Schussing Down Memory Lane

Image: Architectural renderings by Brixen and Christopher

Author: Kim Smart

Published Date: 12/23/2021

Read Time: 5 minutes

I stood there, balancing on the tips of my ski boots, stretching my 4’6” frame as tall as I could. Surrounded by a sea of shoulders, I was determined to see that champagne bottle christen the Tram for its maiden voyage. Even though I was only 11, I knew this was something big.

You see, my dad (James Christopher of the firm Brixen & Christopher) was the lead architect for Snowbird. I’d watched him sketch designs at the kitchen table. I listened eagerly as he talked about his trip to Switzerland to research trams. I’d ask about his ideas for the plaza and lodges. I felt like an insider and I couldn’t wait to finally see it and ski it.

Plaza Deck construction at Snowbird

That day, 50 years ago, did more than launch the first Aerial Tram up to Hidden Peak. It launched the beginning of an amazing journey. One that continues today.

Building The Dream

Snowbird opened on December 23, 1971 with the Snowbird Center, The Lodge at Snowbird, Tram and Gad 1, Gad 2 and Wilbere lifts. My family stayed at The Lodge at Snowbird that weekend—where my siblings and I felt like rock stars because our dad had designed it. 

Three years later, the resort had grown dramatically. The Turramurra Inn (now The Inn), The Cliff Lodge, Iron Blosam Lodge and Mid-Gad Restaurant were open. By 1986, The Cliff Lodge expansion was complete and Snowbird’s room count totaled 882—where it stands today—along with 15 restaurants and five bars.

Cliff Lodge Construction

The terrain also continued to expand, with Chickadee, Baby Thunder and Mineral Basin adding hundreds of acres of skiable terrain from what was originally offered. (Trust me, I’ve skied them all.) Today, the year-round resort has grown to 2,500 acres, 140 runs and 14 lifts. 

Each expansion, whether terrain or facility, was designed for minimal environmental impact. They helped bring Snowbird closer to co-founders Ted Johnson and Dick Bass’ vision for a world-class resort while staying in-line with the resort’s environmental commitments.

Peruvian and Gad Valley at Snowbird in the 1970's

Jerry Giles, Snowbird’s original Director of Village Operations, Construction and Development, spent 46 years watching the resort expand. He believes the most significant change was the expansion into Mineral Basin, which opened up 500 skiable acres.

“We had always thought skiing Mineral Basin would be too impacted by sun exposure,” he said. “But it turns out it’s a damn nice place to ski.” The other, he said, was the addition of high-speed lifts.

Two building projects also had a significant impact. The Cliff Lodge expansion in 1986 added not only rooms but the world-class Cliff Spa and, most importantly, conference space. Today, Snowbird’s conference business, with 50,000 square feet of dedicated meeting space, is a huge part of the resort’s business.   

The Cliff Spa at Snowbird sunset

High atop Hidden Peak is Snowbird’s other crowning jewel, The Summit at Snowbird. More than 45 years in the making, it had always been part of Johnson and Bass’ vision (although the final design looks nothing like my dad’s early concept drawing that I have hanging in my house). 

“Anyone can take the Tram up to 11,000 feet and go into this amazing building with glass on every side and experience the outdoors in a really unique place.”

“It took a lot of stars aligning from ownership, financing, permitting, the U.S. Forest Service and Salt Lake and Utah counties to make it happen,” said Nima Mahak, current Senior Director of Village Operations. “It’s a wonderful asset,” he added.

Owning Our Power

As the resort has grown, so has its unique power system. Snowbird is the only resort in North America to generate its own power via a cogeneration facility—making it less reliant on coal and more resilient to power outages.

Snowbird Power Systems

The resort opened with a thermal wheel, which extracted heat energy as it generated electricity. That was followed by a cogeneration plant in 1986, which also generated heat and power and was considered an engineering marvel. Snowbird Power Systems, a brand new cogeneration plant completed in 2021, is about 90% more efficient with the natural gas it consumes than the original. That translates to 62,000 fewer dekatherms used annually, or the equivalent of taking 789 sedans off the road for a year.

Fifty Fabulous Years

Snowbird has seen a lot of changes since 1971 and I’ve been there to experience them all. I skied that very first day and have every year since. I had my wedding reception at the Golden Cliff in The Cliff Lodge. When Peruvian Tunnel opened in 2006, I rode through it with my 5-year-old in awe. Years later, I proudly watched her become a Snowbird Mountain School instructor. I toured The Summit before it was completed. Every summer, I spend a week in my parent’s Cliff Club condo—and recently walked my mom across the new Chickadee Bridge for the first time. But perhaps the most poignant memory of all is skiing there with my dad for the very last time.

Aerial Tram on sunny morning at Snowbird

Unfortunately, my dad never got to experience The Summit he envisioned so many years ago. Or ski in Mary Ellen Gulch when the much-anticipated expansion is finally able to be completed. But when that day comes, I’ll be there to ski it in his honor, thanking him for his role in creating such an iconic resort.

About the Author

Kim Smart is an award-winning copywriter and creative director who has worked for a diverse range of clients, including Adobe, Dreamworks Studios, Intel, Northwest Airlines and Snowbird. When not working, you’ll find her on the ski slopes, on hiking and biking trails or in her vegetable garden. She loves the flexibility of working for herself and plans to continue doing what she loves until it isn’t fun anymore.

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