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Johnson came up with a movie (starring the inimitable Ted Johnson floating down the powder slope) showing the snowy realities of the place, added scale models of the ambitious and decorous village he envisioned at the base of the hills—and set out on an exhausting expedition through the executive suites and corporate boardrooms of the land. His wife Wilma. a tall, strikingly handsome Australian lady who is considered a powder skier second only to Ted himself, went along.
"We hustled every big corporation in the country," says Ted. "We'd make our presentation and they'd be really interested in it. A ski resort? It excited a lot of them. I went to Boise Cascade, Royal Street, Western Airlines and the W.J. Voit Rubber Corporation. I'd tell them I was sure it would take 10 years before the thing could turn around and make a profit—but that it looked like a sure thing. Well, lots of them loved the dream—lots of the people I talked to loved the dream, that is. But then they'd say, 'Well, maybe we'd better run it through the computer and see what it says.'
"The old Snowbird got defeathered by more computers than any project in history, I guess."
The computer rejections went on and on, for about five years. Johnson tried everything else, even selling the place piecemeal like a private club, until one night he was at a cocktail party in Vail, Colo., staring despairingly into his drink, when up stepped a chap with a thick Texas drawl.
"I've heard your name," the stranger said. "Where are you from?"
"Alta," said Johnson.
"I been dyin' to go and ski over there," the man said. And then he said: "Tell me, are there any investments available over there?"
The stranger was Richard D. Bass, 42, native of Dallas and graduate of Yale, one of the heirs to one of the robust oil and ranching fortunes in America. Already a large and influential investor in the Aspen Ski Corp. and Vail Associates, Bass flew to Utah to look at Ted Johnson's dream resort. The two of them donned boots and climbed the mountain, hiking every lift line and major trail that Johnson had planned. And Investor Bass signed on, calling himself general partner and underwriting everything. Ted Johnson's days of balky computers and ephemeral dreams faded for good. The Bird, as they say along Little Cottonwood Canyon, started to take off.
It wasn't an easy launching. There were no ready-made scrap parts for a ski resort lying around to be bought for $19 a foot. In fact, what started out as a $5 million investment rose to $8 million, to $10 million, then $11.4 million, and finally shot to $13.5 million before the opening season of 1971-72.
But the money was well planted into the landscape. Now there are more than 30 miles of ski runs in Peruvian Gulch and Gad Valley, which undulate downward in gigantic fluffy snow steps. A monster Swiss aerial tram carries 120 passengers from the base plaza at 8,100 feet to the 11,000-foot Hidden Peak in six minutes. Another four double chair lifts can move 4,800 skiers per hour. From the top, there are 36 north-facing runs, many of them 2� miles long with roughly a 3,100-foot vertical drop. And Snowbird is not only big, but steep: 22 of the runs are for experts. Intermediate skiers get nine and novices five, the sort of setup that makes one aspire to improve. Snowbird gets its dry powder from early November to late May—an average fall of 450.5 inches per season—and since much of it falls overnight, skiers are usually greeted by an entire morning mountainside of untouched, unbroken snow.