Skiing was central to longtime residents’ love of the Methow Valley
During his 94 years, Doug Devin did a lot of things – he ran a printing company, raised hay and cattle, and even worked for the CIA – but his all-consuming passion was skiing.
Although the Mazama resident is known for his efforts to create an alpine ski area, Devin was an equal-opportunity snow enthusiast.
“He loved to ski – the type of skiing didn’t matter, as long as he could move on the snow. He just wanted to have two boards on his feet,” said longtime friend and neighbor Margrit Broennimann.
Devin died of natural causes on February 1 at his home in Mazama.
Even in his 90s, Devin was still sliding on the Nordic trails. And it made him happy to see everyone out and skiing, said his daughter, Betsy Devin-Smith.
“He lived for the mountains,” said his son, Steve Devin. “Every weekend we would ski or hike.”
Devin brought the idea of skiing — as a way to make a living — to the Valley, Devin-Smith said. “When I ski on a nice day, it makes me smile and cry at the same time,” she says.
Skiing was integrated into every aspect of Devin’s life. He helped establish Crystal Mountain and was a ski school supervisor there. He imported ski boots from Europe and sold ski clothes in Seattle. He’s even invented ski gear, including “jet sticks,” which attach to the back of the boot to support the ankle, and personalized ski poles with the owner’s name engraved on it, Devin-said Smith.
70 years in the valley
The Devin family began coming to the Methow in the 1950s for summer vacations. It was a time when there wasn’t a lot of economic activity in the valley — people worked in the mill and logging in the winter. Before the opening of the North Cascades Highway in 1972, the valley was a dead end.
The Devins bought land in Mazama in 1966 and built a small summer cabin there. In the mid-1970s, they raised hay and cattle. “His heart was never about sitting in an office — it was about being outdoors,” Steve Devin said. They bought more land and built a bigger house.
Although Devins initially only visited in the summer, the mountains were incredibly close and Devin knew there was plenty of snow, his son said. Devin saw skiing as a source of income that could co-exist with farming and lumber.
Devin’s work in Europe had exposed him to small mountain towns where cows grazed on the ski slopes in the summer. He saw farmers making a living from skiing and thought that was really cool, Devin-Smith said. “These were not visions of financial greatness. He just wanted to support his family,” she said.
In the 1960s, Jack Wilson, who ran Early Winters Resort, spoke 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 settlers to more recent arrivals, and a detailed history of efforts to create a descent station.
Devin and Wilson focused on Sandy Butte, which had a 4,000 foot drop, and came up with the idea for a downhill ski area. “It seemed like a fun way to boost the valley’s economy,” Steve Devin said.
Devin brought together a group of valley residents and ski industry contacts to do a feasibility study. They eventually bought land. They also forged ties with the Aspen Skiing Corporation, the first of several companies to plan a destination resort in Mazama.
“I probably skied Sandy Butte with Doug more than anyone else,” said Eric Burr, who worked as a heliski guide in the 1980s. Because Burr knew the mountain so well, he was taking Devin so they could figure out where to place the gondola and other infrastructure for the ski resort.
After the North Cascades Freeway opened and people poured in, it raised questions about whether a ski resort was a good idea, Steve Devin said. People realized it could get out of control, but the wheels were already in motion, he said.
Indeed, the proposal for a ski resort has become very controversial. But Devin and his wife, Grace, were very active at the Mazama Community Club, and they helped keep everything friendly and the community together, said John Hayes, who came to the Colorado Valley where he saw the division caused by skiing development there.
Over time, Devin recognized the potential negative effects of the thing he loved and ended up working hard on land protection 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 the US Forest Service’s representative for ski resorts, Sandy Butte’s proposal was still relevant.
As chair of the advisory board, Devin was instrumental in resolving these issues. He had a good idea of how to work with county officials and others with a different perspective, Gregg said.
Devin was a quiet guy who did his job and didn’t stand out in a room. He never had anything bad to say about anyone, his son said. He remembers his father telling him, “You can do whatever you want if you don’t mind getting credit.” Devin-Smith said her father was a role model for how to handle controversy and find the good in people.
Excerpts from Doug Devin’s obituary in Methow Valley News
Born in Seattle, Doug Devin graduated from Roosevelt High School and joined the US Marine Corps. After military service, he attended the University of Washington and graduated in 1951 with a business degree.
Subsequently, he worked for the CIA in Europe, became involved in the ski business on many levels, including the sale of sporting goods; owner of a ski shop, became a ski instructor, was president and CEO of Bank Check Supply, and later served as vice president of United Graphics, a major printing and lithography company in the Puget Sound area.
After the family moved 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 involve the community in creating zoning regulations to prevent strip development by speculators. But news of the possibility of a ski resort sparked a land rush, he wrote.
By the late 1970s, “the area was no longer a secret haven,” he wrote. “There was no doubt at that time that growth was accelerating and if safeguards were not in place, development disaster could occur.”
“I could understand,” said Gregg, who served on the advisory board with Devin. “I come from a county that has seen what a ski area can do to a region.”
Planning for a ski resort—and opposition to it—continued throughout the 1980s, and controversy escalated. The Early Winters company, which took over the project, expanded it significantly, Devin wrote.
In the early 1990s, the company behind Early Winters was in financial trouble. Although the ski resort proposal failed, it was followed by other ideas for intensive recreational development, including a golf course. A decade later the land was sold, with most placed in a land trust, preserving it as open space with public access.
Although Devin is known for advocating for an alpine ski area, he also helped pioneer Nordic trails, Burr said. When the ski resort was blocked by permits, Devin and his family created cross-country ski trails on Aspen property, and he promoted the sport, Devin-Smith said.
“Doug liked all kinds of skis. He was just a ski freak,” Burr said.
Without the ski resort, some people thought they wouldn’t have to worry about growing, Gregg said. “But it’s quite an attractive place. Doug didn’t understand the ski resort, but he realized the importance of long-term planning that recognizes the uniqueness of the upper valley,” Gregg said.
Now, four decades later, the advisory board is more valuable than ever, Gregg said. “The Upper Valley got a head start” by defining a vision of what they wanted and putting in place the necessary regulations to ensure that vision was delivered, Steve Devin said. “Doug felt like he couldn’t do the ski hill without these protections,” he said.
Hayes believes that without the threat and promise of early winters, the community would never have been able to preserve the open spaces and enact so many conservation measures in Mazama.
Devin also lobbied for other less visible issues that 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 sealer because it was so much quieter, Hayes said.
In addition to his book on Mazama, Devin has put together a book for his family on the 300-year line of Devins.
The last line of family history perfectly sums up what was most important to his father, said Steve Devin. “As I sit here near Little Boulder Creek, enjoying the seasons that come and go in our valley, I can only thank God that I was able to be here – in the right place, at the right time,” Devin wrote.
“When I read it, I just hope I can fill his shoes. It’s pretty telling of what he’s done,” Steve Devin said.
“He was just a nice guy,” Devin-Smith said. “He was a humble man who always highlighted the contributions of others. As you reflect on your life, there are important things to learn about being a better person and a better member of this community.