Alan K. Engen: From Protégé to Visionary
By Harriet Wallis, the geezer gal:
When Alan Engen was born, Dr. Wherritt put wooden tongue depressors – like miniature skis -- on the bottom of his little feet and handed the newborn to his legendary father, Alf Engen. " I think I can safely say that I came pretty close to being born on skis," said Alan. He learned to ski when he was two.
Thus began a lifetime of ski achievements. He competed at 9, earned a place on the United States Ski Team in the 1960s, and won the United States Ski Association Intermountain Masters Alpine title six times. He served Alta for 50 years as an instructor, the ski school director, and then the Director of Skiing.
But outrageous events were part of his early career. In about 1960, a local engineer created a cornstarch-like substance called "Summer Snow." Alan and Alf -- both world class ski jumpers -- put on jumping exhibitions to demonstrate the product.
"We built an artificial hill of scaffolding in Sugar House Park, but an overnight storm blew it down," said Alan. But the dedicated jumpers scrambled to rebuild the framework and the show opened as scheduled. However, Summer Snow had its own problems. "When it was dry it was okay. But if it got wet it was like glue."
Nevertheless, the Engen jumping team schlepped Summer Snow to the Los Angeles Fair Grounds for more exhibitions where the scaffolding was 130 feet high. In the grand finale the Engen twosome jumped through a flaming hoop and thrilled the onlookers.
"But we'd better land in the right place," said Alan, because the patch of artificial snow was very small. "When we were done, we'd rake it up, shovel it into gunny sacks and haul it away."
Alan also admits to a "hair-brained idea." "I was about 18 or 19 years old and at Mt. Baldy in California. I thought: 'I can jump that hill on my hands.' I put my hands in the bindings and jumped. I planned to clear the knoll, but I didn't. I landed hard on the knoll, my head got pushed into the Summer Snow, and I went down the rest of the hill on my head. I was all skinned up," he said.
Nevertheless, Alan has dedicated more than six decades to skiing. His induction into the U.S. National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame capped the iconic family's impact on skiing. The Engens are the only family to have four members inducted into the prestigious institution: his father, Alf; two uncles, Sverre and Corey; and then Alan.
Alan is also an accomplished scholar, author, historian, artist, businessman and champion in multiple sports including tennis, marksmanship, mountain biking, gelande jumping, ski jumping and ski racing.
He's also a visionary. His dream to showcase hundreds of Alf's ski trophies and memorabilia in a small museum grew instead into the $10.5 million Alf Engen Ski Museum at the Olympic Park in Park City, Utah, and it was completely funded by private donations with support from snow enthusiasts including the Quinney and Eccles families.
Visitors are excited by the world class ski museum's interactive, simulated activities: Soar off a ski jump ramp and try to stick the landing or take a chairlift ride up the mountain. "We want it to be dynamic so people come back," Alan said. Admission is free.
His advice to senior skiers: Utilize new boots, bindings and skis because the technology will help you enjoy skiing more.
And what about that "K" in Alan's name? His middle name is Karl, named after his pharmacist, Harley Davidson riding grandfather on his mother's side.
Love this story? Check out other Utah skiing legends. Here's 96 year old George Jedenoff skiing powder and words of inspiration. Plus, meet Snowbird legend Junior Bounous who skied the Pipeline Chute on his 80th birthday.
Harriet Wallis has been a ski writer, editor and photographer forever. She learned to ski on a dare when she was in her mid 30s and has been blabbing about it ever since. Read more from Harriet at SeniorSkiing.com