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In an ironic way, that was part of the Snowbird problem: from the beginning Johnson was met with fierce and stubborn resistance by all sorts of local folk. The Wasatch Mountain Club, a band of militant conservationists, attacked Snowbird as being no more than another profiteer's rape of the wilderness, insisting that the huge increase in auto traffic to the resort would upset the ecology of the canyon, that the buildings (one of them a proposed 19-story condominium) would wreck the canyon esthetics, that the bulldozer destruction would rip up the natural habitat of countless species of wildlife. Nearly every public hearing on Snowbird facilities turned into bitter shouting matches.
One by one, Ted Johnson debated and rebutted and argued with those who opposed him. Now, at 46, his hair has turned pure white and there are deep purple circles beneath his eyes. He rarely skis anymore, but he has begun to convince people that perhaps Snowbird is neither rapist nor blatant profiteer. "Sure, the traffic rate is up in the canyon," he said, "but lots of that is in the summer, sightseers who have nothing to do with Snowbird. We're working on the idea of a monorail or a bus service up from the bottom to keep cars at a minimum. All our buildings are designed to blend with the mountains. We're even planting grass on the roofs so from on top they won't conflict with the natural environment. I've insisted every tree must be preserved. Actually, it has cost us quite a few thousand extra bucks to do it, too, but I will not have this mountain all cut up for Snowbird. We went for high-rise buildings because we didn't want to create a sprawling clutter at the base of the slope. We didn't want a layer of one-story buildings stretching all over the bottom slopes like some kind of Levittown. We're keeping everything compact, unified. People are starting to believe us, but don't kid yourself—I'm going to have to light and argue and bitch for every new building we put up. Hell, I'm going to have to fight for every new floor on every new building we put up."
Economically, the first season was, predictably, awful—losses averaged $20,000 a week. Dick Bass has now had to dig for at least another million out of his own pocket. And now Snowbird must keep expanding, adding new condominiums, new rooms in order to attract enough skiers to produce enough revenue to—someday, some year—get out of the red.
Economic success is a long way off, though Snowbird expects to start breaking even this winter. But already Snowbird is a spectacular esthetic success. The architecture is a delicate, yet rugged, combination of wood and concrete, gracefully combined in the Lodge in an attractive sweeping array of balconies and railings facing the ski slopes. The Lodge (350 beds in 160 rooms and apartments) is joined to the "Village," a remarkably tasteful single structure including the administrative offices, ski shops, two restaurants, a cafeteria, a pharmacy, discotheque, the ski school and lift-ticket sales booth, as well as a sunny, lovely plaza where people can await departures of the tram. It is a miracle of planning and unity that neatly avoids the sprawl and foolishness—to say nothing of the snarled car traffic—that ruin so many ski villages.
Apartments are being built steadily, a new 70-unit condominium opening next month. Ted Johnson and Dick Bass have laid out a series of future expansions over the mountain, eventually, perhaps, even spilling over into some of the incredible powder bowls on the other side of the Snowbird slopes.
But what of the skiing now, today? There is simply none better. The terrain of Peruvian Gulch and Gad Valley is exquisitely hair-raising—steep and straight as church steeples in some places, a snowball of moguls in others. Except for the lilting undulations of Big Emma (named after a grand madam of Alta's mining days), there is not so much for the timid intermediate to enjoy. Yet it is hard to think of a more beautiful, more exciting, more skiable mountain than that which looms over the settlement of Snowbird.
Indeed, this place in Little Cottonwood Canyon may well prove to be, as an awed visiting Frenchman exclaimed recently, "the Louvre of the world's ski resorts!"