For 45 years, auxiliary's bus brings skiers to slopes
That group was the Stevens Hospital Auxiliary.
"We first started the ski bus so we wouldn't have to knit booties, or bake or do anything domestic," said Dorothy Harkness, 78, who lives in Brier.
The idea of chartering a bus to take skiers to Stevens Pass started in the 1960s as part of the auxiliary's charity effort. Stevens Hospital opened in 1964.
Women in the auxiliary called their ski bus the "Spalding Special." It was named for Eliza Spalding, a pioneer woman who settled in the Northwest in the 1830s.
Today, the Stevens Hospital name is no more. The hospital became part of Seattle's Swedish Medical Center in 2010 and was renamed Swedish/Edmonds.
Yet that Spalding Special ski bus just keeps rolling. Winter after winter, it carries old friends and new ones to the mountains for midweek ski getaways. It's still a fundraising effort, with any proceeds going to an Appreciation Fund for Lynnwood Senior Center programs. The bus can hold about 40 people; a minimum of 28 are needed to cover costs.
"We started the ski bus in 1967, and we've gone every year since," Harkness said Friday. That's 45 ski seasons of friendship. Her husband Jim Harkness, 87, still rides to the pass with his wife and friends, but no longer skis.
"I make the coffee. I go up and read," he said.
At 50, Sarah Browne is among the youngest passengers. The Marysville woman, who has worked at Stevens Pass, skis with her 85-year-old father, Robert Browne. "He's been skiing since before I was born," she said.
"Once you ski, you always want to find a way to go," Browne said. "It takes you back to nature. The blue sky, white snow and ice crystals -- it's just beautiful And it's a boost for your mental health."
All ages are welcome, but the group's Wednesday outings aren't easy for people who work or are in school.
The chartered Hesselgrave tour bus stops for riders at four locations, beginning at 7 a.m. For the 2013 season, eight Wednesday trips are scheduled, starting Jan. 9. The Edmonds Ferry Terminal is the first stop.
"The ferry is our main pickup," said Eleanor Schulz, 78, of Lynnwood. About 15 skiers take the ferry from Kingston, some coming from as far as Sequim. "That's the only way they can go skiing," Schulz said.
The group gets to the pass by 9 a.m. and leaves for home at about 3 p.m.
Ride time is as much fun as hours on the slopes. On the way up, skiers enjoy coffee and pastries. "In the afternoon, we have sandwiches, carrots, pickles -- and maybe a little vino," said Rilla Burnett, 65, another bus rider from Brier.
Well into retirement, some said their expertise on the mountain isn't what matters.
"I've peaked as a skier. I hang out on the bunny hill," Dorothy Harkness said. A couple years ago, she cracked a bone in her back while skiing. After some recovery time, she didn't ski the rest of that season but still took the bus for fun and camaraderie.
"People who continue to ski, it takes courage. These people are my role models," Browne said.
Some original riders have been lost to warmer climates. Mary Madison, a skier from Stevens Hospital Auxiliary days, is now a snowbird, spending winters in Arizona, the group said.
This bunch can't wait for winter, Northwest-style.
"If I didn't do this every January, I don't know what I'd do. It's another world up there," Schulz said.
In the warmer seasons, these friends don't see each other too often.
"On the first day of skiing, it's just like a big family reunion," Schulz said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; email@example.com.
Wednesday ski bus
The "Spalding Special," a chartered ski bus, makes eight trips to Stevens Pass on Wednesdays beginning Jan. 9.
The cost is $250 for eight trips, or $40 per trip if space is available.
The bus stops at:
•Edmonds Ferry Terminal (7 a.m.);
QFC, 7500 196th St. SW, Lynnwood (7:10 a.m);
Country Inn/Wyndham Hotel off I-405 at Exit 24 (7:30 a.m.);
Monroe, across from Red Barn at 19721 U.S. 2 (8 a.m.).
Proceeds benefit an Appreciation Fund for Lynnwood Senior Center.
For reservations or information, call Dorothy Harkness at 425-778-3798 or Eleanor Schulz at 425-774-1782.
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