Alta is renowned for its colorful and accessible history. For more exhaustive resources, please see the Alta Historical Society, the University of Utah’s Utah Ski Archives, or an excellent article appearing in the American Avalance Assocation’s 1988 edition of The Avalanche Review.
The first verified silver claim in Alta was staked in 1865. By 1872, several thousand seasonal residents lived in the formally unincorporated community of Alta, which grew rapidly to contain over 150 buildings. In 1873, population and activity declined due to numerous economic factors, and natural disasters including wildfire and large avalanches nearly wiped out human settlement in Alta during the late 19th century. New mineral discoveries made in 1904 prompted a second mining boom that eventually dwindled with the onset of the Great Depression in 1927.
In 1937 “Mayor” George Watson deeded 1800 acres of surface rights to the U.S. Forest Service for development of a ski area, apparently as part of a deal with Salt Lake County for tax relief. The first Collins Lift was constructed in 1938 out of pieces of old aerial mining tram. As home to America’s second chairlift, Alta is central the history of American skiing. Alta Ski Area is the centerpeice of Alta’s modern economy, and it remains one of the world’s foremost skiing destinations.
The Town of Alta was not officially incorporated until 1970. Lee Bronson was appointed the first “president” of the Town, and he served for just 2 years until he was elected Mayor in 1972, when the Alta Planning Commission was also first appointed. The Town established an emergency dispatch center to provide support for the Alta Marshal’s Office. The Alta Justice Court began operation in 1975; the first justice court in Alta since the 1870s.
In 1978 Alta developed its first state-approved culinary water system, built in and around the Bay City Mine tunnel. The Alta Fire Station was completed to house the volunteer fire department, although the Town of Alta now contracts with Unified Fire Authority of Greater Salt Lake for fire protection.
Mayor Levitt served until stepping down in 2004. Mayor Tom Pollard, previously a longtime town council member and General Manager at the Rustler Lodge, has served as Alta’s third mayor since Mayor Levitt stepped down.