Early Red Parka Person

Who is this guy? Sure looks like he knows the snows. Photo courtesy of the New England Ski Museum and executive director Jeff Leich. Worth visiting their online gift shop by the way if you’re looking for skier/snow sport presents. The New England Ski Museum now has two locations: Franconia and North Conway, NH.

Last Week

Yes, Mount Superior. Here’s a wonderful description from Alan Engen, recent winner of the S.J. Quinney Award from the Utah Ski Archives, honoring his life time achievements in the snow sports world. Thanks to Alan and the Alf Engen Ski Museum for contributing these photos.

“The photo was taken by the legendary early ski pioneer/legend, Dick Durrance in 1940.  He was living at Alta at the time with his new wife, Miggs Durrance.  Here’s a good photo of both of them on the deck of the old Alta Lodge, which Dick helped to initially build.

“The “Pointy Peak” photo shown is of Mount Superior and was taken not far from the top of Alta Ski Area’s current Wildcat Lift location.  It is an impressive shot.  Both Dick and his wife, Miggs, were excellent photographers.”

Dick and Miggs Durrance at Alta circa early 1940s

In the book The Man on the Medal, about the life of Dick and Miggs Durrance, written by John Jerome (1995), the following information was provided on their coming to Alta.

Dick and Miggs first came to Alta in the spring of 1940 to attend the wedding of Friedl Pfeiffer and a Salt Lake City girl (name not identified in the book).  So recorded, they both “fell in love with the place.”  They were married shortly after on June 9, 1940.  In the fall of that year, Dick made contact with the Salt Lake Winter Sports Association (who ran the Alta ski area operation) and expressed interest in coming to Alta and helping to build the fledgling area with one chairlift and a lodge which at that time was only half finished.  The Alta group welcomed Dick’s proposal with “open arms.”

It was through Dick’s efforts that he made contact with a friend named James “J” Laughlin and invited him to come and see the area he was involved with.  Laughlin did come, and quickly fell in love with the beauty of Alta and ended up purchasing the Alta Lodge from the Salt Lake Winter Sports Association.  The lodge had been started through a $25,000.00 gift to Salt Lake Winter Sports by the Rio Grande Railroad.  The gift had been authorized by one of the trustees of the railroad, Wilson McCarthy.  Laughlin agreed to finance completion of the Alta Lodge in return for interest in the lodge and the lift operation which the Salt Lake Winter sports Association agreed to do.   

Laughlin, in turn, quickly hired Durrance to oversee the lodge completion and general lodge operations.  This was in addition to running the ski school operation (which he had been granted through Forest Service approval).  Dick’s ski school staff consisted of his wife, Miggs, Gordy Wren (who would become one of America’s finest Olympic ski jumpers), and Si Brand, a racer from California.  The Durrance Ski School at Alta was based on the stem turn, “Which Mathias Zdarsky had advocated shortly before the turn of the century in Lilienfeld, Austria.”

Dick and Miggs first lived at Alta in one of the small mining buildings, below the Alta Lodge, left over from the mining era.  Unfortunately, the old mining shack burned down and some of Durrance’s valuable competition awards were lost in the fire.

The Durrances lived at Alta for the first two years of their married life and left Alta after completion of the 1941-42 ski season.

In reflection, Alta has had a number of skiing legends who have, at one time or another, called that place at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon, home.  For certain, the Durrances fit that category and both contributed in helping to develop Alta into a world class ski resort.

Miggs passed away at the age of 83 on November 11, 2002.  Dick passed away at age 89 on June 13, 2004.

One Comment

  1. Dr. Gretchen Rous Besser says:

    The face and smile are familiar, as are the 1950s-1960s vintage reversible Rainier Red patrol parka, the Livingston Longfellow-designed “National Patrolman” patch, and the National appointment pin worn by this smiling ski patroller. I’ll take a flying leap and wonder if he can be Henry “Swampy” Paris, the “Mighty Mite’ of Tuckerman Ravine, who founded the Mt. Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol in 1939 and served until 1982. He was a legend in his time.

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