkids until just a few years ago when I had foot surgery and had to stop skiing. I still dream about skiing again. My grandkids want to get me back up there and I think I might be able to do it. Now I watch my great-grandkids on videos and they look so good.  I’m not so much proud of them as I am happy for them!  All I want is for them to have fun!  I experience the joy by watching them have fun.  They all have seasons passes at Stevens.  This winter I think there are 16 of us in my family with seasons passes.    

Q: Did you have a favorite lift and/or run at Stevens Pass?

Chief is probably still the one I like the best.  I like to do it every time I go up there.  It’s because I remember each turn from when I started when I was 13.  I can do it all from memory.  What I love about skiing is not the speed.  It’s the rhythm.  I could sing going down the mountain.  I often do.  Or I did.  I think it’s one of the healthiest sports you can get into.  I love everything about it.

Q: Any particularly fond memories of days skiing at Stevens Pass you’d like to share?

My love of skiing was instant.  That first day when I didn’t go back to the car to meet my brother is one of my best memories.  I remember being so happy up there.  All by myself at 13 years old.  I liked the snow.  The mountains.  It was a pretty day.  Just gorgeous.  I didn’t even ski down a hill, I just scooted around with my feet in the skis and I fell in love with it.

I guess the days I fell the most are also my favorites.  Falling was so fun and we’d laugh so hard. You’d roll down the mountain and it would be the most fun.  The one day that really stands out in my mind was when I was just learning.  It was a struggle.  A friend said “Cay, when you make a turn, lead with your wrist.”  I tried that and I could ski!  It made my skiing so much easier.  Still probably one of my fondest days.  It just clicked. 

Q: What’s the best day at Stevens Pass?

When I’m skiing, I’m happy.  I remember when I was a teenager it would be rainy and my friends and I would go around and around on the chair and have the best day because we were the only four people on the mountain.  The guys running the chair lift would be so mad that they couldn’t close the lift, but we’d be having the best time on the mountain all by ourselves!  I also like it when there’s powdered sugar snow, and I love night skiing with my grandkids and great-grandkids.