The headline: "Norwegians hold first successful skeeing sportslag." Deseret News, Jan. 17, 1916.

No one expected much interest in what may have been the first organized ski event in Utah. But more than 1,500 spectators turned out despite a winter chill, packing the Fort Douglas trolleys.They were anxious to see a spectacle that relieved the tedium of wintertime, when anything more exciting than "emptying the ashes" was welcome.

The Norwegian Young Folks Association sponsored the event. The longest jump was 70 feet, and Borghild Bergstedt was the only woman to participate. Garbed in a long red sweater and coat with cap to match, she captured the admiration of the crowd with a 40-foot jump that ended in a spill. She picked herself up with a laugh and got the same response from the audience.

Utah was about to discover "the Greatest Snow on Earth."

The state's first skiers took up the sport out of necessity. Miners and trappers tied awkward slabs to their feet with leather thongs to get through deep snow. At one time, a postman on skis delivered the mail to Brighton residents.

In 1893, a visitor to the Grizzly Mine at Alta reported that the superintendent showed her his "skees." They were 14 feet long and six inches wide and fashioned from single slabs of Engleman spruce. He called them his "winter walking boots" and claimed to have been up and down most of Alta's mountains on them, she wrote.

R.F. Marvin, in an account of early Alta, said he sent to St. Paul, Minn., for skis in 1916. They were of hickory, thick and 11 feet long. Besides the toe strap, he said, he tied a thong around the ankle to "prevent the skis going home by themselves in case of a tumble."

A thin layer of sealskin on the bottom of skis was the precursor to today's wax.

An influx of Scandinavians to Utah and the birth of "outdoor clubs" began to have an impact in the 1920s. For the very hardy of that era, an excursion from Park City over Catherine Pass to Brighton was the thing. Skiers made an overnight stay at the Comstock Mine boarding house "with the fleas, bedbugs and rats," a recollection says. For the very devoted, the trek could be extended by climbing over the mountain from Brighton into Little Cottonwood Canyon and Alta.

The first downhill skiing tended to be "a rapid descent and a sudden tumble." But the sport was catching on. And the U.S. Forest Service contributed to its acceleration after recognizing the potential. The service identified possible ski runs throughout the Western states.

The Great Depression, surprisingly, had a beneficial impact on skiing. Many federal employment projects such as the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps, were aimed at improving mountain areas. Workers reclaimed many sites that had been damaged by mining, overgrazing, over-harvesting of trees and other abuses.

By the 1930s, J & M Transfer Co. trucks were loading skiers in downtown Salt Lake City and depositing them in the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Others sought out the canyons by bobsled or one of the electric "jitneys" that crossed the valley.

During the winters, ski enthusiasts crowded the Well Come Inn and Rasmussen's Ranch in Parleys Canyon and flocked to any hill along the Wasatch Range that offered any prospect for a brief thrill.

Until the late 1930s, the short thrill was inevitably followed by a long arduous climb back up the hill for skiers who wanted more than one run. The first lift began operation at Alta in 1938. It was the second in the country, preceded only by one opened in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1936.

Among many groups that emerged to provide companionship for ski fans was the Bones Club. Its only membership standard: a bone broken while skiing. The high office of president could go only to one who had experienced a compound fracture. An aspirant for the secretarial post could get by with a simple break.

As skiers got down to business in earnest, champions began to emerge. Over the years, Utah produced many, but none so outstanding or so colorful as Alf Engen, the "Glorious Norwegian."

When Trond Engen took his sons out to ski in Enga, Norway, he didn't realize he was grooming champions, but by the time young Alf was 18, he was named to the Norwegian Olympic team. Rules at that time, however, precluded his participation because he was too young. He stayed home, but when the exultant Norwegian team returned, there was an informal celebration race - which Alf won.

Again in 1940, Engen earned a berth on an Olympic ski team, this time for his adopted country, the United States. And again, he didn't compete. Before the international games, he had endorsed Wheaties, the "Breakfast of Champions" and by doing so had waived his amateur status, Olympics officials ruled.

When he emigrated in 1929, Engen first settled in Chicago, where he turned his athletic interests to soccer. He turned down an invitation from Notre Dame coaching legend Knute Rockne to give American football a try.

He came to Utah in 1930 with a professional ski jump group and challenged Ecker Hill in Summit County. He won $500 for breaking the hill's existing record of 229 feet, then for an extra $250 offered by a promoter, he went back up and bettered his own record with a 247-foot jump.

Over the years, Engen was three times U.S. national champ, and in the early 1940s he was the only skier around to win Big Four ski honors - jumping, downhill, cross country and slalom. Over three decades he continued to add to his collection of honors in every ski event offered. In February 1959 he was inducted into the Skiing Hall of Fame.

Disappointed in his own Olympic dreams, he coached the U.S. women's ski team for the 1948 Olympics. The 36-member team, including six Utahns, reaped many honors at the St. Moritz, Switzerland, meet and established a reputation as one of the best U.S. teams ever produced.

Ultimately, he turned more of his attention to helping others become proficient skiers. He headed the Alta Ski School for years and also was associated with the Deseret News Ski School for almost three decades.

Now, in his mid-80s, he resides in Salt Lake City and maintains a sidelines view of his sport.