Skiing was at the heart of longtime resident’s love for the Methow Valley
In his 94 years, Doug Devin did a lot of things — he ran a printing business, raised hay and cattle, and even worked for the CIA — but his all-consuming passion was skiing.
Although the Mazama resident was known for his efforts to create a downhill ski area, Devin was an equal-opportunity snow enthusiast.
“He just loved skiing — the type of skiing didn’t matter, as long as he could move on top of the snow. He just wanted to have two boards on his feet,” said Margrit Broennimann, a long-time friend and neighbor.
Devin died of natural causes on Feb. 1 at his home in Mazama.
Even in his 90s, Devin still glided along the Nordic trails. And it made him happy to see everybody out and enjoying skiing, said his daughter, Betsy Devin-Smith.
“He lived for the mountains,” said his son, Steve Devin. “Every weekend, we were skiing or hiking.”
Devin brought the idea of skiing — as a way of making a living — to the valley, Devin-Smith said. “When I’m out skiing on a beautiful day, it makes me smile and cry at the same time,” she said.
Skiing was integrated into every aspect of Devin’s life. He helped establish Crystal Mountain and was a supervisor at the ski school there. He imported ski boots from Europe and sold ski apparel in Seattle. He even invented ski gear, including “jet sticks,” which strapped to the back of the boot for ankle support, and personalized ski poles with the owner’s name engraved, Devin-Smith said.
70 years in the valley
The Devin family first started coming to the Methow in the 1950s for summer vacations. It was a time when there wasn’t much economic activity in the valley — people worked at the mill and did logging in the winter. Before the North Cascades Highway opened in 1972, the valley was a dead end.
The Devins bought land in Mazama in 1966 and built a small summer cabin. By the mid-’70s, they were raising hay and cattle. “His heart was never in sitting in an office – it was in being outside,” Steve Devin said. They bought more land and built a larger home.
Although initially the Devins visited only in the summers, the mountains were tantalizingly close, and Devin knew there was a lot of snow, his son said. Devin saw skiing as a source of revenue that could coexist with agriculture and timber.
Devin’s work in Europe had exposed him to small mountain towns where cows grazed on ski runs in the summer. He saw farmers making a living from skiing and thought that was really cool, Devin-Smith said. “They weren’t visions of financial grandeur. He just wanted to support his family,” she said.
In the 1960s, Jack Wilson, who ran Early Winters Resort, talked to Devin about his vision for developing winter tourism, Devin wrote in his 2008 book “Mazama: The Past 125 Years.” The book includes profiles of area residents, from homesteaders through more recent arrivals, and a detailed history of the efforts to create a downhill resort.
Devin and Wilson zeroed in on Sandy Butte, which had a 4,000-foot drop, and hatched an idea for a downhill ski area. “It seemed a fun way to get the valley economy stimulated,” Steve Devin said.
Devin assembled a group of valley residents and ski-industry contacts to do a feasibility study. They ultimately purchased land. They also connected with the Aspen Skiing Corporation, the first of several companies to plan a destination resort in Mazama.
“I probably skied more on Sandy Butte with Doug than any other person,” said Eric Burr, who worked as a heli-skiing guide in the 1980s. Because Burr knew the mountain so well, he’d take Devin out so they could figure out where to put the gondola and other infrastructure for the ski hill.
After the North Cascades Highway opened and people started streaming in, it raised questions about whether a ski hill was a good idea, Steve Devin said. People realized it could get out of hand, but the wheels were already in motion, he said.
Indeed, the proposal for a ski resort became hotly contentious. But Devin and his wife, Grace, were very active in the Mazama Community Club, and they helped keep everything friendly and the community together, said John Hayes, who came to the valley from Colorado, where he’d seen the divisiveness caused by ski development there.
As time went on, Devin recognized the potential negative effects of the thing he loved and ended up working hard on land protections and zoning, a rarity in a rural area, Steve Devin said.
Devin was appointed to a land-use advisory committee (now called the Mazama Advisory Committee) by the Okanogan County commissioners. Hayes and Jim Gregg were also original members.
When Gregg arrived in the valley from Colorado in 1986, where he was a representative for the U.S. Forest Service for ski resorts, the Sandy Butte proposal was still going strong.
As chair of the advisory committee, Devin was instrumental in addressing these issues. He had a good feel for how to work with county officials and others with a different perspective, Gregg said.
Devin was a quiet guy who went about his work and didn’t stand out in a room. He never had anything bad to say about anybody, his son said. He remembers his father saying, “You can do anything you want if you don’t mind if you get credit.” Devin-Smith said her father was a role model for how to handle the controversy and find the good in people.
Excerpts from Doug Devin’s obituary in the Methow Valley News
Born in Seattle, Doug Devin graduated from Roosevelt High School and joined the U.S. Marine Corps. Post-military service, he attended the University of Washington and graduated in 1951 with a degree in business.
Subsequently he worked for the CIA in Europe, became involved in the ski business at many levels, including sporting goods sales; owned a ski shop, became a ski instructor, was president and CEO of Bank Check Supply, and later was vice president of United Graphics, a major printing and lithographing firm in the Puget Sound area.
After the family’s move to the Methow Valley, he and his son, Steve, operated Mazama Livestock, a beef cattle and hay business.
In his book, Devin describes efforts to get the community involved in creating zoning regulations to prevent strip development by speculators. But news of the possible ski resort prompted a land rush, he wrote.
By the late 1970s, “the area was no longer a secret hideaway,” he wrote. “There was no question by this time that growth was accelerating and if safeguards were not in place, a development disaster could happen.”
“I could relate,” said Gregg, who served on the advisory committee with Devin. “I came from a county that experienced what a ski area could do to an area.”
Planning for a ski hill — and opposition to it — continued throughout the 1980s, and the controversy intensified. The Early Winters company, which took on the project, significantly expanded it, Devin wrote.
By the early 1990s, the company behind Early Winters was struggling financially. Although the proposal for the ski hill failed, it was followed by other ideas for intensive recreational development, including a golf resort. A decade later, the land was sold, most of it put in a land trust, preserving it as open space with some public access.
While Devin is known for his advocacy of a downhill ski area, he also helped launch the Nordic trails, Burr said. When the ski hill was tied up in permitting, Devin and his family created cross-country trails on the Aspen property, and he promoted the sport, Devin-Smith said.
“Doug was into all kinds of skiing. He was just a ski nutcase,” Burr said.
Without the ski hill, some people thought they’d no longer need to worry about growth, Gregg said. “But this is a pretty attractive place. Doug didn’t get the ski area, but he realized the importance of long-range planning that recognized the uniqueness of the upper valley,” Gregg said.
Now, four decades later, the advisory committee is as valuable as ever, Gregg said. “The upper valley got ahead of the game” by setting out a vision of what they wanted, and putting in place the regulations needed to ensure that vision held, Steve Devin said. “Doug felt he couldn’t do the ski hill without those protections,” he said.
Hayes believes that, had it not been for the threat and promise of Early Winters, the community would never have been able to preserve open space and enact so many conservation measures in Mazama.
Devin also lobbied for other, less-visible issues that have preserved the rural character of the upper valley. He even went to Olympia to persuade the state to use asphalt on the highway instead of chip-seal, because it was so much quieter, Hayes said.
In addition to his book on Mazama, Devin assembled a book for his family about the Devins’ 300-year lineage.
The last line in the family history perfectly sums up what was most important to his father, Steve Devin said. “As I sit here by Little Boulder Creek, enjoying the seasons as they come and go in our valley, I can only thank God that I was able to be here — at the right place, at the right time,” Devin wrote.
“When I read it, I just hope I can fill his shoes. It’s quite revealing of the things he did,” Steve Devin said.
“He was just a nice guy,” Devin-Smith said. “He was a humble man who always pointed to the contributions of others. Reflecting on his life, there are important things to learn about being a better person, and a better member of this community.”