ALTA — The decision didn't come easily. Skiing, after all, was as important to Alan Engen as sleep. But retirement, he knew, was certain and he wanted it to come on his terms.
And it has. He announced his plans last fall. It became official last Sunday with the official closing of Alta for the 2010-11 ski season ... as planned.
For the first time, for the better part of the 72-year history of the resort, an Engen will no longer be involved in the day-to-day activities at the resort.
Sverre Engen, Alan's uncle, founded the ski school at Alta in 1945. Alf Engen, Alan's father, replaced him as director and built the Alf Engen Ski School in 1948. Alan became director in 1992 and moved up to director of skiing in 1998.
As the son of a skiing legend, it was a given that Alan would be involved in skiing. To what degree was the question. The answer would be very involved.
Alf Engen was recognized by many as the father of modern skiing. He was a world champion ski jumper, as well as a champion in alpine and cross country skiing, and built what came to be recognized as one of the most progressive ski schools in the country.
Under his father's direction Alan would step into skis at age 2, make his first ski jumps at age 4 and by age 9 would be skiing competitively. By age 12 he was an instructor in the Deseret News Ski School, a program his father helped introduce 63 years ago.
"Guess he felt I couldn't do much harm teaching beginners. By the time I was able to become a ski instructor at Alta I'd had quite a few years of teaching experience," Alan Engen recalled.
He would go on to become a member of the Junior National Ski Team and win championship titles in giant slalom, slalom and ski jumping. He was also a member of the University of Utah ski team from 1959 to 1962 and was named collegiate All-America in 1960.
In later years he won many more titles in jumping and in masters races.
It was not skiing, however, that remains one of Alan's most vivid memories at Alta. It was an avalanche that hit the Alta Lodge while the Engen family slept. It crashed through windows at the lodge and buried Alan while he slept. Alf was able to free himself and dig his family out.
"Luckily, the snow took a drape along with it that covered me and protected me from the broken glass or I would have been cut to ribbons. In digging me out dad was lacerated badly," recalled Alan, who was 12 at the time.
Alf later said he turned down an invitation to film powder skiing in the famed Bugaboos in British Columbia because of the threat of avalanches.
The days Alan most remember on the slopes were skiing with his dad and uncles — Sverre and Corey — and his opportunities to be with "skiers people now refer to as legends and pioneers." This would include Junior Bounous and Maxine Bounous and Max Lundberg. Junior Bounous was Alf Engen's first assistant director.
"I remember I was a little shaver, but every place Junior went I was probably no more than two or three feet behind ... and then there were all the people who came to Alta over the years to ski," he said.
One of his closest bonds, he said, was with Jim Gaddis, a skier of equally notable accomplishments.
"We grew up together and pushed each other through junior racing and into college. There was only Jim and myself and we made it work and we were pretty darn successful for a rag-tag group of skiers at the time," he recalled.
"I've had a great career. I've skied all over the world and competed all over the world, and I've been able to ski with people from all walks of life. I've carried the Olympic torch twice, in Atlanta in 1996 and Salt Lake City in 2002. I have no regrets."
After graduating from the U., Engen moved to the flatlands of Kansas where he worked for Hallmark Cards as manager of the graphic arts division. In 1978, he returned to Utah to work in the aerospace division of Hercules Computer Service. And in 1992 he returned to Alta.
In more recent years he spearheaded the creation and building of the Joe Quinney Winter Sports Center/Alf Engen Ski Museum at the Utah Olympic Park and became Utah's resident ski historian. He authored one book, "For the Love of Skiing — A Visual History," and co-authored with Greg Thompson, University of Utah Marriott Library curator, a second book, "First Tracks — A Century of Skiing in Utah." He is also deeply involved with the Alta Historical Society.
Ski history, however, wasn't something that at first drew his interest.
He recalled that after returning from military service, his father asked if he would be interested in writing a book on ski history, focusing on the family.Comment on this story
"At the time I told him that I really wasn't an expert in that area. It wasn't until I considered building a museum that I realized there wasn't a lot of ski history that was available. If there was going to be a museum we really needed something people could refer to. That's when I got serious about putting pen to paper and doing some writing. I had enough material left over from the first book to work on the second," Alan explained.
"I got a lot of information and realized a lot of the people I was writing about were still alive and that I'd better go and do some interviews because they may not be around much longer, and that proved to be the case."
At age 70, Alan's plans are to spend time possibly writing another book on skiing, traveling with his wife Barbara and grandchildren, and building on his reputation as Utah's recognized ski historian.
And, he laughed, skiing occasionally, "as long as the old legs hold out."