Forty-four years ago, Connie Marshall walked out of the Alta Ski Area ticket office grinning. She had just secured a job there for the winter. Like most college graduates, she was optimistic on life, despite having recently been passed over for the Peace Corps, and the upcoming ski season guaranteed a few months of fun before she had to figure things out.
That season began Marshall's journey at one of the hallowed grounds for powder skiing, and where she became an iconic figure at Alta and in the ski industry as a whole.
While working at Alta, Connie met her husband, George, and the pair eventually raised their three children in Little Cottonwood Canyon while juggling the demands of her job as the Director of the Ticket Office and subsequently Director of Marketing and PR.
Similar to the glowing rays that grace Alta's peaks after a storm clearing, Marshall is one of the kindest, most nurturing personalities you'll meet in the ski world.
This spring Marshall’s legacy at Alta came to a close when she retired after more than four decades filled with fond memories that made her retirement so bittersweet.
There were four of us girls living above the ticket office. It wasn't like you had to go out and look for trouble, but we found it. I remember walking down to the Tram Club at Snowbird; coming back up I would sometimes take a nap in the snow for a while. Some things I just look back on in a bit of horror.
It was a fun way of life as a seasonal worker, not having to worry about money very much. We felt like the free-loving girls in our early 20s. One spring, once the season wrapped up, we got into an old Impala and went down to Mexico and camped on a beach. After my third year, we went up to the Jackson Lake Lodge—we were maids and I can still remember us in our little green uniforms. We did a lot of hiking and climbing on our days off.
There were several times my first winter that we were interlodged three days in a row. It was out of anything I ever experienced being from Ohio. It kind of felt like cabin fever, and it felt pretty important that you were at a place that something like this happened. Things just slowed down, and everything seemed a little bit easier. You never left the canyon except every couple weeks to pile into a car to go see a movie.
The people are one of the reasons that make Alta special. There was a whole group of us that came around at the same time. That included Onno [Onno Wieringo, Alta’s GM retired last year after 29 years] and four other of my department head buddies who are also retiring this spring. We all came here fresh, but just working together for all those years has an incredible pull.
It's truly a family; I think we all have gone through the highs and lows of our life together. Some of that was done in conversations over lunch, a lot of that was done skiing together, hiking in the moonlight over in Albion Basin 35 years ago. I maybe even kissed a few of them. There are just not many opportunities in life to have those kinds of relationships with people, especially where our lives are intertwined in this culture.
When I was in the ticket office I would ski on lunch break and have a pitcher of beer with patrol. We were just skiing and it was a workday. It was a blast and you knew every customer that came in. It was 80 percent locals back in the '70s. Now our skier visitors are split evenly between locals and tourists. It was just fun, and penciling out and balancing every day of the week on a piece of graphing paper was really satisfying.
The Gelande was The Frank on steroids. It was still in its prime when I started at Alta and was just a free for all; the audience and spectators were right alongside with their drinks. It was as wild as you would think it would be.
For several years, every full moon we would skin up on our 215-centimeter-length skis and three-pin telemark bindings to a cabin in the Albion Basin. Most of the time we had to spend the night because we couldn't ski home. Those were some of the early years with my husband, George.
George arrived in 1979. He was a lift foreman on the Germania lift. They called him Germania George. On my lunch breaks I would skin up and meet him. It was that romantic thing of ‘go take your ski break and find your boyfriend on the hill to ski around with.’ George grew into lift management, we got married in 1983, and we later had our first daughter, Maxine, when we were living in a tiny apartment above the ticket office.
We lived near the Wildcat chair, working the same six days a week. Fridays we would ski together then head down to the valley to a place called the Green Parrot—they had the best margaritas. We also did quite a bit of competitive running, and I couldn't believe how after three margaritas you could still get up in the morning and do pretty well in the races.
In spring of 1991, I found out we were pregnant with twins and I went into Onno's office and said, 'I don't think I can stay.' Onno was so kind and said we could figure it out. I returned in November and handled all the media and group sales, putting together the schedules. It was doable and that summer it was time to begin doing some marketing for Alta.
We created the first Marketing and PR position in the summer of 1993. Marketing wasn't as complicated then. We bought ads, skied around, and took people to dinner. It was a good thing and it grew into a more nuanced position eventually.
It's amazing the transition the ski world has taken. The interesting growth of the ski industry beyond its own skin into a more corporate business has put a lot of pressures on our sport—on whatever our soul is. It is a different era and there are so many cultural phenomena that we have to be careful about. I love how at Alta we have been able to relax in a different way.
There were a couple times in the '90s when I just thought, ‘I'm not going to do this anymore.’ There was a sense of pride as a woman in a man's world, but that quickly fell away over the years. We all need to be evaluated on our internal kindness and what we bring to the table.
We did it as everyone does—in a really complicated way with a gigantic mixture of carpools and daycare.
The things the kids remember is all the time they spent up here during their childhood. It defined their lives even though none of them decided to work in the [ski] industry. I think their spirit and the way they embrace life was formed by that experience.
One of my most fond memories of that is the athlete program that Onno and I created. Lee Cohen was our first photographer. It had to be 20 plus years ago… In my basement are notebooks of those early days. I had to make clippings to show Chip and Onno on what the ROI was on the program. I'm kind of nostalgic to look at them.
Seeing people from our athlete and photographer team wet behind the ears, move on towards college, to grown-ups and go on their amazing ways, is so amazing—getting to know the spirit inside those people. Brody Leven and Caroline Gleich seemed like little kids when I first met them.
The more modern ski area is created with white lights and entry gates, and that has kept us from being seen as really forward thinking, but it doesn't mean we don’t know what is going on. The beauty and majesty at Alta are so special.
Leaving Alta is just one of the most bittersweet things in my entire lifetime. I'm not sure when I decided it was going to be. If I were just deciding today I would say three to four more years, but it really hit me last year when Onno was winding down and the 80th anniversary of Alta sounded fine. I always wanted to do more traveling, and it was time to honor other things that are really important in your life while you still can.
It's kind of unknown not having to get up at five in the morning. I can sit here and talk about days from that very first year, and what I even wore in the ticket office—how it felt and it doesn't seem like 44 years ago. It's that unique thing about being human and how it all goes. It's retrospective on an interesting and very wonderful life, and how it's just full of different wrinkles in time.