Petr Kakes' mountain name is "the Crazy Czech." And it's a pretty suitable name, considering he defected from the former Soviet satellite state, and his hobbies include making special Alpine soup for a nacho crowd and being towed behind a snowmobile on skis at 90 mph.
If you're a serious skier, you may know Kakes from his work with Skibowl's ski school and pro shop. But anyone who's visited Mount Hood's smallest and steepest resort has hopefully stopped to warm their hands by the stone fireplace inside the midmountain Warming Hut on the slopes of Skibowl.
The Warming Hut is a unique place in Oregon, a little piece of Czechia on the West Coast.
"There are people that come to play at Skibowl just because of the Warming Hut," Kakes says. "Obviously, the Upper Bowl is always an attraction, but not always is the snow of high quality up there. And then there's a lot of people who ski here for years, including people I know, who go, 'Oh, I didn't know there was even food there or that you can drink!'"
Inside the hut, Pilsner Urquell gets the only tap while bottles of Trappist ale chill in the fridge. Your other beverage options are coffee, tea and hot spiced glühwein from Nuremberg. The sausages on the grill are from Otto's Sausage Kitchen—Kakes has been friends with the owners of the 80-year-old Southeast Portland restaurant since the '90s, taking them to Europe with him as a way of persuading them to adjust their recipes. On busy weekends, Kakes serves his own Alpine-recipe soup.
"There were complainers in the beginning, saying, 'Where is the Coors Light and Bud Light?'" he says. "I was pointing down, down the hill. Down below, not in here!"
The Warming Hut's peculiarities are all attributable to Kakes, who leases the property directly from the U.S. Forest Service and uses the 400-square-foot hut to indulge his own tastes and passions. Though he's been affiliated with Skibowl for three decades, Kakes remains an independent contractor who works alongside resort owner Kirk Hanna.
Everything about the unique place Kakes has created in the middle of the mountain, and the unique place he occupies in the lore of Hood, makes a little more sense when you hear his backstory.
In 1980, at age 21, Kakes defected from socialism. He lived in Germany for six years and then moved to the States, where he bought a service truck that followed the pro ski tour. Every day pro skiers need their bindings checked, their skis waxed and sponsor patches sewn onto their clothing, which left a niche for the then-26-year-old Kakes. Following the pros brought him for the first time to Oregon, where he parked his truck near the summer academies that set up on the glacier at Timberline Lodge after the nation's other resorts shut down their lifts for the season.
"I had the truck in New Hampshire, doing nothing during the summertime other than paying the loan to the bank, because it was a pretty high-end truck with all the tools and stone grinders and bells and whistles," he says. "So I came here."
After a few summers in Oregon, he saw an opening in the Hoodland.
"I set up meetings with all three ski resorts, letting them know what my background was and what my plans were," he says. "Kirk Hanna was the only one who listened, since he was just getting started. He had just bought Skibowl. There was no tuning shop here, there were no demo skis—there was a rental shop. I moved my shop down here, started helping with races, started helping with biking in the summer, then helping with ski school, then running the ski school."
Then, in 1991, he voiced his displeasure with the Warming Hut, which won him an invitation to operate it himself.
"I was kind of complaining about the service level in the Warming Hut—the water ran out and nobody said anything for two days until everybody complained that there's no coffee because there's no water," he says. " I said, 'Kirk, you want me to show you how to run a midmountain warming hut?' And so we agreed, and I've been doing it ever since."
The hut was built in 1934, and was the original base lodge for the resort. It was in disrepair when Kakes and a new crew of rangers made plans to rehab it.
"The old rangers, they were going to burn it down," he says. "The beams were being eaten up by the water running through it. The current ranger saved it."
Midmountain huts are fairly typical at large resorts, but its placement just a few hundred vertical feet above the main lodge may seem a little odd. That's because the Upper Bowl of Skibowl was once the entirety of the resort. To get there, you had to hike up from the parking lot. Inside the Warming Hut, coffee and tea were sold on the honor system—they were free if you lugged up a gallon of diesel to run the generator.
Running the hut keeps Kakes plenty busy. It also helps the former Olympian train for his new sport.
In 1989, Czechoslovakia separated from the Soviet socialist republics, meaning Kakes was once again welcome in the homeland he had defected from a decade before. In 1992, Mount Hood had one of the worst seasons in its history, as weather patterns dumped all of Oregon's snow on Bend. So Kakes left his fledgling building and went to Europe to train, qualifying to enter the 1992 Olympics as a speed skier for Czechoslovakia. He ended up taking sixth place in the drag racing of snow sports, in which skiers bomb straight downhill at 150 mph.
Kakes no longer speed skis competitively, but he does still ski at 90 mph. He's a three-time champion of the Arctic Man, a cultish race in Alaska in which skiers bomb downhill, then merge with redlining snowmobiles that tow them uphill. The race covers 5.5 miles in just over four minutes, and "the Crazy Czech" is, as far as he knows, the only one who's participated for the past 24 years straight.
It's a race there's basically no way to train for—well, except by managing a warming hut.
"How about cutting, splitting, stocking 12 or 13 cords of wood under the Warming Hut every fall?" he says. "This is now my 24th year going up there. I don't need to practice that portion, I just have to stay physically in shape."