Chapter 7 Slopes near and far

.. By Joe Hilbers

The season of 1949-50 in Utah had many ski races and I covered most of them as a reporter. There was the Snow Cup at Alta and later the Junior Nationals were held there as well. And the Intermountain Collegiate Skiing championships. As a reporter I was able to meet many of the best skiers and the officials who organized these events.

I also knew all the ski professionals at the resorts and we would often take off from the main runs for untracked slopes. At Alta this meant mini tours like dropping off the west side of Peruvian Ridge into what we called Westward Ho. Skip Mansfield was manager of the Alta Lodge that year and would often arrange for a Lodge vehicle to meet a group of skiers down canyon. This was generally at the end of the day and we would take off from the top of Peruvian Ridge into one of the hanging valleys that would eventually lead back to the Alta highway where the station wagon would be waiting. Great fun in untracked powder. Peruvian ridge to the bottom of Collins lift, called WildCat, was a run that never became packed in those years. Some of the uncharted runs of those years are now a part of ski resorts. This is true at Snowbird which is down canyon from Alta and also Solitude which is down canyon from Mount Millicent in Big Cottonwood Canyon.

In that era most skiers shied away from deep powder preferring the easier runs that soon became packed. It was more than just a matter of technique. With the equipment of that time, wooden skis and leather boots and bindings which would always permit some heel lift it took a good amount of physical strength to ski bottomless powder. And the skis must be very limber with lots of flex in the tips. Stiff skis refused to float in truly bottomless powder. In those years many of us had one pair of very flexible skis for powder and another pair, much stiffer, for packed snow skiing and racing.

Sometimes a tour required a car shuttle. One Sunday I talked my roommate, Jack Schroeder, who was not a skier, to take an afternoon drive to Pott's Hot Springs at the mouth of Snake Creek. This was on the east slope of the Wasatch range. Five of us climbed from Brighton to the Snake Creek canyon rim and then made the long descent of about 4,000 vertical feet. On this run we skied everything from wind packed powder to corn and finally a mix of snow, pine needles and mud.

That year I did a series of articles for the Telegram on all the Utah ski areas of that era. This gave me the opportunity to revisit old haunts like Timp Haven and Blue Bell in Ephraim Canyon but also a couple of new areas that were being developed as the interest in skiing increased. The first lifts in Park City were made by two local men who had the mechanical skills to build their own chairlifts. They built two lifts, one for beginners, the other for skiers with intermediate skills and a day lodge. They called the area Snow Park and my good friend, Mel Fletcher, turned professional and ran the ski school there. This was years before the Silver King Mine at Park City decided to develop the area that is the current Park City Ski Resort.

Even though I was skiing free everywhere as a member of the working press money, or lack of same, was still a very big problem. But I shared this woe in common with many of my skiing friends. One long weekend Bob Goodwin, who worked on the Alta lift crew, Tim Grogan, a Wasatch Club member, and the writer decided to drive to Sun Valley, Idaho. As usual money was in short supply on this trip. The Sun Valley P.R. department arranged free lift tickets for us but there was still lodgings and meals to consider. This left very little money for entertainment. Tim Grogan was Irish and had a good deal of the old blarney, so legendary with people of that race. I recall one evening where Tim struck up a quick acquaintance with a traveling salesman at the Alpine Club. We were at the bar and were nursing a beer with little prospect of affording many more. However the Salesman must have been on an expense account and liked our company. We spent the whole evening at the Alpine with many more brews all bought by our new friend and host.

One day I met an excellent skier who was entertainment director for the Sun Valley Lodge. He knew the mountain and we skied together that day on every possible Baldy run including one that descends to Warm Springs Lodge. This is several miles from the base of the chair lifts but the director called for a Lodge car to get us back. This trip to Sun Valley worked out so well that we three then decided to go to Squaw Valley in California which had opened that season for the first time.

Again we had three days and drove all night on the old Highway 40 from Salt Lake City to Reno, then Truckee and Squaw Valley. I had telephoned Gordon Brown in San Francisco, and he and his girl, Donna, later his wife, met us at Squaw.

It was my first introduction to the double chair lift, I believe Squaw had one of the first in the country. The skiing that weekend was not the best because of poor snow conditions. It was Spring time and the snow had not quite turned to corn. We called such snow velvet because of its texture. It was wet and made for heavy work and slow skiing. Donna, Gordon's girl, was determined to keep the three of us busy that evening dancing at the local Pub. This was no easy task. I had spent a busy day in the News Room, then we drove all night, then skied the next day. She kept complaining how much the three of us suffered from B.O. but still refused to let us depart for some much needed sleep.

Another night we all went up to Donner Summit Lodge, always referred to as DSL. As usual we were short on funds but Donna soon struck up a conversaton with an older man who was by himself. I think he sold tractors or something and and was on the road as a salesman. She invited him to join us and again we found someone with deep pockets. So that we had a merry evening at the bar courtesy of Donna's new friend. Tim Grogan was the first to admit this was an admirable effort by Donna. Despite the poor snow conditions we had a good trip, and as usual it was fun time. It was on this trip that I met Alex Cushing, owner and developer of Squaw Valley. This trip closed out the season as far as writing about skiing. I wrote my last ski column about Squaw Valley and the joys of having companionship on a double chair lift and the possibilities there of. For a sports writer Spring meant baseball, track and tennis. However some of us continued to use the Ski Huts for touring till the very last snow was gone.

Back to Table of Contents..

Last Update:6/1/99

© 1999 Joe Hilbers All Rights Reserved.
Graphic Design by Impact Graphics