Ski In, Never Leave
Citizens of Mountain Time: Lodge manager Marcus Dippo hitchhiked to Alta four decades ago and hasn’t left.
It was the summer of 1978, and a lanky college graduate stepped out of a car in front of Alta Lodge. He thanked the stranger who gave him a lift up Little Cottonwood Canyon, then turned to the building that he would soon, unbeknownst to him, call home away from home, and also just home, for the next four decades.
Marcus Dippo had a Saturday off to find some seasonal winter work after his temporary summer gig in Park City expired. He strode in, was lucky enough to score an interview immediately — with the man who would eventually become his brother-in-law — and got himself a job.
Dippo’s first evening of employment coincided with the Perseid meteor shower. He remembers stepping outside on the deck to take it in but thick clouds gave way to four inches of August snow. “What a really, really weird place, I thought,” the Alta Lodge general manager says with a chuckle.
Weird and magical are so often misconstrued.
"It’s not an uncommon story at Alta. So many people come here and just can’t seem to leave."
– Marcus Dippo
As Dippo’s first winter season ended, he decided to stick around for the summer, then again for the winter, and so on. “It’s not an uncommon story at Alta. So many people come here and just can’t seem to leave,” Dippo says.
At Alta Ski Area, there are five lodges, including Alta Peruvian Lodge, Goldminer’s Daughter Lodge, Alta’s Rustler Lodge and Snowpine Lodge. Four of the five are still under the same family ownership as when Dippo started at Alta Lodge almost 40 years ago. “Other lodges and resorts around the country would die for that level of authenticity,” he says.
The original Alta Lodge opened in 1940. With hallmarks of knotty-pine walls, quaint rooms and cozy vibes, the accommodations were modest but the locale, epic. In 1959, a Manhattanite who fell in love with Alta from its infancy, Bill Levitt, purchased the lodge. “Bill came out so often that he said he’d either need to buy American Airlines or the Alta Lodge,” Dippo remembers.
At three separate times during the 1960s, Levitt added onto the original structure. In 1968, the most dramatic addition came under the design of architect John Sugden, who brought mid-century modernism to the rustic lodge. The most prominent feature of the so-called East Wing are Sudgen’s windows, which stretch the length of the floor to ceiling and put guests right in the mountain setting outside. There are also cement-block walls, steel accents, mid-century industrial chairs, and clean architectural lines — all very in-vogue then, and now.
“We don’t chase trends. Trends catch back up to us. It speaks to the fact that we’ve been doing it the right way all along,” Dippo says, flashing a smile.
The “right way” includes comfort and amenities, such as ski-in, ski-out access to lifts, heated pools and saunas, boot heaters in every room, big views from your bed, an iconic apres-ski bar in the Sitzmark Club, and full breakfast and four-course dinners at the lodge restaurant, included in the lodging-dining package. It’s certainly a hotel experience done right.
During the busy season, all 57 rooms are typically full. During holiday weeks, the rooms are all booked up to eight months in advance. What’s more, the return rate of guests is more than 75 percent.
“Over the years, our core values have remained the same: We are simply trying to make people happy. It should feel like home for people to come back to — after their ski day, and on their return visits year after year,” says Dippo.
“You really get to know these guests, their families and their stories over time,” he continues. In his current capacity, he tends to managerial duties daily, but he really loves walking around and bantering with guests. During a lunch rush on a spring powder day, he stops to chat with guests about their morning turns, the weather, the food, their stay and some personal notes.
Dippo has worked in every capacity here. He’s been a handyman, a dishwasher, and accomplished every variety of dirty work they’d throw at him. Eventually, he became the assistant maitre d’, and within a few years, the dining manager. Somewhere along the line — a ways down the line — Dippo married owner Bill Levitt’s youngest daughter, Cassie, and was locked into the lodge for life.
"All the steep and deep powder certainly hasn’t hurt — Alta boasts an average annual snowfall of 545 inches."
Currently, Dippo’s mother-in-law, Alta legend and founder of Friends of Alta, Mimi Levitt also has a hand in the day-to-day operations of the lodge. Many family members have come and gone over the years, with the third generation of Levitts washing dishes and doing their small part to carve the legacy of the lodge.
Dippo’s deep love for the establishment is palpable. “And I’m not done with this place yet, either.”.
All the steep and deep powder to be had certainly hasn’t hurt to keep Dippo around — Alta boasts an average annual snowfall of 545 inches. He manages to get in 60 some odd days, which range from full days on the hill to pre-work runs, of tele turns each year. It’s a meager number compared to some of the fresh-to-Alta transplants. “I guess I’m one of those old, spoiled, local guys, who only gets out if the conditions are just perfect.”
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