Alta Ski Resort Development – Alta UT


The New Deal gave a huge boost to the development of Alta Ski Resort in the 1930s and early 1940s.  The work involved the US Forest Service, the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration.

Alta is the second or third oldest downhill ski resort in the United States. It began when the last silver mine closed in the Great Depression and the bankrupt owner deeded land to the U.S. Forest Service in lieu of back taxes. It is not clear who thought of creating a ski resort there, since miners had been skiing the canyon for years. In 1935, the Forest Service hired famed skier Alf Engen to study the area’s potential and he came back with a positive review. 

A private resort development company was formed by local Salt Lake City investors.  A rope tow was installed first and then a chair lift (Collins chair) in 1936, built with repurposed mining equipment.  It broke a lot. The new resort was scheduled to open, with much fanfare, in November, then December, 1938; but the the first day of operation wasn’t until January 15, 1939.  Alta Ski Resort has always considered 1938 as their opening date, which is probably wrong,

At the time, there was only a poor road up Little Cottonwood Canyon and scarcely any facilities to shelter or house skiers (the mining town of Alta had been reduced to a handful of buildings).  Hence, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was called upon to help develop the area.  Their first project was to improve the road (see project page on Little Cottonwood Canyon Road).

In 1938-39, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built a shelter on the foundations of the old Stillwell store. The second floor was obliterated in an avalanche and rebuilt in 1941 with a slanted roof. That structure later became the Snowpine Lodge.  A stone wall was added above the shelter to protect it from further avalanches and a stone “comfort station” (two-door outhouse) was built nearby.  The CCC presumably constructed both features.

WPA relief teams subsequently arrived in 1940-41 to build the Alta Lodge, which was the first overnight lodging facility in the area. WPA workers also conducted skating classes at Alta. There is some dispute among the sources, since the back of the skating class photo claims that the WPA built the shelter (Snowpine); yet, CCC records gathered by the Utah State Historical Preservation Office state that it was built by enrollees from Big Cottonwood Canyon (Roper 2021).

Both the Snowpine and Alta lodge have served the public up to the present day, albeit with substantial alterations and additions. The old Snowpine Lodge was razed c. 2017 and replaced by a huge new lodge of the same name, opening in 2018. But the protective rock wall remains in place.

To its credit, the town of Alta has restricted new development and the older, smaller feel of buildings at Alta compares favorably with the gigantism and brutal Modernism of the lodges at Snowbird, just down Little Cottonwood Canyon.

Source notes

Wikipedia entry on Alta Ski Area

Alta Historical Society

Discover Alta website

Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah

Brian Jones, Sandy UT, former ski instructor at Alta

"CCC Camps to Men to Project2, 3-29-21", document provided by Roger Roper, Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer
Central/Southern Utah Region, Utah Division of State History, 2021.

Project originally submitted by Brent McKee on December 7, 2016.
Additional contributions by Richard A Walker, Brian Jones.

We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.


Location Info

Highway 210
Alta, UT 84092

Coordinates: 40.588795, -111.638417

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