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History of Snowbird, Utah

When you visit Alta you will notice how the surrounding hills at Alta have been cleared of all timber. This has greatly increased the potential for devastating avalanches.

In 1847, the first white settlers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. They obtained the lumber to build their homes from the canyons. Since there was an ample supply of timber in little Cottonwood Canyon, (or Alta Canyon, as it was known then), many settlers traveled into the canyon to fulfill their building needs.

The popular lumber mill in the canyon was at Tannersville, where the current Tanners Flat Campground is located.

A short time later, a group of soldiers and their wives were picnicking near the mouth of the canyon, when one of the groups found an unusual rock in the creek. The rock turned out to be high grade silver ore. Soon the Alta area became a prosperous mining area, with Emma mine yielding $3,800,000 in silver ore.

At one time in the 1880's, Alta's Population was 8000 people and it had 180 buildings within its boundaries.

There were smelters, homes, hotels, boarding houses, stores, a school, 3 breweries and 26 saloons. The Rustler and Goldminers Daughter were among these. A railway ran the length of the canyon, with a good portion of it covered by a protective shed to prevent avalanches, and to permit winter use during heavy snows.

The pioneers slowly deserted Alta due to the combination of severe winters and the massive avalanches (clear cutting contributed to this). In the early 1900's, improvements in mining technology allowed reworking of some of the mines for profit. The key attraction then, began to be winter recreation. Valley residents came up to cross country ski and hike.

The rock wall you see along the sides of the canyon road are remnants of the railway shed, and the handiwork of the railway workers to control erosion. This wall is still visible in the Whitepine area. After 30 years, the mine began to play out, and people started to leave the canyon.

In 1938, a chairlift was built in Collins gulch at Alta using parts from an old mining tramway. Notice how small the trees are -- this is the second growth! In the mid 60's, a lodge manager from Alta named Ted Johnson purchased the Black Jack Mining Claim, located just above the Cliff Lodge on the access road with the idea of building another Lodge to support Alta. Shortly thereafter, Ted had the opportunity to buy the adjacent Snowbird Mining Claim which was a large portion of the lower mountain. He began to think more in terms of building a second ski resort in the Canyon, rather than just a lodge.

Ted went out to seek financial backing. With the help of his skiing friends, and production help from Warren Miller, Ted put together a promotional film. His attempts to interest financial backers around the country met with little success. Ted needed a major investor.

Ted persevered, and it paid off! Ted was introduced to Dick Bass, a Texas oilman and rancher who had investments in Aspen and Vail. Ted convinced Dick to come to Utah and have a look.

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