In the beginning, Connie Nelson was just looking for a way to fund her habit.

It was the start of 1999 and she was hooked on skiing, the sport that had lured her to the Utah mountains.

She’d taken the long way round to get here. She learned to ski as a girl growing up in the Montana Rockies before moving to Australia for her college years when her professor mother took a job in Perth. In and around getting her master’s degree in sports administration at the University of West Australia and going to work for the Australian Sports Commission, Connie would feed her passion for skiing by flying to New Zealand, whenever she could, a mere 3,200 miles away.

She shortened her commute to the lifts dramatically when she decided to return to the States and settle in Park City.

But she needed a job to pay the bills.

So when she saw a classified ad in the town newspaper, the Park Record, for a business manager position at the new Utah Olympic Park, the venue that was ramping up to host the bobsled, luge, skeleton and Nordic jumping events at the upcoming 2002 Olympics, she jumped at it.

Little suspecting she was about to unleash another passion.

* * *

“I call it serendipity, the definition of which is ‘finding something wonderful without really looking,’” says Connie a quarter of a century later. “It was the perfect combination of things I love.”

Namely, skiing and museums.

After the Olympics, Connie’s job description at the park changed from business manager to let’s-make-sure-nobody-forgets-how-great-the-Olympics-were.

She became a museum curator.

Women tour the Alf Engen Ski Museum in Park City on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

First as assistant director, then two years later as executive director, she was charged with transforming the building at the center of Olympic Park — it was used as a media sub-center during the Games — into the Louvre of skiing.

Other than a few scattered bobsled timing sheets lying on the floor, there wasn’t anything in the 30,000-square-foot building when she rolled up her sleeves and got started.

Today, there isn’t an inch inside the building that doesn’t pay tribute in one way or another to the history and legacy of skiing in Utah and the Intermountain West.

Of the thousands upon thousands of disparate artifacts housed inside, they all have one thing in common: Connie was there when they came through the door.

She was there the day Alan Engen and his wife, Barbara, got it all started when they unpacked their basement in Salt Lake and started delivering the hundreds of cups, trophies, ribbons and plaques Alan’s famous father, Alf, collected during his incomparable skiing life. Anchored by Alf’s artifacts, the first floor of the museum is dedicated to Utah’s rich skiing (and snowboarding) history, including housing the Intermountain Ski Hall of Fame and the Professional Ski Instructors of America Hall of Fame displays.

She was there the day the first of the 2002 commemorative displays were carried up to the second floor — where everything from authentic O.C. Tanner gold medals to Jimmy Shea’s eagle helmet to jackets worn by the volunteers are encased and on display.

She was there the day the Tidal Wave, a Disney-esque innovation of her own creation that lets guests experience powder skiing in their shirtsleeves, was unveiled.

She was there the day the interactive touch table was introduced, a huge computer screen that allows guests to click on a photograph and become suddenly immersed in its history.

And so much more.

“I’ve been involved in everything, literally from the ground up,” Connie says with a mixture of pride and disbelief.

A woman tours the Alf Engen Ski Museum in Park City on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Pride that the museum has won numerous awards and honors and attracts upwards of half a million visitors every year. Disbelief that she got to be part of it all.

She never saw this “dream job” coming, never imagined she’d have affinity for being a curator, never imagined one decade would go by, and then another, never imagined having this front row seat to history.

“What’s interesting for a lot of people who visit the museums, and continues to amaze me,” she says, “is how much Utah has shaped skiing for the world, how many contributions have come from these mountains.”

Something else she never expected to witness firsthand is the donations that make this elegant preservation of history possible.

“The philanthropic nature of Utah has made my job so much easier,” she says. “There’s so much support in this community. So much has been given by key donors so from day one we could focus on a great museum.”

Satisfied the museum is in good shape, Connie has announced that this month will be her last as executive director. She will retire effective March 31.

Part of her decision, she says, is due, ironically, to Utah’s positioning to host another Olympics in 2034. “It’s 10 years before the next Olympics. I thought it would be great to have somebody in this position who can work toward that 10 years, to plan to maybe have another museum for the 2034 Games.”

The other part is to get back to what she was doing before she got here.

“I want to travel, see things,” she says. “I just feel like it’s a good time for somebody to take over and for me to ski and mountain bike with my friends.”

How easy it will be to leave remains to be seen.

“I think it’s going to be really hard; I feel like I’m one of the artifacts,” says the woman behind Utah’s Louvre of skiing. “Because this truly has been my baby.”

The Alf Engen Ski Museum in Park City is pictured on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News