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Mountain Guard

Protecting the Public - Salt Lake County Mountain Guard

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.

Introduction

1938

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.

December 16, 1938

albion basin cabin

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.

February, 1939

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.

Formation of the Guard
Peruvian Lodge

Peruvian Lodge, Alta. Circa 1945-1955

January 1, 1941

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.

January 10, 1941

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.

Success of the Guard

January 17-29, 1941

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.

February 21, 1941

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.

October, 1941

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

Salt Lake City Winter Sports Assn. Buildings, Alta. Circa 1970s

Salt Lake City Winter Sports Assn. Ticket Office

Salt Lake City Winter Sports Assn. Ticket Office. Circa 1988

Rustler's Lodge Under Construction

Rustler's Lodge Under Construction. Circa 1963

Lodge in Alta

Lodge in Alta. Circa 1960

Women Skiers
news article

Women Skiers Break Law by Going to Alta

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.

Learn More
Cabin, Alta

Cabin, Alta. Circa 1956

Einar Fredbo

See a 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.

History of Alta

History of skiing in Utah

Sources

Acknowledgements:

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.

Sources that were consulted for this exhibit:

  • All images in this exhibit are from Tax Appraisal Photographs, Salt Lake County Assessor; Salt Lake County Records Management and Archives, West ValleyCity, Utah.
  • Agreement between Salt Lake County and U.S. National Forest, December 16, 1938; County Commission Minute Books, 1852-2000; Salt Lake County Commission; Salt Lake County Records Management and Archives, West Valley City, Utah.
  • Request to create Mountain Guard, January 10, 1941; County Commission Minute Books, 1852-2000; Salt Lake County Commission; Salt Lake County Records Management and Archives, West Valley City, Utah.
  • Request regarding Mountain Guard police powers, January 17, 1941; County Commission Minute Books, 1852-2000; Salt Lake County Commission; Salt Lake County Records Management and Archives, West Valley City, Utah.
  • Deputizing of Mountain Guard and Forest Service members, January 29, 1941; County Commission Minute Books, 1852-2000; Salt Lake County Commission; Salt Lake County Records Management and Archives, West Valley City, Utah.
  • Discussion of ski safety program, February 3, 1941; County Commission Minute Books, 1852-2000; Salt Lake County Commission; Salt Lake County Records Management and Archives, West Valley City, Utah.
  • Ordinance regarding Mountain Guard, February 21, 1941; County Commission Minute Books, 1852-2000; Salt Lake County Commission; Salt Lake County Records Management and Archives, West Valley City, Utah.
  • Request for continuation of Mountain Guard, October 29, 1941; County Commission Minute Books, 1852-2000; Salt Lake County Commission; Salt Lake County Records Management and Archives, West Valley City, Utah.
  • "Series of Snowslides Create Havoc in Winter Sports Area Near S.L." The Salt Lake Tribune 19 Feb 1939.
  • "Alta Snowslide Buries Skiers." The Salt Lake Tribune 2 Jan 1941.
  • "County Board Places Okeh On Ski Rescue Squad." The Salt Lake Tribune 11 Jan 1941.
  • Mark Kalitowski. “The Avalanche History of Alta.” The Avalanche Review 7. 3(1 Dec. 1988).
  • DeLeo, William. "Alta Historical Timeline." AltaCam. 10 Sept. 2008 www.altacam.com/local/alta-history.html.