Had it not been for the vision of Alta's pioneers, perhaps the ski area would be just another tourist trap, short on powder and long on gift shops. But the word from the beginning was that Alta would be a place for skiers.
"It was a definite company policy from the start that we set up the lift capacities for people coming down the slopes rather than to hustle people up the hill and have them stand in line," says Alta president Chic Morton."It was just kind of an accepted philosopy," adds Harold Goodro, an original ski patrol member. "There was probably never an actual meeting about it. But word got out early that Alta was for skiers, and to heck with the big profits and everything else."
Alta's beginnings had several key ingredients. There were the money men, the Mayor, the visionary, and the leg men, all who played parts in directing Alta toward its destiny.
Among the money men was J.J. (Joe) Quinney, a Salt Lake attorney. One of the original members of the Salt Lake Winter Sports Association, Quinney began as secretary and ended up Chairman of the Board. It was with Quinney's help that the first chairlift was put up. "Skiing is my charitable contribution," he would joke.
"I think the person who moved Alta forward more than anybody was Joe Quinney," says Morton, who has been at Alta since 1945. "He was involved in everything."
Quinney, Percy Kittle, Bartlett Wicks, Bill O'Connor, W.J. O'Connor and Stewart Cosgriff were among a group Salt Lake businessmen who laid the foundation for the financing of the new idea.
Before money went into developing Alta, there had to be a mayor. A man named George Watson deeded the surface rights on 1,800 acres to the Forest Service so things could begin. According to legend, when Watson donated the surface rights, he subsequently appointed himself Alta mayor by a unanimous vote.
Fred Speyer, Morton and Goodro were among the original leg men who put the sweat into Alta. Speyer was named general manager of Alta in 1942. During his years Speyer streamlined and refined the lifts at Alta.
"He was a brilliant engineer," says Goodro. "Fred designed things the way they wanted, and they worked."
Speyer ran the lift for several years. But in 1945 - seven years after the beginning - Morton came on and started something that ended up lasting a lifetime. He ran a riding stable in the Salt Lake Valley, but business was slow in the winter. When he was offered employment by Sverre Engen as a bartender at the Alta Lodge, Morton decided to give it a try. "I enjoyed it so much I made a deal with the general manager to work on the lifts," said Morton.
In 1958 Morton became lift manager, and at the same time acquired Speyer's interest in the Alta Lodge. Morton managed both until 1966, when he decided to concentrate solely on the lifts.
Goodro was an original ski patrol member and director of the patrol for over 30 years. A 40-year employee of Utah Power and Light Co., he designed and arranged for lift power lines throughout the Wasatch front, including Alta. In the beginning, ski patrol duty was a non-profit proposition. "It was volunteer. We got free lift passes for a couple of years, then we got lift passes plus $5 a day for the next 20 years," says Goodro.
Another of the leg men was Buck Sasaki, who has been 47 years at Alta. Sasaki took care of most of the work that didn't fall into anyone else's lap - shoveling snow, selling tickets, repairing lifts, etc.
And, of course, there was the visionary - Alf Engen. It was Engen who first took a look at the area and decided this was the place. He picked the spot where a half century later the snow would continue to fall paper dry and waist deep. "Alf," says Morton, "may very well have planted the seed. You've got to bet that back in those days when skiing was in its infancy, somebody had a lot of vision to have what turns out to be - I think - the very best ski area."
Despite a half-century of success, Alta has managed to keep its prices low. They wouldn't have it any other way. They like to think that if Mayor Watson were here today, he would still recognize Alta.
"Sometimes at ski areas," says Morton, "the land development is of more interest than the skiing. But our plan was to make Alta a place for skiers. "
Morton says Alta will never be a mega-resort. There won't be any condominium cities going up. His only wish for is that the local skiers and deep powder remain; that it stay a place the pioneers would recognize. "We have a saying around here," says Morton. "We figure that the bigger the other resorts get, the less competition they are to us."