In my senior year at BYU I became acquainted with some members of the Wasatch Mountain Club which was based in Salt Lake City. The Club also had a Lodge at Brighton in Big Cottonwood Canyon and a full year calender of events ranging from skiing in the winter to hiking and climbing trips the other seasons of the year. The members, both men and women, were my kind of people. A few years later on a trip back to Utah I met a girl named Mary Reynolds at the Club Lodge. We have been married 47 years now.
Brighton had two ski areas. There was the Mount Millicent chair lift and at Alpine Rose Lodge a T Bar. They were independently owned and operated. The Wasatch Club had its own cable tow on an intermediate hill. Once the Chair Lift became a reality the Club hill was seldom used. Its only advantage was that it always had a fresh unbroken powder surface and occasionally just to track up this powder a few of us would fire up the cable tow.
The Club had some outstanding skiers and experienced mountaineers. Jim Shane and Harold Goodro were two of the best and also worked ski patrol. Later Jim and Elfreda Shane owned and operated the Gold Miner's Daughter Lodge at Alta. There were also some very good ski racers in the Club. Emily and Adrian Siegle, brother and sister, raced under the colors of the Wasatch Club as did June Rassmussen. I first met some of the Club Members when the Timpanogos Glacier Race took place. I recall that June Rassmussen placed second in that event.
Many members were dedicated langlaufers and roamed the surrounding mountains on day trips or overnight trips to one of the ski Huts. Terrain that is now part of the Solitude Ski Area in Big Cottonwood Canyon made for exciting runs that could be carried out with a well planned car shuttle.
Mel Fletcher was raised in Park City and in fact still lives there. He was also attending school in Provo and we often skied together. One weekend he suggested that we start at Park City and ski over the mountains to Brighton. The Wasatch Club was meeting at the Lodge that weekend so we would stay there and enjoy the weekend activities. Then on Sunday afternoon we would cross the mountains back to Park City.
This was many years before the Park City Ski Resort was developed. We put on our climbers and headed toward the Pass. Mel knew the way, I didn't. At that time mining was in decline but one building had a caretaker in residence. This was well in the back country with no winter access. This building still exists. It is now the mid-station restaurant and warming shelter at the Park City Resort. We stopped here and received a warm welcome from the caretaker who knew Mel and was happy for some company. In fact Mel knew everyone in Park City. The caretaker was a wonderful host and wouldn't let us leave before treating us to fresh baked apple pie and mugs of coffee.
All this hospitality delayed us some so that by the time we reached the Brighton side it was night. There was a cloud cover but enough snowlight that Mel located the line of power poles leading to the Brighton lifts and lodges and we followed this line. It was about 9 p.m. when we stumbled into the Lodge. The ski run on the Brighton side was not steep but we did have a long traverse being careful not to lose too much altitude. On our return we had a fine ski run back to Park City. It had snowed that Saturday night so we had fresh powder for our return. If you have ever skied the Park City Resort lifts you know the terrain. The only difference was we had to ski through and around many more aspens.
One Saturday evening about a dozen of us from the Club gathered at the Alpine Rose Lodge for a few beers. It was a perfect winter night, not excessively cold and completely still. There was also a full moon. The Owner of the Mount Millicent Lift asked us if we would like to take a few runs on such a spectacular evening. We, of course, said yes and made a mad scramble for our gear. It was an unforgettable experience. The moonlight on the snow was dazzling with frost crystals sparkling. This in contrast to the soft shadows out of the moon glow. Night skiing is now popular under artificial light but this pales to standing on a mountain on snow that sparkles in moonlight. Ray Stewart installed lights at Timp Haven that third year and we went a few evenings. In Utah the low mountain temperatures often made it an uncomfortable experience.
Each year after World War II the sport in Utah gained new converts and the days when you knew everyone on the hill were quickly disappearing. But in those first years I never heard of anyone having a pair of skis stolen. We left skis stacked around lodges or on unlocked car racks and never gave it a thought. Unfortunately this too changed as the sport increased in popularity.
In those first years I would ski in any kind of weather. If the lift would run I would be on the hill. I do remember one exception to this. Jim Wegner and some ardent members of the Penguin Club decided to drive up to Snow Basin out of Ogden. This was a long haul in those days before freeways. Highway 89 wound its way through every small Utah town and it was usually slow going through Salt Lake City. When we got to Snow Basin there were blizzard conditions and they were not running the lift. We pleaded with the lift crew, who were present, explaining how far we had come to ski. The operators relented and started up the chair. We all lasted one run. Even we diehards had to agree that it was impossible with the snow arriving in horizontal sheets. On a rope tow you could ski in some pretty brutal weather but sitting on an exposed chair is another matter.
Some of us just couldn't get enough of the sport. Ski jouring was another of our pastimes in those early years. On empty snow covered roads we would attach a rope to the rear bumper of a car and a short piece of wood to the other end for hanging on. On exceptionally cold days, for the skier, it was like having a chuck of ice on your chest. The limit on speed was not made by the skier but by the driver. Some driving discretion was required on snow slick roads. Generally the top speed was about 40 miles per hour which was plenty fast on a pair of wooden boards. When the skier had enough or thought he was going too fast he just let go of the rope. I don't recall any of us ever having a bad spill. What is the saying: "God protects children and idiots."
Under the influence of the Park City crowd I tried ski jumping in a very minor way and quickly determined it was not for me. Most jumpers start as children. We had one fair slope behind our Dorm at the University and when there was enough snow I would build a small jump. It was fun until the day I spilled giving some ribs a good pounding. That was the convincer.
The jumpers had some interesting incidents at Timp Haven. Once when Earl Miller was in midair one ski fell off. Surprisingly he made a quick recovery, landed on the one ski and saved himself from a bad spill. Another time John Spendlove was sidestepping the landing, compacting the snow, when Don Johnson suddenly came off the jump. With quick reflexes John dived to one side and Don missed him but barely. The problem was that from the top of the jump hill the landing slope was not visible. After that we always had a signal person. Don was an ex-navy pilot and when he was recalled during the Korean War crashed on a training flight and was killed.
For many of us I think all the elan and "derring do" was a hangover from our wartime experiences. While the freedom of civilian life was wonderful we did miss some of the excitement of the war years. Or maybe we were just a bunch of damn fools trying to break our necks. One of our best racers decided to try a toboggan one evening after a few beers. In attempting to brake he stuck out one foot and broke his ankle.
Deciding on some night skiing Mel, Cal and I went to Timp Haven. Somehow Mel got tripped up in a snow covered tree branch and gave his ankle a good twist. We got him off the hill and when we returned to Provo took him over to emergency at the Hospital. The ankle soon healed and he met a nurse that night that developed into a winter romance.
Going to school on the G.I. Bill was fine but money was always a problem. I am afraid that skiing often had first priority on such funds that I had. When I did not have money I still skied.
I recall one instance of this "starving for one's sport". As part of the opening year of the Mount Millicent Chair Lift at Brighton a downhill race was planned on a Sunday. Earl and a few of us drove up from Provo on Thursday to look over the proposed course and do some skiing as well. I did not have classes on Friday so planned to stay at Brighton making it a long weekend. The others returned to Provo planning to return for the race on Sunday. I had just about enough money for lift tickets on Friday and Saturday and a dormitory cot at the Alpine Rose Lodge. On Sunday as a racer I would have a free ticket. I think at that time the Lodge charged a dollar a night for a bed using your own sleeping bag.
There was no money left for eating. What I did have in my ruck sack was a large salami which had been sent to me from San Francisco. Our next door neighbor there worked for a meat packing company and would bring home sausage, bacon or in this case a full salami for my folks. Fortunately this time my Mother mailed the salami on to me. So that is what I lived on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I like salami but I can think of much better breakfast fare.
Sunday the race was held and even with all my practice runs I fell and did not finish. The bright side was that the racers and officials were treated to a buffet lunch after the event where the winners were announced. One of the women putting out the goodies noticed the way I was hitting the buffet again and again and commented that I must be very hungry. Little did she know just how hungry.
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