Snowbasin: From water fights to world class resort

Snowbasin: From water fights to world class resort


By Yeti \ November 25 2015

By Harriet Wallis, the geezer gal

Snowbasin was founded from a desperate need for clean water. And iconic skier Alf Engen and a German beer brewmaster had a hand in its creation. Clean water, great runs and good beer is still the classic mix for resorts. This year Snowbasin celebrates its 75th anniversary.

In the 1930s the need for good water became a battle cry for the people of Ogden. There've always been scraps over water in the arid west. This time, city folks locked horns with a local cattle company over water.

Animals overgrazed the Wheeler Basin and their poop polluted creeks that fed the city's major water supply, the Ogden River. In addition, erosion debris from over timbering further polluted the river. The result was a law suit.

Ogden City won. It bought the vast Wheeler Basin and kicked out the cattle. But what would it do with the land?

Luckily, several factors converged at the right time. The Wheeler Basin watershed formed to protect the water. The burgeoning Ogden Ski Club set its sights on skiing the Wheeler Basin. And German brewmaster and ski jumping promoter Gus Becker was buddies with famed jumper Alf Engen.

Engen was a consultant with the U.S. Forest Service. He was the guru on all ski things. He hiked into the Wheeler Basin and found the area -- where Snowbasin now sits – to be remarkable.

Voila! A ski resort was born – sort of.

The Ogden City government built a rope tow and it was suddenly thrust into the ski business. It opened on Nov. 27, 1940 by mayoral proclamation. The city donated the vast tract of land to the forest service for maintenance and preservation. And the Huntsville Civil Conservation Corp (CCC) built the road. 

But then came WWII. Men were called to war so progress on the fledgling resort stalled. Wildcat lift towers were up, but they sat idle. Through the war years, the resort operated with only a rope tow.

Today, Snowbasin Resort is a world class resort that's "closer than you think and more than you can imagine." Happy 75th Anniversary.

Special thanks to historian Kyle Ross and ski preservationist Nick Breeze for unearthing old Snowbasin history.

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 Senior Skiing