This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The Tram has made an estimated 644,000 trips from the Plaza Deck at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort to the top of Hidden Peak in the 40 years since it made its first 2,900-foot climb.
Dave Powers figures he has been on 30,000 to 40,000 of those tram rides. The now 60-year-old has been skiing the 'Bird for 37 of its 40 years. He finds the eight-minute ride to Hidden Peak almost as stimulating as the often at least knee-deep powder trip back down the mountain.
"Riding the tram is a completely unique bonding experience that you don't get from being on a lift. You walk on the tram and you have friends there. You meet people from all over the world," Powers said while standing in the warming hut atop the 11,000-foot Hidden Peak. "You feel an energy on the tram; an exuberance and an excitement for being on the mountain and a lot of stimulating ideas are discussed during the ride."
The Tram, which officials believe has transported a minimum 20 million bodies during its lifetime, is easily the most iconic thing about Snowbird but just barely ahead of the famous powder and it helped give the resort instant attention and attitude when it opened on Dec. 23, 1971.
"Obviously I am little biased, but in my humble opinion it is one of the premiere ski lifts in North America," said Bob Bonar, president of Snowbird and 40-year employee of the Little Cottonwood Canyon resort. "It's a high speed lift that takes you to some of the greatest terrain and greatest snow on Earth at the same time."
It was that epic terrain that first drew Ted Johnson to its slopes. Johnson was working at Alta Ski Resort at the top of the canyon, but kept finding himself toying with the idea of starting a new resort in the lower reaches.
Johnson quietly started to purchase mining claims and began looking for people to help fund his dream.
Johnson met Dick Bass in the fall of 1969 at a party in Colorado. Bass was on the board of directors for Vail and Aspen ski resorts and was intrigued by Johnson's idea.
Bass, a rancher and oilman from Texas, arrived in Little Cottonwood Canyon the next week for a tour. A partnership was formed and the pair began touring resorts across the world looking for good examples. By the spring of 1970, Snowbird was an official project.
Bonar was one of the many Alta employees hired to get things going. Other Utah resorts lost staff as well. Junior Bounous was pulled away from Timp Haven, later named Sundance, to plan runs and start the ski school.
"I thought it would be great to be a part of the new adventure at Snowbird," said Bounous, one of the most respected members of the Utah ski industry. "I had already skied the area, but we studied topographic maps and figured out where to create runs. It was a very interesting thing to do."
Anyone who has worked at Snowbird through the years, or skied it for that matter, will tell you the mountain gets all the credit for creating epic ski runs that people flash back to during late summer barbecues.
"It is the Utah snow and the amazing terrain of Little Cottonwood Canyon that makes Snowbird so special," said Bounous, 86.
In the early days Bass and Johnson spent a lot of time courting "jet setters" to Snowbird. While that certainly played an important role in survival of the resort, Bounous told the owners he wanted to focus on folks a little closer to home.
"My philosophy was a little different. I aimed at the local level and families. I really wanted to concentrate on teaching children," he said.
Looking back, Bounous who now serves in what he calls an honorary role as director of skiing is proud of that outreach and programs used to make it successful.
Wasatch Adaptive Sports was started in 1977 to make the slopes accessible to people with special needs. Local schoolchildren have been learning the joys of skiing at Snowbird since the first season, and the Snowbird Sports Education Foundation (Snowbird Ski Team) has helped give young athletes a venue for developing skills and focusing on healthy lifestyles.
For Bonar the rewards of 40 years of Snowbird are the people he has run into on the slopes celebrating the outdoors with family and friends. It is also about the people who have kept the resort going four decades.
"Snowbird has meant so much to generations now. Seeing the families through the years has been an amazing thing, both the guests and the families of the people who are also a part of the Snowbird family," Bonar said.
Bass has often been quoted as saying his vision of Snowbird was of "a place dedicated to increasing human understanding through the enhancement of body, mind and spirit."
Powers, who provides his reflections of skiing at the 'Bird six times a week at www.gurudavepowers.com, said Bass has succeeded in his mission.
"Being here does stimulate an acceleration of appreciation on all those levels," he said. "It is a joy of life."
Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort Timeline
Long before the area became Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort, it was utilized as a resource for silver ore.
In the mid-1960s Ted Johnson, then working at Alta Ski Resort, started to purchase mining claims in the canyon with the thoughts of creating a new ski resort.
Ted Johnson met Dick Bass, his eventual partner in Snowbird, in 1969.
Snowbird opened Dec. 23, 1971, with the Tram, Wilbere Ridge, Gad I and Gad II lifts. The Lodge at Snowbird and the Snowbird Center also opened.
The Chickadee beginner lift opened in 1972. The Inn opened the same year and the resort held its first Oktoberfest.
Ted Johnson sold his share of ownership of Snowbird to Dick Bass in 1974. The Iron Blosam opened.
The Peruvian chairlift opened in 1976.
The first Snowbird Bicycle Hill Climb was held in 1978. The event is the oldest bike race in Utah, taxing riders with a 10-mile course that ascends 3,500 vertical feet.
The Cliff Lodge added 370 rooms, a major conference center, and the Cliff Spa in 1986.
Baby Thunder chairlift opened in 1995.
GadZoom, the resort's first detachable quad chairlift opened in 1997.
Mineral Basin Express opened in 1999, giving chairlift access to 500 acres of skiing and snowboarding in Mineral Basin.
The opening of the Baldy Express chairlift in 2001 provides access to Alta Ski Resort and a two-resort ticket was created.
North America's first ski tunnel, Peruvian Express Tunnel, opened in 2006. Also that year Snowbird became the first private landowner in Utah to fund mining-era tailings cleanup in American Fork Canyon.
Snowbird set a resort records for snowfall with 783 inches and 202 days of skiing in 2011.
Courtesy Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort
Celebrate 40 years with Snowbird
P Two events are being held to honor Snowbird's 40th anniversary. A Birthday Bash is being held Dec. 23, 40 years to the day that the resort opened in 1971. Lift tickets will be $40. The Bash runs from 2 to 5 p.m. on the Plaza Deck and includes a hula hoop contest, a '70s costume contest and contest to see who has the most Snowbird season passes. A DJ will be playing '70s music.
A more formal celebration is being held Dec. 28. The Summit Gala starts at 5:30 p.m. at the Cliff Lodge Ballroom and includes words from Snowbird founders Ted Johnson and Dick Bass. Imagine, the Beatles Tribute Band will play and the premiere of "Hatching the Bird" video will be shown. Tickets are $125 per person or $1,000 for a table of 10. Proceeds of the evening will benefit the Cottonwood Canyons Foundation, Snowbird Sports Education Foundation and Wasatch Adaptive Sports.
Tickets • https://store.snowbird.com/gala/ See a classic video from Snowbird's early days