Utah Ski History FAQs


Q:  What is the history of the Alf Engen Ski Museum?  

  • 1989  The idea of a ski museum originated when a group of ski history enthusiasts, headed by Alan Engen, realized the need for a facility recognizing those ski and snow sport pioneers and athletes who had made significant contributions to winter sports in the Intermountain Region.  A small A-frame structure was first considered as a repository for Alf Engen's considerable collection of trophies and awards as well as other historical memorabilia.  However, the building "grew" into a 29,000 square foot structure, thanks to contributions from the Janet Quinney Lawson Foundation, David and Shari Quinney and many other generous donors.  The location of the museum was determined by two factors: its close proximity to storied Ecker Hill and to the venues of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.
  • August 1993  Alf Engen Ski Museum Foundation is formally established as a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.
  • August 1999  Formal site dedication for proposed Joe Quinney Winter Sports Center building is held.
  • March 2000  Groundbreaking for the Quinney Center.  Utah Winter Sports Park is renamed Utah Olympic Park.
  • September 2001  Joe Quinney Winter Sports Center building is loaned to the Salt Lake Organizing Committee to serve as a media center during the 2002 Winter Games.
  • March 2002  Displays and exhibits are installed in the Alf Engen Ski Museum.
  • July 2002  A public Grand Opening of the building is held.
  • September 2002  Bronze sculptures of Joe Quinney and Alf Engen, crafted by Kraig Varner of Lehi, Utah, and funded by the Quinney and Engen families, are unveiled.  The inaugural class of Intermountain Ski Hall of Fame is inducted.
  • May 2004  Alf Engen Ski Museum Foundation sells the Quinney Center to the Utah Athletic Foundation.
  • June 2005  Grand Opening of the George Eccles Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games Museum is held.  Intermountain Ski Hall of Fame is renamed the Will and Jean Pickett Intermountain Ski Hall of Fame in honor of two local contributors to ski history.
  • May 2006  Alf Engen Ski Museum receives "Best of State" honors in the "Museum and Attractions" category.
  • September 2007  New museum entry, highlighting each decade's skiing history, is installed.

Q:  What are some interesting facts about the museum?

  • The Joe Quinney Winter Sports Center and Alf Engen Ski Museum were funded entirely with private donations.  Total cost of the building was $10.5 million. Major contributions were given by the Quinney and Eccles families.
  • ​The Joe Quinney Winter Sports Center covers an area of 29,000 square feet.
  • The Quinney Center was designed by Edwards & Daniels Architects (EDA) and constructed by Jacobson Construction Co.  The exhibits in the Alf Engen Ski Museum were crafted by Academy Studios of San Francisco.
  • The Alf Engen Ski Museum is the only regional ski museum in the United States to be named for an individual.  All others are named for regional locations.  (Sun Valley Museum, Colorado Ski Museum, etc.)
  • The Alf Engen Ski Museum partners with the University of Utah J. Willard Marriott Library Ski Archives.  These two groups collaborate to document and provide historical information pertaining to the winter sports industry to the public.
  • To date, over 12,000 students have participated in the museum's field-trip program since its inception in 2002.  Grant monies have enabled us to pay all field trip costs, thus giving many students their first time ever mountain experience.
  • Most of the skis, clothing, and other equipment have been donated to the museum.
  • Alf Engen passed away in July 1997 at the age of 88.  He taught skiing at Alta until 1989, retiring at the age of 80.

Q:  Did Alf know that Utah was selected to host the 2002 Olympic Winter Games?  What were his feelings about that? 

A:  No.  At the time of Alf's passing in July 1997, he was not aware of Salt Lake City's selection to host the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. However, he did play an active part in the bid process and was a member of the Site Selection Committee that chose the location for what is now Utah Olympic Park. The Salt Lake Olympic Bid Committee for the 2002 Winter Games made a special card featuring Alf and his accomplishments that was sent out worldwide. One of these cards can be found at the University of Utah Marriott Library Ski Archives in the Alan Engen Ski History Scrapbooks.

Q: Where is Alf Engen buried? 

A: Alf is buried in the city cemetery at Centerville, Utah.

Q: What was the first resort in Utah to install and use mechanized lifts? 

A: It it is assumed that the term "resort" refers to winter skiing accomodations for locals and out-of-state visitors. In this context, Alta was the first to provide uphill chair lift conveyance along with public shelter accommodations. The original Collins Lift at Alta began operation to the public in January 1939. The ski area itself opened in 1938. The first three ski areas to construct chair lifts in Utah were:

  • Alta - Started chair lift operation to the public during 1938-39 ski season
  • Snowbasin - Started chair lift operation to the public during 1945-46 season
  • Brighton - Started chair lift operation during the 1947-48 ski seaon

It should be noted that Brighton, Alta, Snow Park (now Deer Valley), Beaver Mountain in Logan, and Timp Haven (now Sundance Resort) had other tow devices in operation at their respective locations prior to chairlifts being constructed.

For more information about Alta's history, please go to www.altahistory.org  Under the "Alta Powder News" menu, select the "Powder News Archives" link and you will be able to access back issues that focus on historical articles.  Books available through the Engen Museum include For the Love of Skiing - A Visual History, and First Tracks - A Century of Skiing in Utah.

Q: Did Utah have the first chairlift in the nation?

A:  No.  Alta was the first ski area in Utah to install a chairlift but not the first in the nation.  Alta's lift was installed in 1938 and was operational in January 1939.  This actually was the fifth chairlift in the United States, following the three lifts installed in Sun Valley, Idaho and one chairlift in Laconia, New Hampshire.

Q: When were chairlifts put into use in the various ski areas?

  • The Collins chairlift at Alta was the first operational lift in Utah.  This lift, along with the Collins Gulch and Collins Face, were named after Charles H. Collins, a successful prospector in Alta.  The Collins lift was constructed in 1938 and became operational in 1939. The cost of a ride up the lift was 25 cents.
  • In 1941, Alta constructed a J-Bar (no back) chairlift called the Peruvian Lift. 
  • Very shortly after the Peruvian Lift was built, Alta constructed the Lucky Boy lift in the Albion Basin area.  In the first winter of operation, the lift was destroyed by an avalanche and the decision was made not to rebuild it. 
  • The Rustler Lift was built in 1944, just a short distamce west of where the Lucky Boy had stood.  The Rustler Lift was removed in the early 1950s and reinstalled in a small, family-oriented ski area called Gorgoza, east of Parley's Summit and managed by Cal and Dodie McPhie.
  • In 1945, Snowbasin was the next ski area in Utah to construct a chairlift.  This lift was officially dedicated on January 20, 1946.
  • The Millicent chairlift at Brighton went into operation in 1947. 
  • Around this same time, in 1947 two small chairlifts were built at Snow Park (now Deer Valley) which remained in operation until the Royal Street Development Company turned its interest to developing the Deer Valley resort in the 1980s.
  • Other areas, such as Beaver Mountain in Logan and Timp Haven (now Sundance) in Provo also had uphill conveyances in operation in the mid- to late 1940s.  They were not chairlifts in the true sense, but rather were rope tows and/or T-Bar lifts.

Q: Who were the first contributors whom Joe Quinney convinced to finance the new Alta ski area in 1937?

A: Alta, as a ski area, began with the construction of the original Collins chairlift. Following a 700-acre U.S. Forest Service land acquisition donated by miner/prospector George H. Watson in 1937, a group of businessmen, led by S. Joe Quinney, formed the Salt Lake Winter Sports Association (WSA). They raised $10,000 to build the first ski lift at Alta, Utah. In addition to Quinney, that visionary group of men included: W.J. O'Connor, V.R. Parkinson, L.R. Ure, Paul F. Keyser, E. Bartlett Wicks, Stewart Cosgriff, and P.H. Kittle. 

In 1938, the WSA made an agreement with the Michigan-Utah Mines to purchase the aerial tramway which carried ore from Alta, down Little Cottonwood Canyon, to Tanner's Flat during the early 1900s.  Michigan-Utah Mines president Bill O'Connor (who was also an original member of the WSA group) agreed to be in charge of designing and building the chairs for the proposed chairlift which was planned to go up Collins Gulch, named after Charles Collins, an early Alta miner.  The funds raised by the WSA were sufficient to construct the wooden towers, cables, and chairs and allowed the original Collins Lift to officially open to the public in mid-January 1939.  Skiers were initially charged 25 cents per ride or $1.50 for a day pass.  The original Collins Lift was the first uphill chairlift conveyance in Utah and the fifth built in the United States.

Q:  Where were the first ski lodges in the area?

A:  The Snowpine was the first lodge in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Built in 1938, it was initially called the Rock Shelter. Its original purpose was as a warming shelter for day skiers. The Alta Lodge was constructed in late summer of 1940; the Rustler opened on Thanksgiving Day 1947; and the Peruvian Lodge opened in 1948.

The Rustler Lodge was initially started by Howard Stillwell.  Stillwell's father was an early Alta mining pioneer and owned the land which was passed on to Howard.  Howard opened the partially completed lodge in November 1947.  In early 1948, Sverre Engen took a financial interest in the Rustler Lodge as a partner with Howard and helped finish the initial construction.  In addition, Sverre and his wife Lois were the first managers of the lodge operation and ran it for several years.

Both Alf and Sverre Engen emigrated to the United States in 1929.  Alf came first, arriving in July, and Sverre followed later in the fall of that year.  Alf first entered Alta in 1935 when he was hired by the Forest Service to select areas conducive to ski development.  However, he did not work at Alta until 1948, after coaching the U.S. Olympic Ski Team in the 1948 Olympic Winter Games. Sverre began his career at Alta in the late '30s or early '40s when he was hired by the Forest Service to be the first snow ranger.  In 1945, Sverre became the seventh Alta Ski School director.  Alf took over the ski school from Sverre in 1948.  More details about all the ski school directors can be found in the Spring 2009 edition of the Alta Powder News at www.altahistory.org

The first chef at the Rustler Lodge was Finn Gurholt, a Norwegian who emigrated to the United States in the early 1950s.  Finn became a well-known chef in the Salt Lake area, eventually creating a highly respected restaurant called "Finn's."  He died in 1991 at the age of 70.

The owners of the five Alta Lodges in 1970 were  Bill Levitt (Alta Lodge), Lee Bronson (Rustler Lodge), Edwin Gibbs (Peruvian Lodge, sold to John Cahill in late 1970), Jim & Elfrieda Shane (Goldminer's Daughter), and Al Kapp (Snowpine Lodge).

Q:  It is well-known that the miners and Mormon pioneers devastated the forests along the Wasatch Front.  Is it true that Boy Scouts were responsible for replanting the trees more than 100 years ago?

A:  Conservation efforts provided by Boy Scout tree planting activities probably did play a contributing role over the years and their efforts need to be applauded.  However, in terms of significant impact to reforestation in the Wasatch mountains, the signing of Executive Order 6106 in 1933 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, creating the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), started a program which had a more profound impact on Utah over the following decade.  CCC workers performed hundreds of jobs in Utah, working on roads and perhaps most important, forest replantation projects in the Cottonwood Canyons.  A major CCC camp was located at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon which accommodated approximately 200 personnel.  Alf Engen was a CCC foreman at that camp in the mid- to late 1930s.  There is little question that the CCC tree planting at Alta had a significant positive effect on the area's development as a ski resort.

Q: A deed in the Salt Lake County Records Book 230 of Deeds, page 34 shows the mining claims at Alta conveyed to the USA from Salt Lake County, claiming title by virture of tax sale.  This seems different from the lore which says Watson/Alta United donated the surface to the US and reserved the minerals, represented by another deed about the same time, but recorded years later.  What's the story? 

A:  A 1938 document signed by George H. Watson, President & Secretary of the Alta United Mines Company, and Edgar S. Hill states that the agreement is between Alta United Mines Company (grantor) and the United States of America (grantee) dated September 14, 1938.  It was recorded on December 3, 1941 in Salt Lake County.  The five-page document outlines the specific properties given up by Watson for a price of one dollar.