“If man had sent God a request for the perfect potential place for skiing, Snowbird is what He would have sent back.” – Dick Bass
In the 1950s a west coast surfer named Ted Johnson discovered Alta Ski Area. He became an accomplished powder skier hanging out with the likes of Jim McConkey and Junior Buonous. Ted Johnson would actually score two Sports Illustrated covers of his powder skiing (1959 and 1965)! His search for powder led him beyond Alta’s boundaries to the neighboring valleys to the west: Peruvian Gulch and Gad Valley. Johnson felt the terrain there could support another ski area.
The land in question was privately owned by entities with mining claims on the property. The mining boom was long over and the various owners apparently hadn’t seen the opportunity of other uses. Johnson wasn’t a wealthy man, but managed to scrape together enough money to buy out some of the claims. His first acquisition was the Black Jack mine which included the Peruvian Gulch package. Later he acquired the Snowbird mine which would give the eventual ski area its name. Over a number of years he was able to gain control over 800 acres!
But then Johnson knew he needed significant financial backing to be able to turn the land into a ski area. This turned out to be more difficult than acquiring the land. Johnson tried various schemes to attract investors including having Warren Miller make a short film of the great powder skiing that the area would provide.
Finally in 1969 he had the good fortune of meeting Dick Bass at a party in Vail. The Bass family were in the oil and gas business and were significant investors in the creation of Vail in the 1960s. In fact Dick Bass had built the largest private residence in Vail at the time. That residence would be made available to Gerald Ford when he was President and became known as the “Winter Whitehouse.” Dick Bass was definitely intrigued by Johnson’s proposal. He joined Johnson in Utah and they hiked the land together. It didn’t take long for Bass to commit to making a world class ski resort, Snowbird.
Construction began in 1970. Due to the severity of the winters, most had to be done in the summer. Johnson oversaw the construction and 12-16 hour days, 7 days a week were common. But they were able to open Snowbird on December 23, 1971. Initially there was the European style Tram and three chairlifts (Wilbere, Gad I, and Gad II) plus the Lodge and the Snowbird Center.
Ted Johnson after seeing his dream for a ski area come true sold his share of Snowbird to Bass in 1974. Johnson died in 2018 at the age of 91.
Bass would continue to build the area. Some of the significant enhancements were the addition of Mineral Basin in 1999, the Alta Connection in 2001, the Peruvian Express and Tunnel in 2006. By the way, that 600 foot long tunnel, a tribute to the area’s mining history, is really neat … and really important! It provides an alternative way to get into Mineral Basin and an alternative to the Tram. In 2014 Bass would sell a majority interest in Snowbird to the Ian Cumming family. Dick Bass died in 2015 at the age of 85.
The two Snowbird founders may have passed away, but they are remembered in many of the trail names at Snowbird. Silver Fox was Ted Johnson’s nickname due to his well-groomed silver hair. Bassackwards, Bassanova, and the Bass Highway need no further explanation.