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This exhibit focuses on one little known aspect of Salt Lake County’s contribution to securing the safety of skiers at Alta ski resort. The following is a timeline of Salt Lake County’s involvement with the Alta ski area.
Alta is designated a ski area. Salt Lake County, Salt Lake Winter Sports Association, U.S. Forest Service, Utah State Road Commission, and the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce all combined efforts to create the ski area.
Salt Lake County provided the U. S. Forest Service with a total of $2000 for the construction of the Alta Public Service Shelter and Water Development. This agreement was passed by the Salt Lake County Commission, and signed by J.B. Mullins, Acting Chairman of the Commission, and James E. Gurr, Forest Supervisor.
Excessively heavy snow fall and extremely cold temperatures recorded. First recorded use of explosives in avalanche control, conducted by C. Douglas Wadsworth, U.S. Forest Service Ranger, and Carl Fahner, ski school director. Snow slide buried the County road under an estimated 14 feet of snow. Salt Lake County Roads and Bridges crews were responsible for clearing the snow from the road, allowing accessibility to Alta. Salt Lake County worked for more than 35 days to clear the road.
Peruvian Lodge, Alta. Circa 1945-1955
Shortly before noon on New Year’s Day, 1500 skiers were celebrating the holidays at Alta ski resort. On the opposite side of Rustlers Peak, the eastern side, a group of four skiers were on a cross-country trip in an area seldom used at the time. Fourteen inches of new, heavy snow had fallen during the previous two days. Veteran skiers indicated that they practiced a policy of not traversing a steep slope until the snow had packed. The small group continued their exploration of Alta’s backcountry.
A snow slide began, with witnesses helplessly watching as at least one member of the group tried to ski out of the slide. The slide thundered down the mountain, separating into two sections. Thought to have trapped all of the skiers from the cross country group under 30 to 50 feet of snow, Salt Lake County Commissioner J.B. Mullins immediately ordered a caterpillar tractor, shovels, and 75 men to the search area. The County directed the search.
Volunteers arrived, some led by famous skier Sverre Engen, some from the Salt Lake City Fire Department, and others from Fort Douglas. Trenches 8 to 9 feet deep were dug, and 25 foot long poles were used to probe the snow from the bottom of these trenches. None of the poles came close to touching the ground. Wishing to extend the search throughout the night, Commissioner Mullins ordered a portable power plant and searchlights from the County Fire Department to be transported to the scene. It was finally discovered that the avalanche had trapped and killed only one skier, Kenneth C. Wright.
Salt Lake County Commission Chairman J.B. Mullins introduced a move to form a rescue squad which would be known as the Salt Lake County Mountain Guard. Commissioner Mullins, who was also the chairman of the Roads and Bridges Department, conceived of creating a Mountain Guard because of the difficulty in getting men and equipment in to the scene of the avalanche at Alta just nine days prior to the Commission meeting. The Salt Lake County Mountain Guard would be comprised of 10 employees of the County Roads and Bridges Department. These County Employees would be trained by Einar Fredbo, who was an employee of Roads and Bridges and was also a nationally known skier. The Salt Lake County Commission quickly approved the formation of the Mountain Guard, and provided funds to purchase skis, boots, and all other necessary equipment.
The Salt Lake County Commission gave the members of the Salt Lake County Mountain Guard and members of the U. S. Forest Service police powers, and deputized them.
The Salt Lake County Commission passed an ordinance that formalized the plan to protect skiers from dangerous areas of Alta. Warnings would be posted, red flags would assist in preventing skiers from entering unsafe areas, and any violation of posted areas would result in a misdemeanor, with a possible fine of up to $300 and jail time of up to 6 months.
During a meeting of the Salt Lake County Commission, the success of the Salt Lake County Mountain Guard was noted, and a request was made that the Guard and ski safety program be continued for the next ski season.
Salt Lake City Winter Sports Assn. Buildings, Alta. Circa 1970s
Salt Lake City Winter Sports Assn. Ticket Office. Circa 1988
Rustler's Lodge Under Construction. Circa 1963
Lodge in Alta. Circa 1960
This is a newspaper article published in 1939. It reads:
Women Skiers Break Law by Going to Alta: Don't look now by hundred of Salt Lake women and children are law breakers.
Charles D Spence, Former member of the House of Representatives, today reminded members of the 1939 House
that a law is still on the statue books prohibiting women and children from going into Little Cottonwood Canyon
between October and May. Each weekend hundreds of women and children go to Alta to Ski. The las was put on the books in the early days after snow slides had killed several persons at Alta.
Cabin, Alta. Circa 1956
photograph of Einar Fredbo, nationally known skier and trainer of the Salt Lake County Mountain Guard. This photograph is part of the University of Utah's Special Collections at the Marriott Library. Additional photographs of Einar Fredbo are available in their collections.
Special thanks to Jenel Cope, Archives Assistant with Salt Lake County Archives and PhD student in history at the University of Utah. While doing research for Archives Month, she discovered the Salt Lake County Mountain Guard within the pages of the Salt Lake County Commission Minutes.