Long before people came from around the world to float down the famous powder at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon, the residents of Alta had a different attitude about snow.
People living in Alta in the late 1800s and early 1900s didn't strap themselves onto wooden planks to shred a slope or film a killer video snippet for YouTube; they did it because it was the easiest way to get around in the winter.
"Miners used skis out of necessity. They probably used snowshoes as well, but if they were going very far they put on skis," said Charles Keller, author of "The Lady In The Ore Bucket: A History of Settlement and Industry in the Tri-Canyon Area of the Wasatch Mountains." "I don't think they were cutting turns on the side the hill; it was all out of necessity."
As mining in Little Cottonwood Canyon waned, interest in skiing increased and by 1939 the transition reached a peak as the first chairlift in Utah, and only the second in the western United States, was constructed at Alta.
The opening of the Collins Lift on Jan. 15, 1939, will be celebrated this season as part of the 75th anniversary of Alta Ski Area, which opened in 1938 with rope tows. Activities around the anniversary are some of the many events skiers and snowboarders in Utah can look forward to as the 2012-13 ski season gets under way.
Skiing unofficially got under way in late October when Mother Nature left 3½ feet of snow in northern Utah. Some claimed the crowds at Powder Mountain were as big as any time the resort has been officially open.
More pre-opening weekend skiing took place Friday as the second storm hit the state, but least one resort, Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort, announced that it will be closed to all uphill traffic despite the big storm so it can safely prepare the slopes for its scheduled opening Nov. 17.
Utah resorts have scheduled their traditional pre-Thanksgiving openings, but Solitude Mountain Resort already moved its opening up one day to Wednesday and Brighton (which rarely sets a firm date so it can open when the snow is deep enough) will open Tuesday.
Alta Ski Area yes snowboarding is still not allowed is scheduled to open for its 75th season on Nov. 16. To commemorate the anniversary Alta is releasing a "Generations of Alta" picture book and will have fireworks and a torchlight parade the evening of Jan. 15to commemorate the first paying customers on the Collins Lift. January special events will include historical talks (including at least one by Keller), movies and other activities put on by the Alta Historical Society and Alta Community Enrichment.
Alta also announced that five short videos will be released on the Internet, one-per-month, starting in December. The resort bought "hundreds" of hours of 8 mm color film shot by Sverre Engen at Alta in the 1940s and '50s and had it digitized.
"It makes you want to laugh and cry at the same time," said longtime Alta spokesperson Connie Marshall. "You want to laugh because the skiing technique has changed so much, they look so awkward sometimes. It is bittersweet to see the footage because it helps you imagine how it must have been skiing at that time, just the pureness of the sport."
The resort, in conjunction with Wasatch Brewery, has already released Alta's 75th Anniversary Ale as part of the celebration.
While it was the first resort in Utah with a chairlift, Alta resort officials readily recognize that Brighton in Big Cottonwood Canyon is older by two years thanks to a rope tow.
Those two helped groom the way for Utah's current 14 resorts stretched from Beaver Mountain in Logan Canyon to Brian Head near Cedar Breaks National Monument.
Skiers and snowboarders are a little more antsy to hit the slopes this year after the 2011-12 winter turned out be a bust when it came to snow. Things looked to be better this winter with early expectations that the El Niño weather pattern would hit Utah and deliver deep powder throughout the season. Weather officials have since changed their forecast and are not so sure El Niño will arrive.
But it hardly matters now as skiers are scratching that itch with early-season storms.
Utah ski resorts highlights
Alta Ski Area • Alta is celebrating its 75th anniversary with the release of "Generations of Alta," a picture book portraying the resort over time. A fireworks display and torchlight parade is set for Jan. 15, the anniversary of the first paying customers on the Collins Lift.
Beaver Mountain • Officials at this Logan Canyon resort spent the summer clearing and leveling the area around the Little Beaver lift to make it more suitable for beginner skiers and riders.
Brian Head Resort • A new Midweek Punch Pass at this southern Utah resort is good for five adult full-day lift tickets for $159. That turns out to be $31.80 per day per pass. The pass is transferable, is good for one punch per weekday (with the exception of holidays) and is available at www.brianhead.com or at ticket windows.
Brighton Resort • Twenty new features are planned for the terrain park and a new yurt was built for the ski school.
Canyons Resort • The Ultimate Mountain Experience will be under the direction of former U.S. Olympic team coach Phil McNichol and six Olympians. The Ultimate Mountain Experience is for skiers and snowboarders and includes three days of gate training, race, and all-mountain free skiing coaching for $1,275. Discounted lift tickets are available.
Deer Valley Resort • Resort officials have pumped in $8 million of improvements. Among the major changes: replacing the Deer Crest chairlift on Little Baldy Mountain with a high-speed quad and naming it Mountaineer Express.
Eagle Point • The Free Yourself campaign means everyone skis free on Thursdays in January and residents of California ski free on Thursdays all season at this Tushar Mountain resort in southern Utah.
Park City Mountain Resort • Neff Land, a new terrain park, is ready for shredding. The resort is also launching the new "I Ride Park City" freestyle camp, which combines terrain park and on-mountain instruction with video shooting and editing for skiers and boarders between ages 9-15. The three-day camp ($495 with lift tickets and lunch included or $375 without lift tickets and lunch included) is designed for intermediate and expert level skiers and riders.
Powder Mountain Resort • This northern Utah resort has been ranked No. 1 in "Best Value" by Ski Magazine five of the last six years, including this year. Powder Mountain finished 2nd this year in the magazine's poll for "Snow" and fourth in "Character."
Snowbasin • The resort expanded its existing terrain park and added to it Snowcat fleet.
Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort • The Little Cottonwood Canyon resort replaced the Little Cloud chairlift with a high-speed quad that will increase skier capacity and reduce by nearly half the amount of time on the lift.
Solitude Mountain Resort • This Big Cottonwood Canyon resort has expanded its snowmaking capabilities.
Sundance • A new lift near the upper parking lot will get skiers on the mountain faster than ever before. The resort also expanded its snowmaking by 40 percent.
Wolf Mountain • Under new ownership, this three-lift, 110-acre resort will continue its focus on providing a relaxed family atmosphere at an affordable rate. The resort has 58 snow guns, a terrain park, magic carpet for beginners and all-mountain night skiing.
Source: Ski Utah Utah ski resorts openings*
Beaver Mountain - TBD
Brian Head - Friday
Brighton - TBD (expected midweek)
Canyons - Nov. 23
Deer Valley - Dec. 8
Eagle Point - Dec. 21
Park City - Nov. 17
Powder Mountain - Nov. 21
Snowbasin - Nov. 22
Snowbird - Nov. 17
Solitude - Wednesday
Sundance - Dec. 7
Wolf Mountain - Nov. 23
*All dates are weather permitting.