Strategies and gear for living the dream
She started working at Alta when tickets cost $6.50 a pop. Now, as she prepares to retire, she leaves behind a legacy that spans four decades.
Name: Connie Marshall
Job: Director of Marketing and Public Relations at Alta
Home Base: Sandy, Utah
Education: Sociology degree and history minor from Alma College, in Michigan
Connie Marshall was a recent college graduate when she received a rejection letter from the Peace Corps. A few months later, the 21-year-old packed up her suitcase, pulled on a nylon dress and hosiery, and moved from her hometown of Newark, Ohio, to Crested Butte, Colorado. Her cousin, a Utah native, was working at Crested Butte Mountain Resort and offered up her sofa. “Everyone was hardcore, in tune with this high-altitude life, and going to the bars every night. I was a fish out of water,” says Marshall.
Couch surfing in C.B. didn’t last long. Two weeks later, Marshall’s aunt insisted that Marshall, still jobless, move to Alta, where she could apply for an open position at the ski area’s ticket office. Marshall got the gig and was promoted to director of ticket sales a few seasons later, in 1977—before snowmaking existed. She had dabbled in skiing for years before moving West, but after a winter at Alta, she was addicted.
“I was not being a master of my own fate. Time eluded me and slipped away—the years rolled by, because I was having a blast,” she says.
Few icons have had as significant an impact on Alta’s history as Marshall: the two evolved together. By 1993, Marshall had co-developed the resort’s first-ever marketing and PR department; Alta had never even bought an advertisement in a ski magazine before then. The role was natural. Marshall epitomized the homey vibe that made Alta a favorite of so many skiers. Every lift operator and visitor recognized her monumental crown of hair, her pats on the back in the dining hall, and her wide smile. We asked Marshall about her four-decade career at Alta, upcoming retirement, and mountain life in Little Cottonwood Canyon.
On How Alta Has Evolved: “I used to wear bib overalls to work, and there weren’t name tags. There’s a dress code now, and you can’t have a pitcher of beer with [the ski patrollers] during the day. Alta has otherwise been timeless, a nod to how we’ve never been acquired. Alta was founded as a place for local skiers, is owned by families, and we pay cash for everything.”
On Life in the Town of Alta: “I fell in love with a group of spirited ladies: a minister in training, a Mormon, and one who was as wild as the day was long. We lived on nachos or spaghetti, walked in the moonlight, sipped whiskey, partied with the lift crew guys, and read together. I didn’t own a car for three years. We’d cross-country ski, break into old cabins, stay for the night. The majesty of the mountains entered my life.”
On Her Secret Stash: “Since the ‘80s, when the Supreme lift went in, I have spent 50 percent of my ski life in the upper reaches of the ski area boundaries in Albion Basin. Catherine’s Area is beautiful and perfect for wide-open powder lines.”
On Falling in Love in a Mountain Town: “My husband, George, was hired onto the lift crew by a buddy of his, in ‘79. We met at an avalanche center fundraiser at Snowbird. It was a slow start, we dated, and got married in ‘83. In the winter, we worked six days a week, and each Friday we’d freeski, go down valley to the Green Parrot, order margaritas, talk about solving global hunger and world peace. In the summer, we were involved in the early mountain running series. After work, we’d run up to Albion Basin and Secret Lake at 10,000 feet.”
On Becoming a Mom: “I was living the dream. I wanted to wait to have kids. Our first daughter was born when I was 35, in ‘88. We were on a road trip to visit family. I did a pregnancy test in a shabby motel in St. George. I bawled the whole drive home—I didn’t want to give up my carefree life. Then I had the most beautiful child. When I got pregnant the second time—with twins—in ’91, life drastically changed. The pregnancy was risky. I had pulmonary embolism and flatlined. A nurse needed to drive up the canyon three days a week to check my oxygen count. We decided to move down valley. My position was replaced in the ticket office, which was the right thing to do, but broke my heart. When I returned, I helped with group sales on an at-need basis and started assisting with marketing and PR tasks, which led to the department’s development. Moving was the best for the kids. We shared the mountain with them, but raised them in a more traditional way in the valley community.”
On Her Biggest Career Milestone: “Women were scarce in the ski industry, even in the ‘90s. I was the only female director at Alta to have children. The life-balance was hard to find, and peers saw my flexible schedule as special benefits. But I had to negotiate my hours, take a pay cut, and needed to leave by 5 p.m., or else I’d have daycare fees. And I was always the one waiting at the bottom of the canyon each morning for avalanche control. It helped to pioneer flex hours, which everyone now uses: parents and young, non-married staff.”
On Having a Resilient Community: “The tragedies we faced always brought our community closer together. Fortunately, there have not been many avalanche-related incidents at Alta Ski Area—one 12-year-old was killed by an avalanche. We faced hardships, like horrific injuries and suicide, as a close family. The toughest times for me were the mundane benchmarks like when I started commuting up canyon.”
On Passing the Torch: “I can’t believe how close to tears I am all the time. I count my lucky stars for the journey. We hired Brandon Ott, former Ski Utah director of content, to take my role—he’s a part of the third generation: When I was an eager 30-something, Alta’s leaders were retiring. Now, five of our 12 department heads are leaving this spring.”
On What’s Next: “I’ll sleep in past 5 a.m. and nordic ski at Solitude. I’ll serve on several boards—the Alta Chamber and Visitors’ Bureau, Westminster College scholarship fund, and Alta Community Enrichment arts nonprofit—and stay involved with the local SheJumps chapter. I might apply for an administration position at the University of Utah—I still get nervous about spending.”
On the Importance of Staying Young: “The stimulation of working in the mountains and at a ski resort helps you stay healthy, strong, and internally young. I feel 20 years younger than I am, physically and mentally.”