Utah History Encyclopedia


By Jodi Hullinger
Snowbird, located twenty miles southeast of Salt Lake City and approximately two miles west of Alta in Little Cottonwood Canyon, is one of the major ski areas in Utah and the United States. Its establishment was the fulfillment of George Theodore Johnson's dream. Johnson, a California native, bought fourteen undeveloped acres in Little Cottonwood Canyon in the mid-1960s. He then began acquiring options on 800 acres surrounding the property, consisting mostly of abandoned mining claims which included the well-known Snowbird mine. He established a limited partnership, Snowbird Corporation, to finance the project; obtained land-use permits from the Forest Service; and began devising development plans. While preliminary plans were modest, looking to serve 3,000 day skiers with three or four chairlifts, park 800 vehicles, and house 250 vacation skiers, the project quickly grew in scope, and Johnson's dream of Snowbird was on its way to becoming reality.

In 1969 a crucial event in Snowbird's development took place: Ted Johnson met Richard Bass, a partner in Colorado's Vail Associates. Johnson told Bass of his plans for the resort and Bass, a wealthy businessman, became the major financial backer of the endeavor and eventually bought out Ted Johnson in 1974. By March 1971, a 160-room residential condominium inn (Iron Blosam Lodge) was under construction.

Plans for a November 1971 opening, with a 120-passenger tram and three chairlifts, were well under way. Although the resort failed to meet the November deadline, due to avalanches and tram failure, Snowbird did open its doors in early January 1972 and has become a popular, year-round resort.

Yet, the history of Snowbird has not always been easy. Snowbird's plans for expansion into the adjacent White Pine Wilderness Area have been challenged; the resort was rejected in its attempts to secure permission to construct a tram to the top of Twin Peaks; it is carefully monitored to insure that the quality of Salt Lake City's watershed is maintained; and Snowbird has been criticized for its lavish use of concrete and the mammoth structures that have been constructed.

Also, in its relatively short lifetime Snowbird Corporation has seen several presidents assume control of its helm. After five years, Ray L. Hixson replaced Peter Arceneau, who had temporarily been president of Snowbird for Dick Bass. On 1 July 1979 the controls of Snowbird Corporation were passed to Swiss-born Rene Meyer. He served as president until his resignation in 1988 when Thurman Taylor assumed control.

Since 1988, Snowbird has continued to expand. It is not only a center of winter activities, but is also a resource for year-round recreation. The summer months at Snowbird are filled with various activities such as the Snowbird Hill Climb, summer concerts, Oktoberfest, Jazz and Blues Festival, and others.

Winter activities continue to center on skiing. The resort has an average snowfall of more than 500 inches a year (633 inches in 1992-93). Snowbird has forty-eight ski trails with a total of 1,572 acres of skiable terrain serviced by seven double chairlifts and one of the largest and most powerful aerial trams in the world--it can carry 120 passengers from the 8,100-foot base to the top of Hidden Peak at 11,000 feet. The total uphill capacity is 9,200 skiers per hour. The resort's four lodges and hotels have over 900 sleeping rooms, with the Cliff Lodge (532 rooms) the largest.