Skiing legend Alf Engen dies at 88

Published: Monday, July 21 1997 12:00 a.m. MDT

"To be good at any sport, you must love what you are doing. I have always loved skiing and never had a bad day. Some may not have been as good as others, but nonetheless, I have never had a bad day."

- Alf Engen

Never a bad day . . . never a person he didn't like . . . never a student he couldn't teach . . . never a youngster he wouldn't help . . . never a greeting without the familiar, "Boy, I feel great."

Alf Engen died on Sunday at age 88.

Engen was a "parent" to modern skiing, both mother and father. He taught for more than 60 years, was a national champion many times, helped design and build more then 30 resorts, most notably Alta, and helped pioneer both ski equipment and skiing techniques.

Of all his accomplishments, he always said, teaching is the one thing he would like to be remembered for . . . "Medals, who needs more medals. I have a room full of them. But to give a good ski lesson, that is what is important to me," he once said.

Less than a week earlier, Utah lost another ski pioneer. Chic Morton, longtime general manager of Alta and close friend of Engen's, died on July 15.

"It's tough, especially for Alta, to lose two of the early pioneers and great people in skiing in one week. This really is the passing of an era. Both, I think, will leave a legacy that will live on indefinitely," says Mark Menlove, executive director of Ski Utah.

Engen came to the United States in the 1920s to play professional soccer in New York. It wasn't long, however, before his leaps off a ski jump drew more attention than his kicks on the soccer field. Invited to join a touring ski-jumping team, he came west to Utah.

He went on to win 16 national ski jumping titles and set a number of world records. In one particular meet he set two world records. He went on to win national titles in all four disciplines - ski jumping, cross country, downhill and slalom skiing.

In 1936, Engen was invited to represent the United States in the Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Days before he was to leave, Avery Brundage, then president of the International Olympic Committee, pul-led him from the team because his picture had appeared that year on a box of Wheaties.

Engen said he didn't remember getting any money from the cereal company, "Just a lot of Wheaties. I think I gave everyone in Salt Lake City free Wheaties."

Shortly after the Olympics he jumped against and beat both the gold and silver medalists of the Games.

He returned to the Olympic picture in 1948 as coach of the U.S. women's ski team. That year, Gretchen Fraser of Sun Valley became the first American to win a gold medal in alpine skiing.

Engen said his first introduction to Alta was in the winter of 1935 on a cross country hike from Big Cottonwood Canyon. That summer he returned into what he called "the dirtiest, dustiest" place he'd ever been to. His first impression, though, as he looked up the mountains to the south, was that this area would make a great ski resort.

Later, while working for the federal government's Civilian Conservation Corps, he surveyed the site as a possible location for a ski area. Alta was to become the second ski area in the country with a chair-lift in 1938. Sun Valley was the first.

He was to leave Utah for a time and teach skiing in Sun Valley. In 1948, he returned to take over the Alta Ski School from his brother Sverre. That same year he went after and got the Deseret News to sponsor an easy and affordable way for people to learn skiing. Plans are under way to celebrate the 50th year of the Deseret News Ski School in November.

Engen continued to ski and teach at Alta until two years ago when he suffered a stroke.

He was later to tell Dan Meldrum, a part-time instructor at Alta, "This is the best time of my life. I have no worries, a wonderful wife (Evelyn) who takes great care of me, a nice garden and now I've got the time to sit down and look at the beautiful mountains."

Stein Erickson, director of skiing at Deer Valley and gold medalist from Nor-way, always called Engen "my hero."

Max Lundberg, a former assistant to Engen in the Alta Ski School, once recalled that "everyone always wanted to ski with Alf. It was always a great experience. He was always in the lead and the rest watched and tried to do the things he did."

Junior Bounous, director of skiing at Snowbird and a former instructor under Egen, once recalled that "Before it was the thing to do he treated people warm-heartedly and as equals."

Engen is survived by his wife and two sons, Alan and Jon. Services are scheduled for noon Friday at the Larkin Mortuary Chapel. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be made to the Alf Engen Museum at Bear Hollow.

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS