Alta, photo courtesy of Ski Utah

A little history lesson: What resort introduced the chairlift to skiers and what resort soon followed? Answer: Sun Valley, Idaho, was the first and Alta was the second.

What brought this up? This is Alta’s 75th ski season anniversary. 

It’s kinda fun to go back in history every once in a while. A recent visit to Sun Valley brought back memories. Starting with a walk down memory lane in the main lodge. The walls are covered with photos of early celebs. 

Sun Valley was made famous by the early stars of Hollywood. Bringing the famous to the resort was a marketing stunt that worked. The stars came and the press followed. 

Sun Valley built the first lift, patterned after a conveyer cable used to unload bananas, in 1937. Alta followed two years later with the second lift. Interestingly enough, the late Alf Engen of Alta fame played a major role in both resorts. 

Since Austrian Count Felix Schaffgotsch, hired to find the perfect mountain to build a lift, was less than an accomplished skier, Engen was hired to escort him to possible areas, which included Idaho and the canyons around Salt Lake City. Schaffgotsch liked the mountains in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, but he thought they were too close to the city. 

Engen would later scout the canyons around Salt Lake City and thought a bowl that was a mining camp was a good base and the mountains were perfect for skiing . . . and he was right. 

Ski Dollar Mountain at Sun Valley and know that this is where the first lift carried skiers. Ski under the Collins Lift at Alta and know this is where the first skiers enjoyed the uphill lift in Utah.  

That first year uphill rides at Alta were almost as hazardous as downhill skiing. 

Alta was supposed to open in November but builders ran into all sorts of problems—cables, brakes, pulleys lining up, motors, gears. It wasn't deemed safe until the following January. Even then, early skiers recall that the towers were too short and, in places, snow piled up over the cables, so deep trenches had to be dug so cables and chairs could move.

One problem was skiers would occasionally catch their ski tips in the snow and be catapulted out of the chair. 

Other times, cable brakes would fail and chairs and passengers would slide backward. Skiers learned to jump on these reverse rides, then return to the lift lines and patiently wait until all was repaired.

My how things have changed. 

It’s fun and interesting to reflect back on how things were and there’s no better way than to be onsite and on the same runs. 

Early Alta Facts 

Opened: Jan. 15, 1936
Tickets: $1.50 a day or 25 cents a ride
Lift: 2,630 feet
Skier Days: 265 the first year
Skis: $5.95
Boots: $4.25
Poles: $1
Bindings: $5.95