BEAR HOLLOW The doors opened with a hush. So quietly, in fact, the first person through had no idea he was the first walk-in visitor to the Joe Quinney Winter Sports Center, a k a the Alf Engen Ski Museum.
A 13-year quest quietly ended two weeks ago.
The center and accompanying museum, which was the official press office for the Utah Olympic Park during the 2002 Games, quietly opened May. 20.
"What we wanted to do was have a soft opening," said David Amidon, executive director of Alf Engen Foundation, which owns the center. "Our intent was to open quietly and work out any problems we might have with the exhibits or the building."
So, unofficially, the center/museum is now a part of the Olympic Park tour, along with the bobsled track, ski jumps and freestyle training pool.
The official grand opening, with ribbon cutting, music and guest speakers, will be sometime in mid-July.
Alan Engen, who spearheaded the creation of the center, will then officially introduce what he says is, "unquestionably the most unique ski museum in the country. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's the most unique museum in the world."
It is a museum where visitors will not only be able to look, but also do.
In 1989, Engen expressed a wish to Amidon to build a small A-framed building near Alta Ski Resort to capture the life of Utah's greatest ski legend Alf Engen, Alan's father.
After a long search and an outpouring of public donations, the $10 million center was built and turned over to the Salt Lake Organizing Committee last winter to be temporary tenants.
After the Games, work began on the transformation to the center, complete with museum, special Olympic photo exhibit, souvenir shop and restaurant.
Next year, a 2002 Olympic Museum is expected to open, at a cost of more than $2 million. "The story just ended and now we need to figure out how best to tell it," Amidon said.
The Alf Engen Museum occupies about 4,000 square feet within the center; the Olympic Museum will take up another 4,000. Exhibits in the museum were created by Academy Studios.
"When we started this thing we wanted something that was not within the norm of most ski museums. Most museums are very static. You look at something and walk away thinking, 'That was nice.' We wanted something that was interactive," expressed Engen.
"We wanted something that was fun, enjoyable and educational, and not just for adults but also for children."
Along with the regular museum items, which include a display of old equipment, there are a number of interactive exhibits.
At one, visitors will stand in front of a wrap-around screen and visually ski either the downhill (Snowbasin), giant slalom (Park City) or slalom (Deer Valley). Slight vibrations in the floor simulate skis carving on edge with every turn.
At another, a round, steel ball is maneuvered through a slalom course using a set of ski poles as controls.
Standing in front of a TV screen, visitors can watch as an avalanche rushes down a mountain and, very effectively, covers the screen.
There are also exhibits to learn about the weather and even one that responds to questions in a voice identical to the Swedish-accented voice of Alf Engen.
There is also a large theater showing a short movie on the life of skiing here in Utah.
Alan Engen spearheaded the drive for the center. Much of the early credit for development, he pointed out, went to Randy Montgomery, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1999. Amidon, who was among the original group of planners, stepped in, Engen added, "and I have to give much of the credit for this building to him."
"We tried to do everything first-class. We didn't cut corners. We hope when the public sees what we've done they're going to be so impressed they'll want to come back time and time again."
Plans also call for rotating exhibits and guest speakers to be presented. The center will also be available for conventions and weddings.For now, things are going along quietly while bugs are worked out, but come July no words will be loud enough to sing praises for the center/museum.
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