With the opening of the ski season, Alta ski resort will celebrate its Golden Anniversary in alpine skiing. The oldest resort in the state, Alta provided the foundation on which the Utah ski industry was built.
The town of Alta was born shortly after the discovery of silver in Little Cottonwood Canyon in the 1860s. By the early 1870s, it had boomed to a raucous mining town where hard drinking, prostitution and frequent killings were the norm.In its heyday, the town had nearly 8,000 inhabitants, numerous boarding houses, a courthouse, jail, dance hall, Chinese laundry, three breweries and 26 saloons, with names like "Bucket of Blood." The "Boots On" Cemetery was located in Collins Gulch for the victims of not only the mines, but also 150 reported bar room clashes.
In every sense, Alta was a harsh place in those days. Winters that produced the same abundant powder snow that make Alta famous for skiing today, caused a struggle for its hardy inhabitants back then. Although the town mines were successful, Alta was plagued by disaster. Both fire and avalanches destroyed the town on several occasions.
When mining waned in the 1930s, the only remaining year-round resident, a man named George Watson, proclaimed himself mayor by majority vote of one. It was Watson, in conjunction with the Salt Lake City Winter Sports Association and other governmental bodies, who was behind the building of a ski resort at Alta. The original lift was constructed from an old aerial mining tramway. Since the opening of that single chairlift in 1938, Alta has evolved into a world-class ski resort.
Today, Alta is a sleepy town of 200 to 400 yearly residents.
In keeping with its laid-back, no frills philosophy, Alta Ski Lifts will quietly celebrate its 50th anniversary with a "regular, same old ski season," says Peter Lawson, the assistant general manager.
"Although the basic, underlying theme of this season will be the 50th," he said, "our celebration will be a low key event. It would be out of character for us to do it any other way."
Although down played, signs of the celebration will be evident throughout the resort. Alta employees will wear commemorative 50-year uniform patches and hats, and both ticket offices will feature historical displays and films. A souvenir historical brochure and ski school poster will be available.
Among the activities will be two ski races. The first, called the "Legends of Utah Skiing," will be a dual slalom with categories for past Olympians, national team members, coaches and ski industry VIPs. The second will be a recreational giant slalom.
Also, Alta will bring back the famous "Alta Gelande Contest." It will be held April 8 and will be held to honor skiing great Alf Engen.
Other activities will include reunions, a festival, snow sculpture contest and parades.
Today, Alta is recognized as one of the finest ski resorts in the country, most noted for its light, bottomless powder snow. Alta has an average snowfall of over 500 inches a season.