From Mailmen to Millions – The History of Skiing in Utah

Alta ski slopes taken from Sugarloaf chair lift

Photo Credit: Syd Alexander

Alta ski slopes taken from Sugarloaf chair lift Photo Credit: Syd Alexander

It’s a basic morning in early elementary school: you roll out of bed after your mom already yelled your name twice, and you’re just in time to finish forgotten math homework before you leave to catch the bus. You peek out the window and see a gorgeous white blanket covering your neighborhood. It’s a day every child in Utah loves more than any other—snow day. The Salt Lake Valley is well known for everything outdoors, whether it’s our great lakes, hiking spots, or possibly most famous of all, our ski resorts. The beautiful mountains here hold many different ski resorts with rich history, from Solitude to Deer Valley. 

So how does skiing still affect our lives? Tourism and outdoor attractions in Utah is a $9 billion industry. Utah’s skiing and snowboarding is worth around $550 million. This is a huge amount of money that is being made every single year, and it’s still growing. This year alone, the market size of skiing and snowboarding is expected to grow about 14.3%. Utah ski resorts are growing very quickly. In recent years, resorts averaged about 5.3 million skiers per day throughout the season. This growth is creating a demand for more jobs on the slopes—however, there are struggles to fill these spots. With the national labor shortage, the hospitality industry has been affected like every other. The numbers are beginning to rise as time passes and people go back to work after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Alta Ski Lodge is not going to be able to open as soon as other resorts like Brighton. This is due to construction on their main ski lift, Sunnyside, taking it from a three to six chair. Ski resorts were lucky to open due to 35 inches of snow that has been brought in by recent storms. Alta has also gotten backlash for their recent policies. This past season they introduced $20 parking passes. On the weekends you must reserve a parking pass and the lot will not open until 8am. This has created frustration and people are now beginning to go to other ski resorts. Alta is still not set to open until November 18 of 2022. 

So how has skiing become so popular? Skiing has been around for thousands of years—in fact, the first remnants of skis were found by archeologist Grigoriy Burov in Northern Russia and date back to 6000 BC. But how did these boards used to cross wetlands turn into an Olympic sport, and better yet how does it affect our lives today? In the early settlement of Utah, skis were used as transportation tools in order to survive the freezing mountains. The first recorded use of skis was in Alta by a mailman in order to deliver your basic newspaper in 1870. In the early 1910’s, the use of modern skis began to change. People began doing ski tours which are basically hiking with sticks on your feet all over the Wasatch Mountains. These tours were sent out multiple times a day and people absolutely loved them.

 In the 1930’s, there began to be professional ski jumping competitions and people from all around the valley and world came to watch these gravity defying individuals in the Wasatch Foothills. It was around this time that small mining town, Alta, began to struggle. Revenue plummeted as the depression hit and the price of silver went down to as low as 25 cents an ounce. Due to the changes in silver prices, the Mayor of Alta began to desperately look for alternatives in revenue. Alta Ski Resort was suddenly born. The oldest chair lift in Utah, Collins ski lift, was built and began offering rides in 1938. The cost of riding up once was only 25 cents—today that would be $5.28! The cost for the whole day, a whopping $1.50!

Next time you go skiing, make sure to remember the mailmen who brought it all to us. Without them Utah wouldn’t have been a part of the Olympics in 2002, and there wouldn’t be the many resorts we currently have. Skiing is a huge part of our past, and hopefully a huge part of our future. 

Alta ski hill taken from Sunnyside lift
Photo Credit: Syd Alexander