A Ski Museum with Something for Everyone

From fashion on the slopes to virtual rides on a bobsled

Posted 2/14/21

No, it’s not a winter circus show. ‘The Greatest Snow on Earth’ is an engaging weather exhibit at the Alf Engen Ski Museum in Park City, Utah.

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A Ski Museum with Something for Everyone

From fashion on the slopes to virtual rides on a bobsled

Posted

No, it’s not a winter circus show. ‘The Greatest Snow on Earth’ is an engaging weather exhibit at the Alf Engen Ski Museum in Park City, Utah. Founded in 2002 and named after local ski legend Alf Engen, the mountain-based educational center is more than just a museum. It’s part of a larger cultural center that preserves the rich history of winter sports in the Intermountain region.

“There is something here for everyone”, says Connie Nelson, Executive Director of the museum. For youngsters, the facility offers interactive games and a Mountain Sports Simulator that imitates a ski jump, a moving chair lift, and a fast bobsled run.

For clothing fashionistas, the museum has dedicated space to the evolution of ski wear since the 1970s. Barbara Alley, former fashion editor for several ski magazines, donated her wardrobe of 65 outfits to the center. Who can resist those vintage moon boots and neon-colored jackets?

And for sports history buffs, the walls and display cases are replete with stories and memorabilia related to the region’s snow and ice competitions. Included is the Intermountain Ski Hall of Fame, which counts Averell Harriman as one of its 82 inductees. Though an east coast native, the former ambassador and Governor of New York was also Chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad, which helped build the Sun Valley Resort in order to increase ridership on the railroad.

The Alf Engen Ski Museum isn’t the only visitation complex that honors the rich heritage of snowsports. Dozens of museums and cold weather communities around North America and Europe have sought to embrace and share their own winter sports heritage.

A few hundred miles from Park City, Vail has the older but smaller Colorado Snowsports Museum, which celebrates that state’s white powder history. North of the border, the Canadian Ski Museum West showcases winter recreation and its role in putting the town of Banff on the Canadian map.

Further east, the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame and Museum preserves America’s ski and snowboard achievements in a 15,000 square foot Hall. Located in Ishpeming, Michigan, the institute has been inducting snow athletes and industry luminaries since 1956. Its first member was Carl Tellefsen, a Norwegian-born skiing enthusiast who helped found the National Ski Association.

In upstate New York, the Lake Placid Olympic Museum pays homage to North America’s first cold weather games, which took place at the picturesque Adirondack village in 1932. Guests can also relive the 1980 ‘Miracle on Ice’ moment by viewing artifacts such as the goal, sticks, and skates that were used by the U.S. amateur hockey team when they defeated the mighty Soviets in their own game.

Abroad, Europe plays host to more than a handful of well-endowed ski museums, located mostly in Austria, Switzerland, France, Germany and the Nordic countries. Home to the first Winter Olympics in 1924, Chamonix in the French Alps houses the Alpine Museum, which captures the history of the stunning valley from the first tourists who came to admire the glaciers to the golden age of winter sports.

Opened in 1923, Norway’s Holmenkollen Ski Museum is the oldest in the world. Situated at the base of Oslo’s landmark jump tower, the enclosure exhibits over 4,000 years of skiing history and polar exploration artifacts. With less than 5.5 million inhabitants, Norway leads the world in Olympic medals at the winter games (the U.S. is second). The word “ski” even has its roots in ancient Norse, which means ‘split piece of wood’.

One of the oldest known depictions of humans on skis dates to a 5,000-year-old Norwegian rock carving, which was adopted as the logo for the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. Used as a mode of transport in ancient times, skiing was later employed by various militaries to protect their borders. The 1924 games in Chamonix featured the ‘Military Patrol’ event, a 25 km cross-country and rifle-shooting team competition, which formed the basis for today’s biathlon event.

Back in the U.S., the Alf Engen Ski Museum is the only one of its kind named after a person. Born, where else but in Norway, Engen made his way to America in 1929 at the age of 20 and quickly gained a reputation for his world class skiing skills. An all-around athlete, he was selected to join the 1940 U.S. Olympic Team for the jumping, downhill, and slolam events, but the outbreak of WWII canceled those tournaments.

Though Engen broke records and won numerous awards as a white powder specialist, his lasting influence was in helping to establish Utah’s Alta Ski School and developing the popularity of skiing in the western U.S. Some 30 ski areas across Utah, Idaho, Nevada, and Wyoming carry his finger prints, including Sun Valley and Jackson Hole.

One floor above Engen’s extensive trophy collection and family artifacts is the Eccles 2002 Olympic Winter Games Museum, a state-of-the-art permanent home dedicated to the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. The U.S. emerged with 10 gold medals at those games, the most it has ever won in a Winter Olympics.

Upon entering the site, visitors are greeted by the banner art that decorated downtown Salt Lake during the 2 weeks of winter sports extravaganza. On display are original skis, snowboards, sleds, skates, uniforms and a rich assembly of Olympic medals. Highlights of the competitions are chronicled in dramatic photos and video clips, accompanied by descriptive text.

While the pandemic has upended most people’s vacation plans, especially those who were hoping to travel overseas, packing the car for a family trip to the mountains is still a doable adventure. The Alf Engen Ski Museum is open, free, and promises a rewarding experience for all ages.

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