Johnny B: Hello skiers! This is Johnny B. for AltaCam.com. Today I'll be talking with Alta Ski Area General Manager Onno Wieringa. Good to see you, Onno. How's it going?
Onno Wieringa: Nice to see you, Johnny. I'm amazed that you'd come up on such a snowy day. I thought maybe you'd want to stay home and shovel your driveway.
Johnny B: Well, I got to keep my appointments, and I had so many great runs this morning.
Onno Wieringa: So now you're going to go home and shovel your driveway.
Johnny B: No, I'm going to take a little break. You know, it's funny you should say that, because my neighbor at 6:15 this morning was blowing my driveway, nice guy that he is.
Onno Wieringa: He knew that you wanted to go skiing.
Johnny B: And he woke me up, that's great. Onno, let's get right into it. Share with us: how hard does the wind have to blow, and how hard does it have to snow for you to wear goggles? How do you decide?
Onno Wieringa: Well, it's not about wind and snow, it's about visual clarity. You know, wearing the glasses allows me to see. And if I resort to goggles, and goggles with glasses, it's really a pain in the ass. So it's kind of a choice to.. The longer you hold out, the more I can see. And I like to be able to see as much as I can.
Johnny B: It is important, you know. A lot of people want to know that. I'm glad we got to the bottom of it. There you have it. That clears that up.
Let's take it back, Onno. Where did you grow up? And what was your home ski mountain?
Onno Wieringa: Conrad, Montana. I had two home ski mountains. Kingshill east of great falls, and the big mountain there just west of Glacier National Park. And we used to do day trips to the big mountain because it was only 180 miles away, and we'd be the first ones in line, ski all day, and drive home.
Johnny B: All right. So that's where you..
Onno Wieringa: Yeah, that's where I grew up skiing.
Johnny B: All right. Well, the big mountain. I've never skied there. I hope to, one day.
When did you first come to Alta, Onno?
Onno Wieringa: 1972 fresh out of college from Montana State in Bridger Bowl where I was a ski patroller while I was going to college. I came down here to warm up. I came to warm climate; I was tired of freezing to death.
Johnny B: And I'm sure the powder had something to do with it.
Onno Wieringa: Well, you know, you come from Bridger Bowl on a good year, you get plenty of powder. But it's cold there. They call it Cold Smoke for a reason.
Johnny B: Uh-huh. All right. So you came up here to warm your bones up a little bit. Well, that leads me to my next question. What year did you join Ski Patrol here at Alta.
Onno Wieringa: 1972, the day I walked in the door.
Johnny B: Oh, right away. So you didn't have to do anything, you just started patrol right away?
Onno Wieringa: No, no. I just walked right in on November 1st, we opened November 9th, and I was on the Ski Patrol, and worked Sunday nights as bartender at the Rustler Lodge.
Johnny B: Oh, who was the head of Ski Patrol back then?
Onno Wieringa: Doug Christiansen.
Johnny B: Doug Christiansen. All right. Onno, I know you were the head of Snow Safety. Tell us about shooting Patsy Marley and the powder blast that you experienced on the summer road.
Onno Wieringa: Back in the old days, when skier compaction wasn't such a big deal, we kept things closed longer, and didn't have nearly the expertise and equipment that we have now. We had bigger avalanches. It's because we just didn't control and didn't ski as often. And we had big slides off of everything. Patsy Marley, Devil's Castle, East Greely.
I lived to watch East Greely come down and get air off the bench, blows through the creek, go across home run, and you think it's going to come up the Sunny Side Bridge there, towards the gun mouth. And you're kind of wondering whether you ought to leave.
Johnny B: Oh my God.
Onno Wieringa: Well, you know, there were a lot of big avalanches in the old days.
Johnny B: Whoa. All right. Man. That's impressive, Onno, that's impressive.
Onno Wieringa: They were. Those were some big slides.
Johnny B: Speaking of shooting, you still wake up at 4 AM on the big powder storms to shoot the gun. Do you still get a big thrill, causing avalanches? Talk about that.
Onno Wieringa: Well, it's occasionally called the gun. I mean, if you were a Marine, you'd call it a rifle, a 105-mm recoilless rifle, or the pack howitzers that we shoot. Just to be clear, those are rifles. Look down the barrel, there's no doubt, there's riflings in there. And where else can a boy shoot a 105-mm recoilless rifle, get to aim, pull the trigger, and then occasionally get avalanches as a consequence of the explosion. So it's more about shooting big guns than anything.
Johnny B: That's a great answer. And nobody's shooting back at you.
Onno Wieringa: No, that's the only peaceful use for artillery in the world, and we love that fact.
Johnny B: That's a great use. I wish there was more of that going on. Onno, I'm curious. When did you become General Manager here at Alta, and what do you like most about your job?
Onno Wieringa: I became General Manager in 1988. And I like the skiing best about my job.
Johnny B: I would agree with that.
Onno Wieringa: It's why we came here. If we're not here for the skiing, I don't know.
Johnny B: That's why we all came here, for days like today. Beautiful day out there. My next question: to be as successful as you have been, a General Manager here, you've had to look down the road to see what's ahead for Alta. Where do you see Alta going in the next 5 years, Onno? Fill us in. The people want to know.
Onno Wieringa: I'm kind of concerned that it's not so much where we're going, it's almost more of a matter of what we're going to do to protect ourselves as the Wasatch range gets inundated by all the growth going on in the valley, and all the promotion to bring people to the mountains.
You know, we're going to keep doing some little refinements in the ski area, but all this pressure from the valley is going to have some consequence. You've seen people now starting to think about how to react to it, and how to deal with the transportation issues, and the people issues, everything that's going to come along with it.
But we're going to try not to be reacting completely, but there's going to be some.. We're going to be in the backseat a little bit as this all grows, and try not to be there much. So we'll be like you skiing, Johnny, get in the backseat.
Johnny B: There you have it, folks. You heard it right here on AltaCam.com. Onno, for the next question: I'm sure you had the opportunity to meet some great people here at Alta. Talk about the first time you met the great Alf Engen. Did you ski with him much?
Onno Wieringa: You know I skied with Alf.. I don't know when I first met him because, you know, when I first came, he was just working here like the rest of us. And we were all skiing, having fun. And he was the Director of the ski school. And of course you want to meet all of them. I heard things about him. I don't know when it was first, but skiing with Alf Engen was just lots of fun.
But what was most impressive about Alf all the time was his pure optimism and excitement. Optimistic about every day, never a bad day, never a bad turn. He was always looking at the sunny side. So you'd go to Alf for uplifting. You know, if he taught you some little trick about skiing, that was cool too. But you could get a skiing tip from anybody. But the kind of uplifting that you could get from Alf, you couldn't get anywhere else. So that's why it was always cool to..
Johnny B: That's a great answer. You're a lucky guy to have experienced that. That takes me to my next question, then.
Onno Wieringa: Can I tell you one more Alf Engen story?
Johnny B: You sure can. I'd love to hear it.
Onno Wieringa: Well, one day we were in the fall, we were running on the road, trying to get into shape for skiing. Alf came by and stopped, and said, "Well, boys, what are you doing?" I said, "Well, we're running, training to get in shape for skiing." "Well, are you going to do the downhill?" And we go, "Well, no, we're just training to go skiing. You know, we're ski patrollers, we're training to go skiing."
And he said, "Well, by golly, you're just training going straight, I thought maybe you were doing the downhill. You know, if you're going to be training, you've got to zip and dip and jag." So the next thing you know, we're all following Alf, we're training, running sideways, and backwards and circles...no straight running. Because all we would be doing is training for the downhill.
Johnny B: All right. Well, there it is, folks. I'm Johnny B. for AltaCam.com with Alta General Manager Onno Wieringa. Thanks, Onno, good to ski ya. Let's go skiing.
Onno Wieringa: Thanks, Johnny. Talk to you later.
Johnny B: All right, you bet.
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