Written by Alan K. Engen
In the Who's Who of Alta over the past half-century, the name William "Bill" Levitt stands among the first rank. Although not a native to Utah, Bill describes himself as,"as, "one of Utah's most loyal patriots."
Levitt, born February 18, 1917, started his skiing interest in the early 1930s. At age 14, while at scout winter camp in New York State, he strapped on a friend's pair of old wooden skis without metal edges, and proceeded to slide down a sloped roadway leading to a lake covered with ice. Says Levitt, "I must have gone a quarter of a mile across the lake before I came to a stop. I thought this was the greatest thing that had ever happened to me. I went back up the hill and tried it again, but this time something went wrong and I fell head first into a snow bank. That was my introduction to the sport of skiing."
Many years passed before Levitt tried to ski again. His second experience occurred in the mid-1950s when he and a business associate went to a small ski are called Big Bromley. After getting outfitted, he took his first ski lesson and became hooked. Shortly after, he and his first wife decided to go west and try skiing over the Thanksgiving holiday. Their plans were to go to Aspen, which had marginal conditions that year. Friedl Pfeifer, Aspen's ski school director, recommended that the Levitts go to Alta instead. They followed Pfeifer's suggestion in 1954, beginning a long-lasting love affair with that location high in Utah's towering Wasatch Mountains. As Levitt tells the story, "I had to make a choice: buy United Airlines so I could afford to continue coming to Alta on a frequent basis or purchase the Alta Lodge. I decided to do the latter and bought the lodge from J Laughlin in 1959.
Alta incorporated as a township in 1970, largely due to a growing need to gain federal funding to construct a sewer line linking the town to the Salt Lake Valley's sewer system. Levitt was elected the town's president in 1971 and served in that capacity until 1975 when the Utah State Legislature changed the designation from "president" to "mayor.' Bill was re-elected, becoming Alta's first elected mayor. (The only other person to carry that title was George Watson who appointed himself mayor in the late 1930s.)
During his tenure as mayor of Alta, Levitt was involved in overseeing the planting of over 2,500 trees and was a member of the Utah Tourism Planning Commission. When reflecting on his many accomplishments, Levitt identified his firm resolve to keeping Alta protected from never-ending demands for commercial development as his greatest legacy.
Bill Levitt was Alta's mayor from 1972 through 2005. His contributions have had, and continue to have, a lasting impact on the Town of Alta. Under his guidance, Alta gained a fire department, a small police force, a community center, and a modern communications center that handles emergencies on a 24/7 basis.
In addition to his mayoral duties, Levitt was a founding member of the Utah Ski Association and served as its president for two years. He also served on that organization's Board of Directors Executive Committee during the mid- to late-1970s. Levitt was appointed to the board and served as president of the Utah League of Cities and Towns and received the prestigious title of "Utah's Outstanding Mayor" from the League. For his invaluable contributions to the promotion of winter sports, he was inducted into the Utah Tourism Hall of Fame in 1988.
In addition to running the day-to-day operations of the Alta Lodge with his wife, Mimi, Bill was an active member of the Professional Ski Instructors Association-Intermountain Division and participated as a certified ski instructor in the Alf Engen Ski School. For his years of continuing significant support to the ski school, Alf Engen awarded Levitt ski school "honorary status" in the mid-1970s.
Levitt's reign as Alta's mayor lasted 34 years and is among the longest, if not the longest, span of time served by any Utah mayor. Throughout his years of dedicated service, Bill chose to limit his annual salary to $1.00. Tom Pollard, Alta's current mayor and Bill's replacement, made this comment: "Bill Levitt's passion for the job and his dedication to the community is something I hope to match-but it will be a daunting task to adequately fill his shoes."
Bill Levitt passed away at his beloved Alta Lodge on December 29, 2009. He will be deeply missed!