September 28, 2016

Alta: 75 Years On Top

alta ski resort 75 years

In 1938, Alta ski area opened atop the dregs of another mountain-based industry. A single chair lift, cobbled together from the pieces of a silver mining system that once transported ore, now hauled human cargo. The only ski run available was the dicey drop down Corkscrew, named for its narrow, twisting descent.

In January 1940, Lowell Remington skied for the first time at Alta, which was open only on weekends. “I loved the mountains, loved the snow. Some of the guys in the downtown bachelor boarding house were going skiing and I wanted to go with ‘em. I bought a pair of boots at the fort [Douglas] for $10. They were ski boots. This was before the war. It was all borrowed stuff other than the boots,” Lowell said. In the basement of the boarding house he had found a pair of abandoned wood skis, seven feet in length, and long bamboo poles. He paid $2.50 for a ten-ride ticket to use the chairlift.

The ride to top of the lift took about 10 minutes. Skiing down was another story.

“A good skier could get in 10-15 runs [a day], I got in six or eight,” he said. “Took 30 minutes for me. I’d get on that Corkscrew, take one turn and fall down, take another turn, fall down. There was no packing of snow in those days. The only packing was by skis, and those wood skis didn’t have metal edges.”

Skiing wasn’t the only big thing Lowell recalled from his salad days at Alta.

“Well, we were up at Alta and coming down on December seventh, tuned in the radio at five o’ clock in the afternoon. Pearl Harbor had been bombed.” He paused in remembrance. “I was right at about half way down (from) Alta where you get that view out over the valley.” “ Everybody knows where they were, just like the day when Kennedy was shot.”

In 1948, Lowell was in Utah skiing frequently at Alta with Allene, his soon to be wife. By the 1960’s the Remington’s were taking all four of their kids skiing, packing the whole family into their Volkswagen Beetle with six pairs of skis jutting out of the sunroof. A lift ticket was $4.50. When Lowell wasn’t going down the slopes, he was building up his Shutterbug photo shop business.

Those early ski trips with his parents provided a lifelong love of skiing for Lowell’s son, Bruce Remington, now 56.

“The first lift I was ever on was a bunny run, a green run, the easiest run. Dad and I unload from the lift and I just kept going. It’s a vivid memory for me. I was able to turn and avoid groups of skiers. Dad didn’t think so. He thought I was out of control. While he was chasing me he was yelling. ‘WHOA Bruce! WHOA!’” At that point it was obvious that 12-year-old Bruce was a natural.

In 1983 Bruce took patrol jobs at Solitude and Park West. When Alta opened the new Supreme run, Bruce had only to apply and was offered a job.

“Alta has the better skiing, the better snow, the name. And as far as patrolling goes, Alta was one of the pioneers.” His ski patrol job became a three-decade seasonal career at Alta. “Never had an interest in being on ski school or running the lifts or anything else. Had to do something on skis.”

Bruce believes the snow at Alta has changed a lot. “I have these pictures of when I first started working where it’s waist deep, just super light, maybe three-percent density snow. You’d make a turn, if you didn’t get your breathing just right you’d get a mouthful of snow. In general, it was a lot more lighter snow back then.”

Bruce is back at Alta again this season 73 years after Lowell first skied there. A daily lift ticket is now $75. Alta has seven lifts and upwards of a half million skier visits a year. Who knew that the value of white powder would be worth more than silver ore?