During 1938 and very early in 1939, the Alta Ski Lifts Company built its first chair lift-the Collins Lift, the first in the Wasatch Mountains, the fifth in the United States, and probably the fifth in the world. The Collins Lift first carried paying skiers up Collins Gulch on 15 January 1939, missing a hoped-for opening by a month or two.
Sun Valley near Ketchum, Idaho, was the first ski area to design, construct, and operate chair lifts. In 1936-37, Sun Valley installed two chair lifts-one on Proctor Mountain and one on Dollar Mountain. In 1937-38, Sun Valley constructed a third chair lift, this one on Ruud Mountain. Also in 1937-38, Balknap, Laconia, New Hampshire, built its first chair lift-which became America's fourth chair lift. The Collins Lift, constructed in 1938, at Alta, Utah, came next-the first built in Utah and the fifth in the U.S. Alta opened the lift to the public in early 1939 and became the nation's third ski area to have an uphill chairlift conveyance system.
Below we list and date all the chair lifts that have been constructed and/or modified at Alta. Then we present a few key facts about the original Collins Lift, and finally we briefly mention two other scarcely known chair lifts at Alta.
Alta's Chair Lifts •1939 - Collins Lift (wooden towers, single chairs) •1940 - The Barge Lift •1941 - Peruvian Lift (wooden towers, single chairs, no back rests) •1942 - Lucky Boy Lift (single chairs) •1944 - Rustler Lift (made from some parts of the Lucky Boy Lift) •1945 - Peruvian upgrade (backs added to the chair seats) •1949 - Collins upgrade (fabricated steel towers replaced wooden towers)•1954 - Germania Lift (double chair) •1954 - Peruvian Lift (top terminal burns, dismantled, and removed) •1959 - Wildcat Lift (fabricated steel towers, double chair) •1963 - Albion Lift (double chair) •1967 - Sugarloaf Lift (double chair) •1970 - Sunnyside Lift (double chair) •1973 - Collins Lift (single chair upgrade to double chair) •1974 - Germania Lift (alignment changed from Fred's Slot to its present location, which is now the top section of the present Collins Lift) •1976 - Albion Lift (major upgrade; motor moved to bottom; new sheave trains) •1980 - Wildcat Lift (new lift, single mass towers, on the same •1981 - Cecret Lift (double chair) •1981 - Supreme Lift (double chair) •1991 - Germania Lift (upgraded to a triple chair) •1992 - Sugarloaf Lift (upgraded to fixed-grip triple chair from fixed-grip double chair). Also during this year, the surface rope tow between Wildcat and Albion bases was replaced and upgraded with a unique, first of its kind, YAN Company designed Transfer Tow which combined features of a ski lift and rope tow. •1999 - Sunnyside Lift (new alignment; upgraded from double to detachable triple) •2002 - Sugarloaf Lift (major upgrade; fixed-grip triple to detachable quad) •2002 - Supreme Lift (double chair upgraded to triple chair) •2004 - Collins Lift (new detachable quad with an angle station; replaced both the Collins and the Germania lifts; runs from the bottom of Collins Gulch to Collins Pass on the top of Germania ridge)
The Original Collins Lift
The Collins Lift was named after Charles H. Collins, who prospected at Alta in the late 1800s. In the 1870s, Alta had a population of about 5,000 people. Collins struck rich ore on the east side of the Peruvian Hill in 1900, near where the Alta Peruvian Lodge now stands. He formed a small mining business called the Collins Group. A few years later he sold his mining interests to investors in Park City, Utah. The mountain area known as Collins Gulch and the ski run called Collins Face obviously carry this man's namesake.
During the Great Depression in the early 1930s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service began searching for areas that could be developed for recreational skiing. Alf Engen, ski pioneer and legend, was retained by the Forest Service to explore possible locations that could be developed in the Intermountain West. In 1935, he recommended that Alta be a prime candidate. The Forest Service accepted Alf's recommendation. In the spirit of community service, a group of Salt Lake City businessmen formed the Salt Lake Winter Sports Association with the primary goal of developing Alta as a place for local citizens to ski. Those comprising the group included Joe Quinney, W. J. O'Connor, V. R. Parkinson, L. R. Ure, Paul F. Keyser, Bartlett Wicks, Stewart Cosgriff, and P.H. Kittle. In time, the Salt Lake Winter Sports Association became what we know today as the Alta Ski Lifts Company.
One other event happened that made the development of Alta possible. In 1938 George Watson, one of the last remaining active miners at Alta, donated 700 acres of surface rights from about 80 mining claims to the Forest Service. This allowed the Forest Service to issue development permits to the Salt Lake Winter Sports Association.
Some years earlier, Watson had purchased most of these claims from miners when they left Alta because the remaining ore bodies had become unprofitable. As time passed, Watson had Federal delinquent-tax problems. To pay his tax debts, he proposed to convey title of much of his land holdings and surface rights to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, for $1.00-a very large gift for a very small price-with the stipulation that the land be used for winter-sports recreation. The Forest Service accepted the offer and issued the initial permit to construct the Collins Lift to the Salt Lake Winter Sports Association on 19 October 1938. To construct the original Collins Chair Lift, the Salt Lake Winter Sports Association made a deal with the Michigan-Utah Mines to purchase the old aerial tram that had carried ore down Little Cottonwood Canyon in the early 1900s. The Salt Lake Winter Sports Association raised $10,000 for this effort. Marthinius (Mark) Strand, one of Utah's earliest ski promoters, was contracted to build the supports and install the ore tram up the face of the Collins Gulch. The first lift towers were constructed of timbers originally used to brace mine shafts. He was followed by Fred Speyer who supervised the completion of the lift and became Alta's first ski lift manager.
On Sunday, 15 January 1939, the original Collins Lift operated for the first time, carrying 350 people up Collins Gulch. Prices were $0.25 for a single ride and $1.50 for a full day. From January 1939 through April 1940, about 86,000 skiers rode the lift. In 1940, the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce announced that the Denver-Rio Grande Railroad had committed to invest $25,000 for the further development of Alta as a ski area. Based on the success of the two previous ski seasons (1938-39 and 1939-40) and on this commitment, the Salt Lake Winter Sports Association went on to develop Alta into the special place that it now is.
The Barge Lift
In 1940, the Alta Barge Lift was built as an experiment in an attempt to move skiers up the mountain side after unloading skiers from the top of the original Collins Lift, which stopped a few yards west of the present Collins Lift Angle Station. The Barge Lift started near where the now-removed second Watson Shelter was located and went up Aggies Alley. The life of the "Barge" was short, only operating for one ski season-1940-41. Because of the many mechanical difficulties, the Barge was dismantled and instead the Peruvian J-Bar Lift was built in the summer of 1941.
Years later, Alan Engen (now Director of Skiing at Alta) asked Chic Morton (then General Manager) if any remnants of the Barge Lift still existed. Chic told him that some of the parts had been used for other lift purposes, but the rest of it had been hauled away to the garbage dump in the late 1940s-and that was the end of the Barge.
The Peruvian Lift
The Peruvian Lift was built in 1941-Alta's second chair lift. It ran from the flat near where the bottom of Aggies Alley intersects with Main Street westward up to the Peruvian Ridge near where the explosive-cache building is now located. The Peruvian Lift provided skiers access to the Wildcat area-from about Tower #17 on the present Wildcat Lift north-by-northwest to Johnson's Warm-Up and onward to Westward Ho, which overlooks the Alta Peruvian Lodge.
The Peruvian Lift had wooden towers and chairs that ran just above the ground. A lift-line trench had to be shoveled out after every major storm. For safety reasons skiers could not ski under the towers because of the trench and the low-hanging chairs. For the first four years of Peruvian lift operation the single chairs had no seat backs. In 1945, the lift was upgraded to include chairs with seat backs, much to the approval of the skiing public.
In 1954 the Peruvian's top terminal burned. Various after-dinner stories relate different causes of the fire-a bolt of lightning, an electrical short, an overheated pot-belly stove-take your pick. Frank "Buck" Sasaki, who worked for many years as Alta's Lift Superintendent, adds to the story: "We closed the lift for lunch. Hans Brogle, who was the top operator, skied down to the bottom of the lift to eat lunch with me. While we were eating we saw smoke coming from the top terminal of the lift. Because the motor to run the lift was at the top terminal, there was no way of getting to the top except to hike up in the snow. Because that was not practical and there was no water to put the fire out. From the bottom, we just watched it burn."
After this fire, the Peruvian Lift was dismantled and removed. In 1959 the first Wildcat Lift took its place.
The Lucky Boy Lift
This lift shows prominently on the 1940 Alta Master Plan. You can study its location and the lift line on the 1940 Master Plan, which is hanging on the top floor of the new Watson Shelter near the restrooms. The Lucky Boy Lift was built in 1942 to provide intermediate runs for skiers. Lucky Boy's bottom terminal was near Cottonwood Creek, a little east of the Landes Jump Hill. The top terminal was above and a bit north of the top of Snake Pit.
Unluckily, during the first winter of operation an avalanche swept over the Lucky Boy Lift and virtually wiped it out. For obvious safety reasons, the decision was made to not rebuild another lift in this area. However, in 1944 the usable parts of the Lucky Boy lift were dismantled and rebuilt several hundred yards to the west. It was renamed the Rustler Lift. In the early 1950s, it was deactivated and removed. Some years later, Cal and Dodie McPhie bought this chairlift and installed it at Gorgoza, a small, family-oriented ski area east of Parleys Summit. This ski area no longer exists.
Sun Valley's and Alta's Enduring Influence
The vision that led to the design, construction, and operation of the first three Sun Valley chair lifts certainly influenced the design and construction of many other chair lifts. The ore hauling tramways that had operated at Alta since the 1860s and Sun Valley's construction of its first chair lifts in 1937 directly influenced the building of the first Collins Lift at Alta.
Sun Valley, backed by Averell Harriman, the Chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad, had millions of dollars to fund the construction of its lifts and the other skier amenities. These amenities made Sun Valley the United State's premier destination ski resort for many years. In the 1930s and 40s, Sun Valley's multi-million dollar financial backing was unlike all other ski resorts in the United States, and especially the ski areas in Utah.
The original Collins Lift cost about $19,000. This price tag led others to realize that building a chair lift was indeed do-able, even during the Great Depression, and especially do-able after the end of World War II. The original Collins Lift at Alta became an impetus for the construction of later chair lifts in Utah in the 1940s, including Snow Basin, Brighton, Snow Park (now Deer Valley), Beaver Mountain in Logan, Timphaven in Provo, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which built a chair lift at Snow King in 1947.
In 1996, the State of Utah Museum officially recognized the Collins Lift's historic importance. As part of Utah's 1996 Statehood Centennial Celebration, the Utah Museum Association named the Collins Lift one of the "100 Treasures of Utah." Primary selection was based on its uniqueness to Utah's culture and heritage, combined with possessing a strong interpretive story.
A special historical display of the Collins Lift can currently be found at the Joe Quinney Winter Sports Center/Alf Engen Ski Museum located at Utah Olympic Park in Snyder Basin, near Park City, Utah. Stop by and see it, then come to Alta and ride the latest Collins Lift that has replaced both the original Collins Lift and the Germania Lift.
The present Collins Lift is a high-speed quad that starts near the Wildcat Ticket Office and ends where the Germania Lift ended-now four skiers at a time ride one lift from the bottom of Collins Gulch to the top of Collins Pass at about 1,000 linear feet per minute, which equates to about 6 minutes 30 seconds or thereabouts-a far cry from the original single-chair Collins Lift.
Alta Ski Area - timeline chronology documents
Book: Alta: A People's Story (1989) by Duane Shrontz
Book: For the Love of Skiing - A Visual History (1998) by Alan K. Engen
Book: First Tracks - A Century of Skiing in Utah (2001) by Alan Engen & Greg Thompson
Document titled "First Ski Areas to use Chair Lifts in the West" by Alan Engen
Alta history looseleaf binder book: Alta Memories prepared by Alan Engen