Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Snowbound skiers make best of situation

In February of 1949, a group of 14 Pendleton residents planning to enjoy a skiing weekend at Spout Springs Ski Resort near Tollgate was trapped when a series of heavy snowstorms buried them in more than 10 feet of snow for 10 days.

The group was distributed between two cabins, one owned by Vern and Teddie Pearson and the other by George and Jean Donnally. The Pearsons and daughters Joan, Linda and Vickie were hosting Jean and Dave Hamley, and Bill and Inez Clarke and their children Billy and Jennifer. Bryson Cooley was staying with the Donnallys and their son Dick. Vern Pearson started to worry about his sheep when heavy snow began to fall on February 4, and left to look after them. The rest of the group was trapped when at least three snowstorms dropped 126 inches of snow in less than a week — but, having laid in plenty of supplies, they decided they would make the best of their unplanned vacation.

The group was able to reassure their families and friends in Pendleton by telephone that, besides being snowed in, they were all fine and in good spirits. The weather was a balmy 20 degrees above zero and the Pearson and Donnally cabins were situated closely enough together that the group could ski or snowshoe between the two for visits. The women had plenty of food with which to improvise meals, and they were also able to snowshoe to Tollgate Store to pick up essentials. The liquor supply, however, ran low early on and the group, who had keys to cabins owned by other friends in the area, were able to “borrow” what they needed and leave IOUs, some of which became cherished mementos for the recipients.

The two groups entertained themselves by playing games, skiing and playing in the snow, and the men exercised by shoveling out vehicles and roads and sweeping snow off the cabin roofs. The children were also expected to spend some time each day studying.

In a spirit of fun, they dubbed themselves the “Slobbovians” after characters in the comic strip “Li’l Abner” — the Pearsons were “Upper Slobbovia” and the Donnallys were “Lower Slobbovia” — and improvised costumes and signs from whatever they could find around the cabins. The costumes were changed and interchanged, often with hilarious results. And when they grew tired of entertaining each other, the whole group marched to Tollgate Store to show off their ingenuity. They also made elaborate plans for the costumes they wore when snowplows were finally able to get through on Valentine’s Day to release the group from its enforced vacation.

The "Slobbovians," in full dress, await snowplows after 10 days buried in the snow near Tollgate in February of 1949. (photo by Dave Hamley)
Every one of the “Survivors of ’49” escaped unscathed from the ordeal, and enjoyed themselves tremendously.

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