Chapter 3 Ski Huts, Sometimes


With the exception of Alta and Brighton most of the uphill conveyances were home made by some very clever and innovative people. A cable tow much like the one at Timp Haven was constructed in Ephraim Canyon at an area called Blue Bell. And to access the ski hill the same people built a snow cat. Again long before they became a common sight at ski areas.

Manti was Earl Miller's home and he knew every skier in the area and most of the other citizens knew him as well. While stationed in Southern California in the Air Corp he buzzed the town a few times in his P 38 fighter plane. This was not received with universal joy by all the citizenry.

The Blue Bell area had wonderful potential as a ski area. It was a much better skiing mountain than Timp Haven. The hill had so few skiers that the snow never became packed. It only operated on weekends and was actually a ski club and volunteer endeavor. This meant that on most weekends the hill would have untouched new powder. It certainly was that way on our visits which unfortunately were not as frequent as we would have liked. In old cars and two lane roads it was a long drive from Provo to Manti.

Corn snow was not always to be counted on in a Utah Spring except at the very highest elevations. If it became warm too quickly the powder snow would rot from the ground up and melt before having the conditions to corn up. I recall one Spring at Alta where this occurred. The girls were light enough to stay on top but with more weight we men sank deeply into immovable crud.

This also occurred one time when Jim Wegner, Glenn King and I journeyed to Jackson, Wyoming to ski. At that time the only area was the Snow King lift located right above town. Again the snow had rotted out from the ground up making only jump turns barely possible. And we were pretty upset with the situation. As usual we were very short of cash and three $2.50 lift tickets had made a very real hole in our combined finances.

This was another memorable trip. Jim Wegner was from Lander and his parents had a cabin near Brooks Lake and Towogee Pass. The cabin was snowbound all winter, a half mile from the Highway that goes from Jackson to Dubois. No one had been there since the previous Fall but Jim remembered some venison and bacon had been stashed in a nearby snowbank. Since we were out of money these supplies were the difference between eating and going hungry. The venison was still excellent and as designated cook I made some tasty pot roast dinners with it. The bacon smelled rancid when cooking but when ready for table was edible.

We took one long langlauf from the cabin which amounted to miles of breakable crust since it was late in the season. I still have a photo of the cabin with Brooks Mountain as a backdrop in my office, again framed with an old pair of wooden skis.

We had left Provo with two girls from the "Y" who lived in Lander. We delivered the girls to their homes and families and went on to Jackson. En route back when we picked up the girls their parents, hearing of our "privations", loaded us up with goodies. Fortunately Jim had a gas credit card to get us back to Provo. However we did manage to run out of gas twice on this trip.

Being from San Francisco experience in driving on snow covered roads came slowly as well. On this trip I was driving on the snow covered Towogee Pass road, strayed too close to a snow bank and the car was sucked right into it. This did not make me popular with either Jim or Glenn. Glenn was from Canada and and Jim from Wyoming. They knew all about driving on snow. Our efforts to dig ourselves out were proving futile when a snow plow truck happened by. The driver kindly came to our rescue reducing my culpability for a sticky situation. However badly things went on some of our trips it always seemed to work out and when said and done it was the skiing that mattered.

To encourage cross country skiing the Salt Lake County Recreation Department with cooperation of the U.S. Forest Service funded the building of three ski huts in the Wasatch Mountains. One was located above Alta, one between Alta and Brighton and the third on a ridge overlooking Heber Valley to the east.

One weekend Jim, Glenn and I decided to make the Hut located between Brighton and Alta as the base for two days of trackless powder skiing. None of us had been to the Hut and in fact we were somewhat hazy as to its exact location. I had received some verbal directions but did not have a map. We left the car at Brighton on a beautiful clear morning, crossed over a shoulder of Mount Millicent and were on our happy way, climbers on the skis and rucksacks on our shoulders.

The snow was classic light Utah powder and the day clear and cold. But the farther we went the more confusing our previously received directions became. Finally we reached a ridge that divides Brighton from Albion Basin that is situated above Alta Resort. Today you will find mountain cabins there but then it was still an untouched winter wonderland. Rather than staying high on the ridge which is where the Hut was actually located we made the mistake of skiing down into the Basin. It was a wonderful ski run but we still had no idea where the Hut was located.

It was now late afternoon and we were getting tired as well. We had our sleeping bags and food for the weekend but we did not bring a tent. The plan had been to sleep at the Hut which had a stove and bunks with mattresses. With the Hut nowhere in sight it was beginning to look like we would be forced to bivouac under a group of trees. Then we discovered, quite by accident, a wooden building almost completely covered with snow. It wasn't the Hut but an old abandoned building dating back to the days of the C.C.C. before World War II. A check of the inside showed that while not an ideal shelter it was certainly better than a bivouac. The windows were all feet below the snow level and the only light came when the door was open. The building still had a huge cook stove and we soon had a fire going. For some much needed light we fashioned a candle from an extra shoelace and a bar of ski wax. It worked too. I think the building had once been the mess hall and there were still long tables and benches.

The candle gave a little light but it was very cold inside and it soon became apparent that while the stove might cook our supper it certainly was not going to change the temperature of that large room to any noticeable degree. However we were grateful for what we had. I don't remember what we had for eats but I do remember we made some jello and drank it as a hot drink. We then each picked out one of the tables, spread out our sleeping bags and prepared for some hard earned rest. Since we expected to be sleeping in bunks at the Hut we did not bring air mattresses. So the bags were just laid on the bare table. But it was cold and getting colder by the minute. With the exception of my ski boots I crawled into my G.I. feather-down mummy bag fully clothed. I have no idea how cold it got that night but the temperature had to be below zero. Even in our sleeping bags, fully dressed, it was a grim experience. Certainly it was the coldest and most uncomfortable night I ever experienced in that particular sleeping bag.

At the first hint of dawn I was out of my bag and attempting to get a fire going in the stove. The other two wisely stayed in their bags. Even with a fire started the only hint of heat was if you actually leaned over the stove. To finally get some blood circulating I went outside, put on my skis and headed for some uphill which I attacked as full speed. This at least got me past the point of shivering and now there was the early morning sun as well.

By now all was astir back at the C.C.C. building and after some hearty oatmeal we were ready for some real skiing. We climbed to the other side of the Basin high on Sugar Loaf and had a glorious run back to the building where we had left our packs. It would have been easy to ski down canyon to Alta but our car was at Brighton so we then started the long climb back to the ridge keeping in mind that we would then have another wonderful descent to the parking lot. That run in untracked powder almost made us forget about the cold night we had just experienced.

But naturally for months afterward I took a good deal of chaff from Jim and Glenn on my ineptness as a mountain guide. As for the missing ski Hut, a few weeks later I tried again, this time with some people who actually knew its location. After the C.C.C. mess hall the Hut seemed truly palatial. But then the wine which we made into glug when reaching the Hut might have colored this view. In its own way the first trip was unforgettable and in retrospect great fun although I am not sure Jim and Glenn felt that way about it.

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