Near the end of my 11th season designing for Stevens Pass, it came time to design a logo, badge, emblem… that encompassed the resort’s 75th anniversary. Little did we know how much life would change by the time it was done. The project ended up being one of the most emotional designs I’ve worked on, and one that ultimately ended in me taking creative work from someone else and not telling anyone.
Although this project had more iterations than most projects – including eight major redesigns – that’s not what set this apart. It wasn’t that this was a big anniversary, or that there were a lot of thoughts on what it should be. Those were all factors, but not the major hurdle. The challenge came as we lost the Ambassador of All Things Rad – Chris Rudolph. He was the effervescent 30-year-old marketing director for Stevens Pass.
I’ll spare you the emotions I had (and still have) related to that which are not design related. But I will describe the journey of combining those and capturing the emotions of many into a design.
There are quite a few basics to this logo that most people never see – at least not consciously. Stevens Pass is not a cookie cutter resort. There’s a reason why Rudolph commissioned a movie called COMMUNITY. They don’t use stock photography. This is a place that embraces Crappy Diem – In Defense of Skiing in the Rain. Artwork in recent years has been provided by local artists. Textures of wood, steel, snow… have all come from images of the resort.
For example, the wood grain that was used for a couple seasons.
With the help of a Dan Gilbert and using his garage, I built the commemorative sign at the base of Kehr’s Chair. Scraps of wood were kept, scanned in and then used for several variations of those textures.
Back to the logo. The base mark consists of a fill of a mountain ridge and a knockout of trees. At first glance you something that loosely looks like a mountain ridge and some trees below it. If that’s all you see, that’s fine. For those who know and love Stevens, it should look somewhat familiar. At the very least, it shouldn’t look out of place or anything resembling clip art. The goal was to show something that everyone could grasp, but that resonated with locals at a subconscious level. It needed to feel at home and familiar. Stevens management was big on being authentic.
Years earlier I had used a photo of a ridge that wasn’t inbounds, but taken from Stevens, for the top of stevenspass.com. This always seemed a little off to myself and others as the other ridge had different peak formations than Cowboy Ridge. After 20+ years of riding at Stevens Pass, I had seen Cowboy from nearly every vantage point. I wanted something that still looked like a mountain ridge, would be recognized by those unfamiliar with the ridge as a mountain feature, but would still capture the uniqueness of the ridge and again resonate with locals.
I tried and failed multiple times to create a simpler version, but each time it lost the character I wanted to stick with.
The trees posed a similar problem. A couple years earlier we were just beginning the “Pure PNW” campaign and we were testing out concepts. I wanted a specific shot of trees, but didn’t have any that fit the bill. As a placeholder for the very first version, I used a shot I had taken on a trip to Mt. Rainier. The instant feedback was essentially “those aren’t our trees.” It’s not until you dig into something like this that you realize it’s not even about the species, but the same types of trees can look different just a few miles apart from each other. Their groupings, how their branches hang…
In the 75th logo, the tree knockout is modeled off of trees on the west side of the resort. In years past I had photographed some of the half pipe competitions. With an abundance of shots that included the tree tops with a clear background, I sifted through to find the quintessential grouping of trees and their tops. Next time you’re on the mountain, look around and you should see how these fit in.
Again, only a rare few consciously notices this stuff. The goal is to target the subconscious. (And, of course, do so in an honest way.)
Two final versions were created. One was flat and used in movies, on stickers, for pins and all sorts of other materials. Once its essence was captured, then it was time to move on to a more detailed version.
Along the way several versions were created by friend and long time designer, Sven Assmann. He created the 70th anniversary logo, as well as those for the Foggy Goggle and Taco Stop.
Sticking to its roots in nature, a wood grain was added. This was basic and subdued, but it was there.
Just like the paint on many of their chairlifts, Stevens Pass has many layers. Those layers aren’t perfect, they have chips, cracks and some have been filled in. I wanted to rough up the logo a bit. Cracks and spots were added to help convey this.
We wanted more depth, more intrigue and some green that shined of life. Colors were tweaked and retweaked. Fortunately, Sven is much better at that than I.
Now a struggle ensued. It was one I couldn’t really ask others about, because I don’t think any of us knew the answer. The resort was moving forward, as it should. Rudolph was only a part of Stevens for a small portion of its existence. In those short years, however, he made a big impact. Was it just my own desire to include something for him? Did others want it as well? Should it be there?
With new ownership and some new faces, I wasn’t sure how this topic would go over. So I kept it mostly to myself. Explorations with Rudolph’s name, initials or or other attributes didn’t work so well. I wanted something in there, but not something most would immediately see. I wasn’t sure if it would raise any eyebrows, and I didn’t want to find out.
A couple images had become popular amongst those missing Rudolph, as well as Jim Jack and Johnny Brenan. They too lost their lives in the same avalanche. One would later be used for Shred for Stevens and another included Dan Zimmermann.
One stood out, and I decided to use it. It would be the first time I used someone else’s creative work, in my own work, without their consent. It had been widely circulated on Facebook and used at a memorial service in Leavenworth. The photo was taken by Ian Coble
With that shot in hand and without permission, I put in Ian’s photo and the design was approved. Here’s a breakdown of the end result.
Rudolph was a bit of a cowboy. Not getting permission for the image, in its own way, was a method to remember him. A year or two after all this, I had coffee with Ian and brought up what I had done. Ian completely got it and seemed excited I had used his image to sneak in a reference to the Ambassador of All Things Rad.