Alta’s History

Perched at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon, Alta has a rich history intimately tied to its geography and natural resources.

Alta was primarily a silver and copper mining district during the second half of the 1800’s up until the 1920’s. During this era, most of the trees in Alta were harvested to support the mining infrastructure.

In the 1930’s, a new type of natural resource was discovered to be extremely valuable: skiing on powder snow. In 1939, Alta became North America’s second lift-served ski area. During World War II Alta’s rugged mountain terrain was used for training soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division.

Alta has a prominent history of avalanches, which continue to impact recreation opportunities and the ingress and egress from our community. With each storm cycle, Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) performs avalanche control work on the north side of Little Cottonwood Canyon to reduce avalanche risks along highway 210. As a result of Alta’s unique location and legendary snow, some of the country’s most notable avalanche professionals have trained at Alta.

In 1970, Alta became an incorporated town, with Lee Bronson appointed as the first President. In 1972, Bill Levitt became the first elected Mayor of Alta, and he continued to serve Alta’s community for 34 years. Mayor Levitt and his wife Mimi founded Friends of Alta in 1981.

Friends of Alta has been and will continue to be an integral part of Alta’s community. Our perspective of Alta encompasses its residents, visitors, natural environment (including flora and fauna), businesses, volunteer organizations, and local, state and federal government. Over the years we have provided assistance to the Town of Alta for municipal programs that benefit the community, including the Alta Summer Booth Program, Master Planning, Recycling Program, and Geographic Information Systems.

Alta continues to attract thousands of visitors annually who revel in its spectacular scenery. Alta is a year- round recreational haven with exceptional skiing terrain and high quality snow, rock climbing, photography, hiking and biking.

Friends of Alta’s History

In 1979, a large time-sharing company acquired land on the Bypass Road between Alta and Snowbird. The company had plans to build 400 time-share units, with tentative approval from Salt Lake County. The proposed development was within half a mile of the boundary of the Town of Alta and as the closest municipality, the Town had the obligation to provide services to the area (fire, police, sewer, water, and communications). The Town of Alta thus claimed jurisdiction which required that the proposed development be subject to their more restrictive zoning ordinances. As a result, the time-share company sued the Town and their lawyer informed then Mayor Bill Levitt that they would keep them in court until the Town went bankrupt. The Town lost the first round in court.

When some winter guests heard about the situation, they suggested forming a defense fund to help the Town pay for lawyers, and thus on an informal basis the Alta Defense Fund began. In 1981, Mayor Levitt, his wife Mimi and friend Pat Shea incorporated the Alta Defense Fund, and in 1983 applied for and received Federal 501(c)(3) nonprofit designation.

To fight the time-share company, The Town of Alta hired one of the top law firms in Salt Lake City and after a lengthy legal battle, won by a unanimous decision of the Utah Supreme Court. The time-share company twice appealed that decision to the Utah Supreme Court, losing each time. Financial relief from the Alta Defense Fund helped the Town afford the legal battle.

In 1985 the Board decided that the name Alta Defense Fund no longer fully represented what we stood for, so we changed our name to Friends of Alta to better reflect our Mission. Friends of Alta began acquiring and conserving private undeveloped land in Albion Basin in the 1980’s. By the mid 80’s FOA was supporting Alta’s Interim School, Alta Community Enrichment (ACE), the Avalanche Forecast Center, and the Alta Historical Society. FOA also helped fund the Town’s first General Plan, as well as different wetlands studies. Friends of Alta continues to allocate resources towards a better understanding and protection of Alta’s natural environment.

Bill Levitt

“It is no accident that when people refer to Alta as their ‘spiritual home’, it is Albion Basin that is foremost in their minds. Its pristine beauty, myriad of wildflowers, lush wetlands, crystal streams, variety of mountain wildlife, and awesome mountain peaks remain familiar to the thousands of people who have visited this uniquely beautiful place. It has always been the mission of the Town of Alta, to be the guardians of this critical watershed for the Salt Lake Valley. Each year, young people from all over our country come to study this incredible environment- its magic reaching the minds of many generations. Alta and its Albion Basin will remain an inspiration for all fortunate enough to visit it and enjoy its great beauty.”

Bill Levitt helped found Friends of Alta in 1981. He played a critical role in Friends of Alta’s early development and maturation into a viable organization with a key niche in Alta’s community. To this day, FOA maintains Bill’s passion for, and protection of Alta’s environment for future generations.

In 2010, the Bill Levitt Fellowship was established. This fellowship program is both a tribute to Bill’s public service record and an effort to train young people in the tradition of intelligence and integrity – traits Bill personified. Click here for more details.

A memorial tree was planted for Bill Levitt on August 26, 2010 at memorial grove in Albion Basin.

Please visit this memorial website for Bill Levitt by Sam Dippo (one of Bill’s Grandsons).

Click here for Bill Levitt’s Obituary