Many famous Hollywood movie stars came to Alta to ski during the 1940s. Two of the best known were Claudette Colbert and Ray Milland, but most famous of all was Errol Flynn, the swashbuckling leading man.

My uncle, the late Sverre Engen, was Alta’s Ski School Director in 1946 when the legendary action hero visited Alta for a ski outing. I remember my uncle telling me, with a big grin on his face, about the experience.

As I remember, Sverre said that Flynn arrived with great “fanfare,” accompanied by several assistants to make sure that he received the finest treatment possible, on and off the slopes.

The morning after his arrival, it was snowing and visibility was somewhat marginal.  However, Flynn made it known among the other guests at Alta Lodge that he was not intimated and was going to tackle the challenging Alta mountain terrain regardless of limited visibility conditions.

My uncle was requested to be Flynn’s personal escort for the anticipated ski outing.  Sverre wrote about the experience with Flynn in his book, Skiing a Way of Life (1976).   Here is what he had to say:

“When Errol Flynn got to the Alta Lodge, he wasn’t in very good physical condition, but was anxious to get up on the mountain. In the morning, the porch was full of people watching him put his skis on, curious to see what kind of a skier he was. This was his penalty for being famous.

Flynn insisted on taking the lift to the top, but this was something he never should have done. It took most of the day to get halfway down.

I would get him started in a slow traversing position, but he would gain more speed than he could handle, head for the trees, and sit down. I would help him up, and we would do the same thing over again.  We worked our way down the mountain until he wore himself out completely.

Finally, I had to call the ski patrol for help.  He gratefully crawled up on the toboggan, and the patrol took him the rest of the way to the Alta Lodge.  His pride was bruised a little, but he was still a good sport and smiled when he got up from the toboggan and walked into the lodge.”

Personally,I have always wished I could have been there to see the famous “swashbuckling” actor arriving back at the Alta Lodge, without his skis, and facing his adoring public.  As my uncle inferred, I am sure Flynn’s ego was impacted – perhaps even deflated – at that particular moment.

I mentioned a few of the celebrities who frequented Alta ski area in the 1940s.  Since then, there have been many others, from film and politics, and I was lucky enough to know some, including skiing with them. To name a few –

Lowell Thomas, the national commentator who pretty much invented travelogues; “Gunsmoke” star James Arness; famous TV host Art Linkletter; Senator Charles Percy; Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara; former Ambassador to Belgium Tom Korologos; and  Dr. Henry Heimlich, who invented the maneuver named for him, which has saved many lives from choking.

All were outstanding individuals and several, like Senator Robert F. Kennedy – who skied at Alta just a few months before his tragic assassination in 1968 – were excellent skiers. Senator Kennedy, as I remember, liked to ski fast.

 Time continues to move forward, and even though I retired as Alta Director of Skiing in April 2012, I am sure there are many more celebrities who have since frequented the beautiful mountainous resort of what some have referred to as “Romantic Alta.”

Ski Heil!

Historic photos provided by Alan K. Engen

Photo of Errol Flynn at the bottom of the old Collins chairlift, circa 1946 is by Ray Atkeson. It has been provided to Alan Engen by Alta Ski Area with the understanding that it would be used exclusively for Alta related ski history.

Photo of Alan, Alf, Corey and Sverre Engen is circa mid-1950s.  All four are inductees of the National Ski Hall of Fame.  Photo part of the Alan Engen Ski History Collection, which resides at the University of Utah J.Willard Marriott Library, Ski and Snow Sports Archives.


  1. Dick Dvorchak says:

    I started out with laced boots in the early 70’s. Should have kept a pair !

  2. I started out with lace boots in 1962. I agree, should have kept a pair.

  3. Tom Walker says:

    Reportedly, when George Watson was Alta’s mayor, he promoted “Romantic Alta” aggressively enough that he fined people for failing to include “Romantic” with the word “Alta.”

    I once had the pleasure of lunching with James Arness at the Watson Shelter. He jovially informed me that his middle name was “Germania.” And then there was the day my brother Andy and I served as escorts for The Monkee’s Davy Jones, at Alta on holiday with his girlfriend.

    The Walker family isn’t famous, but their roots in Alta are deep and their skiing is still “Alta Quality.”

  4. I took the Lowell Thomas book With Laurence in Arabia on a ski camping trip in 1960. Helped pass away the hours at night. Still have the book. Also the memories of frozen ski socks and leather boots!

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