Don Bryant skis at Stevens Pass here in 2009. He’d been visiting the mountain since 1947, and has dressed up as Santa for more than two decades. (Michael O’Leary / Herald file)

Don Bryant skis at Stevens Pass here in 2009. He’d been visiting the mountain since 1947, and has dressed up as Santa for more than two decades. (Michael O’Leary / Herald file)

Santa’s skiing tradition at Stevens Pass has ended

Don Bryant, 80, has dressed donned the red suit for decades. This season was his last.

STEVENS PASS — It’s the first time in years that his season ticket doesn’t say “Santa Claus.”

Don Bryant has been dressing as Santa at Stevens Pass for nearly three decades. This was his last December wearing the red-and-white suit to the mountain.

Bryant started skiing there in 1947. He began to dress as Santa in the mid-1990s. Bryant, 80, has had a couple of strokes recently, which is the main reason he decided to stop.

Bryant and his wife, Carolann Bryant, live in Grotto, near Skykomish. The town is on U.S. 2, less than 5 miles south of the Snohomish County border.

He also goes to the Monroe YMCA in his costume each year to pose for photos. He plans to continue that tradition. His wife, Carolann Bryant, joins him as Mrs. Claus.

Some children were shy this year as parents tried to take pictures with their cellphones. Others ran up to Bryant with open arms. One woman took a selfie with her young son and the Clauses.

Bryant’s outfit is made of red, waterproof Gore-tex with white faux-fur trim. He straps a wide, black belt around his waist and carries a large fabric bag filled with hundreds of candy canes. He also wears glasses and has grown a white beard.

Don Bryant rides the Hogsback quad lift with three other skiers in 2009. He’s finished dressing up as Santa at Stevens Pass after 25 years. (Michael O’Leary / Herald file)

Don Bryant rides the Hogsback quad lift with three other skiers in 2009. He’s finished dressing up as Santa at Stevens Pass after 25 years. (Michael O’Leary / Herald file)

Bryant first visited Stevens Pass when he was 9 years old and growing up in Seattle. He remembers paying $2 per night to stay in the lodge. When Bryant got older, he would hitchhike to the mountain or catch a ride with friends.

He married Carolann in 1963 and started a family. They lived in Kirkland while Bryant worked for the Boeing Co. He retired in 1993.

Around that time, Bryant’s daughter suggested that he start dressing as Santa. She heard that some of the kids already thought he was leaving their presents each year.

“They told their parents they knew where Santa lived after Christmas,” Bryant said.

He brought the idea to Ron Nova, who was general manager of Stevens Pass at the time. Nova approved. He already had a suit in storage. It was made of red corduroy.

“It would get wet and weigh a ton,” Bryant said. “I’d have to go in the employee lot and put it in the dryer and sit for half an hour as it dried out.”

Bryant wore it the first year. He and his family lived in their RV at the pass during ski season. Others who stayed there raised money to buy him a waterproof outfit. Bryant still wears it. This year, for the first time, he had to repair the lining.

Plenty of folks have helped keep Santa’s skiing career going over the years. One of those people is Gordy Bolstad, a local representative for German ski company Volkl.

Bolstad, 65, lives in Snohomish. He grew up in Bremerton, and started skiing at Stevens Pass when he was 8.

Don Bryant starts down a run from the top of the Tye Mill lift in 2009. He’s been dressing as Santa for the past 25 years at Stevens Pass. (Michael O’Leary / Herald file)

Don Bryant starts down a run from the top of the Tye Mill lift in 2009. He’s been dressing as Santa for the past 25 years at Stevens Pass. (Michael O’Leary / Herald file)

He and Bryant met there about 20 years ago while hopping onto each other’s chair lifts. Back then, Bolstad went skiing twice a week and Bryant was there almost every day.

“There would be nobody on the hill, but Don would be on the hill,” Bolstad said.

About 15 years ago, Bryant asked if Bolstad had any skis to spare. They’ve been working together ever since.

“I said, ‘How would you feel about Santa being on Volkl skis?’” Bolstad said. “He had this sign on his windshield — a cardboard sign — ‘Santa sponsored by Volkl.’”

Bolstad gave him a new set every other year or so, most recently in 2017.

Each ski season, Bryant would head to the pass starting Dec. 1, if it was open then. He would leave the day before Christmas Eve.

“I would go to the daycare center and tell the kids that Santa had to leave to get to the North Pole,” he said.

Bryant first had a stroke in 1995, which left him blind in his right eye. After that he couldn’t see bumps in the snow and had to ski in the manicured areas. He also gets cold easier than he used to, and his Santa suit isn’t insulated.

He and Carolann Bryant have lived about 20 minutes away from the ski area since 1994. They’re moving to Kirkland this summer, so Don Bryant can be closer to medical care.

Stevens Pass also has a new owner this year. Vail Resorts bought it in the summer.

The company asked Bryant to follow different requirements that he has in the past.

He drove to the mountain through heavy snow when the resort opened on Dec. 12. He returned the next couple of days, but hasn’t been back. He still plans to ski there, just not in costume.

Mostly, Bryant is going to miss children’s reactions when they see Santa on the slopes. “That’s what it’s all about,” he said.

Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192; sdavey@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @stephrdavey.

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