Friday, February 6, 2009

50 Years of Levitt-y

In 1959, Bill Levitt agreed to buy the Alta Lodge. Fifty years later, on February 4, 2009, guests, employees, and Levitt family members gather in the lodge's deck room to celebrate. Glasses of champagne wait patiently in hand as Bill honors the occasion with a few of his famous Alta stories.

Bill tells first of the Alta Lodge's origins, built in 1939 by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad as Alta's first ski lodge. Barely completed, the lodge was taken over by the US Army during World War Two to train soldiers on skis for the mountains of Europe.

In 1954, Bill Levitt came to Alta and stayed at the 14-room Alta Lodge for the first time.

"I had been to ski hotels out East," says Bill, a native New Yorker, "but this place was different."

What Bill remembers most about Alta Lodge is the community.

"Everyone knew each other," says Bill. "We were talking, square dancing, and playing poker games. Fifty cents was a big bet."

In 1959, when Alta Lodge owner and Bill's friend Jay Lauchlan suggested that Bill buy the lodge, Jay drove anything but a hard bargain.

"Well, what do you want for the place?" asked Bill.

Jay threw out a price, and Bill quickly agreed, "That's fine."

A few days later, Bill remembers, "Jay called and said the amount he quoted was wrong."

"It's less," said Jay.

A couple of weeks later Jay called back, sounding very nervous.

"It's still less!" admitted an ashamed Jay.

To this day, money takes a backseat to friendship and tradition at Alta Lodge.

Looking over the smiling crowd, filled champagne flutes awaiting the toast, Bill speaks of his sacred obligation to keep the tradition going:

"This is a part of skiing that has changed. Now it's building condominiums and real estate. Except for one place: Alta."

The Levitt family is still involved in the day-to-day operations of the lodge, from Mimi, Bill's wife, to Cassie, Bill's youngest daughter, who stands to his left as he's speaking.

Bill sees many more years of Levitt ownership and tradition in the future:

"I have a great granddaughter now, who I assume will eventually work here. We don't have to pay family, so it's cheap labor."

Bill's joke is greeted with laughter. The group of smiling faces seems comforted. Perhaps they believe, that even as the world changes, Alta Lodge will keep the tradition alive.

Cassie Levitt raises her glass high in a toast. A hundred glasses join in.

"To the Alta Lodge."

Clinking. Sipping. Smiling.

Years ago, shortly before Jay Lauchlan's death, Bill had told Jay, "Now I see why you sold me the lodge. You were selling me the tradition."

"Well," Bill asked, "How'd I do?

"You did great," said Jay.

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