George Watson was a native of Michigan, born in 1883, who came to Utah in 1902 in search of a fortune mining silver ore in the gloves-off mining camps of the American West. His colorful, often zany, exploits as a miner, stock promoter and early-day ski aficionado led to the establishment of one of the world’s premier ski areas: Alta, Utah. When he realized his dream of riches from mining would not materialize, George acquired 80 seemingly-worthless abandoned mining claims, including several hundred acres of land, in the Alta Mining District. Not fazed by his misfortune, Watson declared himself “Mayor” of Alta, likely its only resident, in the early 1930’s.
This was the time Salt Lake area residents were beginning to discover there was more to skiing than jumping and cross-country treks and when the U.S. Forest Service was viewing the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon as an ideal site for recreational skiing, thanks to its ideal snow conditions. History clearly shows that there was a convergence of three factors which set the stage for Alta becoming a ski area in the late 1930’s.
The U.S. Forest Service was able to acquire the additional public lands required; Watson was able to eliminate his debt problems and look like a “hero” in the process; and the Salt Lake Winter Sports Association was able to pursue building a successful enterprise at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon. “Mayor” Watson passed away at his beloved “Romantic Alta” in March, 1952. He was later inducted into the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame in 1969 and was inducted into the Ski Industry Hall of Fame.