International Skiing History Association honors Alf Engen Ski Museum head
Connie Nelson was visiting her mother in Australia when she heard the International Skiing History Association planned to give her a lifetime achievement award. Nelson is set to receive the honor for her work curating the Alf Engen Ski Museum as its executive director. The award, which the group established in 1993, recognizes those who have made significant contributions to ski history through journalism, photography, film, radio or TV, according to the association.“It was fun to share the news with my mom, because moms are happy when their children get awards,” Nelson said with a chuckle. “I’ve never received an award, so this is a real honor. It’s very humbling.”
The ISHA will give Nelson the award during a banquet and ceremony on Thursday, April 4, at the Alf Engen Ski Museum at the Utah Olympic Park.
The banquet is part of the Ski History Week.
ISHA works with the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame and Museum on the event, and they hold it in different places like Squaw Valley, California and Steamboat Springs, Colorado, according to Nelson.
ISHA knew about Nelson’s work with the Utah Olympic Park-based institution, which includes the 2002 Olympic Museum, because she was once a board member.
“I think that’s how they got familiar with what we do here,” she said.
Nelson’s road to the Alf Engen Ski Museum started in Butte, Montana.
“I was born there, and I learned how to ski at Red Lodge, Bridger Bowl and Big Sky,” she said. “I lived mostly in Billings, and would catch the bus to get to the slopes.”
Nelson and her mother, a university professor, moved to Perth, Australia, when she was a teen.
“I would go surfing out there, and then come back to Montana to ski,” Nelson said.
Nelson earned a teaching degree in Australia and started her teaching career in a primarily Aboriginal school in the outback before teaching at other Perth schools.
“I went back to get my master’s degree in sports administration at Western Australia University, and went on to work at the Australian Sports Commission,” she said.
Nelson moved to Utah in 1998, and started working with the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC), which planned the 2002 Olympics, as its business operations manager.
During Nelson’s time there, crews broke ground for the Joe Quinney Winter Sports Center, which would eventually become the Alf Engen Ski Museum.
“I was very curious as to what was going on,” Nelson said. “I wanted to be a part of it. So, I would go to all the meetings.”
The completed 30,000 square-foot building became headquarters to more than 350 media outlets during the 2002 Winter Games.
When the games were over and the medals had been handed out, in May 2002, the media center was converted into the Alf Engen Ski Museum, and Nelson was named as its assistant director.
She was promoted to executive director in 2004.
“I’ve always been interested in the Olympics, and I’m a history buff,” Nelson said. “So I really wanted to be a part of history and skiing, and it all merged together with this job.”
More than 500,000 people visit the museum each year, and March is its busiest month with about 10,000 visitors, she said.
“The thing that sticks with me is being able to meet people from all over the world every day,” she said. “It’s great to chat with them and see where they’re from.”
Another perk for Nelson is meeting hometown Olympic heroes such as gold medalists Ted Ligety and the late Dick Mitchell.
“Ted is the epitome of an athlete,” Nelson said. “And Dick was such a great man. It was incredible to have them and others visit our archive room and show us their equipment.”
In addition to athletes, Nelson has met with other winter sports pioneers, such as Earl Miller, who invented both the quick-release ski binding and the stop that prevents loose skis from sliding down the mountain.
“I’m always in awe of what others have done and what they continue to do,” she said.
Nelson is happy some of these pieces of history are stored in the museum’s archive room, which currently houses 10,000 times, Nelson said.
The museum’s archive room holds 10,000 items.
Thursday, April 4
• 8:30 a.m. — Slope-side Meet-up, Deer Valley | Snow Park, free
• Noon-1 p.m. – Lunch Meet-up, Royal Street Cafe, free
• 5-5:45 p.m. — Barbara Alley Fashion Show, Alf Engen Ski Museum Entrance, free
• 5:45-6 p.m. — Women In Industry Award, Alf Engen Ski Museum, free
• 6-7 p.m. — Kick-off Reception, Alf Engen Ski Museum, $25
• 7-9:30 p.m. — ISHA Awards Banquet, Alf Engen Ski Museum
• 9:30 p.m.— Hall of Fame Reunion Party, The Spur | Floor 2, $25
Friday, April 5
• 8:30 a.m. — Slopeside Meetup, Canyons | Orange Bubble, free
• Noon-1 p.m. — Lunch Meetup, Red Pine Lodge, free
• 5-7 p.m. — Legends Night on Main, Main Street, free
• 8-11 p.m. — Legends Alumni Party, The Spur | Floor 2, $25
Saturday, April 6
• 9 a.m. — Slopestyle Meetup, PayDay Lift, $90
• 5-11 p.m. — Hall of Fame Induction, Little America Hotel, Salt Lake City, $319
• 5 p.m. — Red Carpet Reception, Little America Hotel
• 6:30-9 p.m. — Dinner and Ceremony, Little America Hotel
• 9:30-11 p.m. — Afterburner, Red Tail | Grand Summit, $25
Sunday, April 7
• 9-11 a.m. — First Tracks, Canyons Village, $100/$450
For more information, visit skiinghistory.org.
“We are in charge of the three-dimensional artifacts for ski history, and the University of Utah Ski Archives looks after the books, photos and videos,” she said. “So we bring these items out all the time and give them some time for the public to see.”
However, the archive storage room needs an update, according to Nelson.
“It was built in 2001, and it needs humidity control and more storage space,” she said. “People continually tell us about their collections and items that they want to donate, but we don’t have the space for them.”
In the meantime, Nelson and her staff continue to update the museum’s interactive exhibits with “state-of-the-art” technology, she said.
“I love seeing people taking rides on our quad chair,” she said. “The kids put their hands up, and it’s just fun to see them experiencing that ride.”
One of the most technologically complex displays in the building is the museum’s weather exhibit.
“People can click on an area and see what biggest snowfall was this past year, compare it to the previous year, and see what their average is,” she said.
Last year, the museum updated the Alf Engen trophy case, the Stein Eriksen exhibit and the Pyeongchang 2018 Hometown Heroes exhibit, with new displays covering the careers of Lindsey Van and Sarah Henrickson.
The next update to the museum is a planned $1 million renovation of the second half of the museum, Nelson said.
“It will be all interactive, and the exhibits will all be in a linear presentation so you can see the history,” she said. “I’ve started fundraising, and my goal is to start the project in 2020.”
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