By Mike Gorrell, The Salt Lake Tribune - Paying homage to Alta is easy because so much of the reason for doing so comes straight from the heart.
Speaker after speaker personalized that point Thursday when Visit Salt Lake conferred its highest honor, the Tourism Achievement Award, on Alta Ski Area for all it has done in its 75 years of existence to bring acclaim and prosperity to the community and Utah’s ski industry.
Erik Christiansen, an attorney who chairs Visit Salt Lake’s board, broke out a Baldy Chutes trail sign that hangs in his home, pointing perpetually toward Little Cottonwood Canyon. "That’s the way people feel about Alta," he said. "You take it through your whole life."
Photographer Lee Cohen has made a living shooting pictures of skiers doing incredible things in the lightest powder anywhere with Mount Superior or Devil’s Castle serving as a backdrop. "It’s such a special place to me, as it has been to anyone who skis around here," he said, citing the resort’s classic laid-back character and snow that can’t be beat, even in droughts.
There’s a purity there, Cohen said, because it’s clear that Alta exists "for skiers. They’re the most important people. People who come here find that refreshing."
Over the years, the siren song of its plentiful snow, picturesque terrain and old-school charm has enticed hundreds of thousands to make annual pilgrimages to its slopes, with many opting to stay so they could enjoy the benefits of Utah’s $1 billion-a-year industry on any given day.
"Salt Lake County couldn’t be more proud than to call Alta one of its own," said County Councilman Arlyn Bradshaw.
"It’s always fun to talk about Alta," added Visit Salt Lake President Scott Beck, who recounted the resort’s importance to Utah’s economy and the inner spirit of many of its residents since Alf Engen cross-country skied into Albion Basin from Big Cottonwood Canyon in the winter of 1935 and spent a couple of weeks exploring its slopes. Yes, Engen told the U.S. Forest Service, this would be a great place for a ski resort.
The rest is history. Beck chronicled that past in detail, noting that despite making just $31.90 during its second year of operation, "this operation had staying power."
The resort’s presence also gave rise to the modern science of avalanche control, he added, and fostered a continuing close relationship between the ski-film industry (along with still photographers like Cohen) and Alta. That union dates to 1945, when 20th Century Fox filmed Alf, Sverre and Corey Engen gracefully carving turns in "Ski Aces."
After all the accolades, Alta General Manager Onno Wieringa told the crowd of 200 people attending VSL’s quarterly meeting at This is the Place Heritage Park that "all of us in this generation [of Alta employees] couldn’t be happier to accept this award — not for us, but for Alta the place."
He expressed appreciation to Joe Quinney and other Salt Lake business people whose investments and foresight launched Alta — "our hats are always off to them" — and gratitude for being able to work there now and expose so many people to Alta’s wonders.
Responded Beck: "Alta is foundational to who we are."