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Area History

Though Mormons, led by Brigham Young, put greater importance on agriculture than mining, ore was a necessary part of life and so some efforts were made in that direction. They weren't mining precious metals, though, but iron. After Brigham Young's death in 1877, Little Cottonwood Canyon (1864) was discovered to have hefty surface deposits. From 1871 and 1873, the British made considerable investments in Utah mining ventures, especially in the Emma Mine in Little Cottonwood Canyon. This endeavor would turn out to be a scandal, a false bill of goods, owing to unscrupulous claims about the potentials of the mine. To be fair, Little Emma still turned out over 4 million dollars worth of silver (at those days' prices). But Little Cottonwood Canyon's greatest contribution as a mine may have been as the source of the granite cubes used to build the great Mormon Temple there in Salt Lake City.

During the mining days, Little Cottonwood Canyon would give rise to a thriving little community of 8,000 people, Alta, which provided housing and supplies for the workers and their families as they mined Little Emma. When a series of avalanches buried the town, most would have thought that would be the end, but it takes more than some devastating natural disasters to keep a good mountain town down.

Alta would remain largely dormant for quite some time. Even by the most recent Federal Census, there are only 67 family residences in the town these days. But the area itself would become one of the more celebrated ski and mountain vacation resort destinations in the country—all because of a man with a vision.

Ted Johnson was that man. He saw the potentials realize that Little Cottonwood Canyon and the surrounding areas could be a great ski resort. But had nowhere near enough money to make it happen. Perhaps it was fate that he happened to make the acquaintance of Richard Bass, an oilman from Texas who had some involvements in Aspen and Vail's development. They met at a party in Vail in 1969, and Snowbird was opened just two years later.

Ted Johnson's interest was limited. He wanted to see his vision come to fruition, but had no interest in expanding the resort any further. Dick Bass had far bigger plans for Little Cottonwood Canyon, and a vision of what it could be as well. He said, “My underlying dream for Snowbird is the creation of a year-round resort, which respects and complements the beauty and inspiration of this natural setting – a place dedicated to increasing human understanding through the enhancement of body, mind, and spirit.”

Dick Bass knew what it would take to see that vision through, and set about cementing it into reality. His vision would eventually bring Snowbird to rank as the #1 resort in the United States. In 1986, Bass established the first step of a major expansion, opening a world-class year-round resort and spa at the Cliff Lodge. But that was just the beginning. Dick Bass would expand even further, in to Salt Lake Valley itself with his Canyon Racquet and Fitness Club, all the while adding more terrain. When Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, Snowbird was prepared. A second high-speed chair was added, providing the connection necessary to join over 4,700 acres of the best skiing in the country. As of this writing, Alta and Snowbird have been rated as the number one ski resort in the U.S. every year since.

With the help of men of vision, Little Cottonwood Canyon has proven its merit many times over, and continues to provide people with excellent Utah summer vacation options.