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The History of the PhotoHaus

16 Sep 2019
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A frequently asked question at Alta is "Who took that famous photo of the late Alf Engen jumping over the road, with Mount Superior in the background?" The answer...Tom Plofchan, who has played an important part of Alta's storied history since the late 1950s. Tom is the owner/proprietor of the Photohaus, across the road from the Alta Lodge and next to the Shallow-Shaft restaurant. He built the building in the late 1960s and it has provided a wonderful place to obtain historical Alta photos taken by Tom as well as other Alta accessories. What may not be so well known is that Tom Plofchan also played an important role at Alta, not only as a prominent photographer, but also as a former Alta Ski Lift operator, ski instructor in the Alf Engen Ski School, and, for a time, the assistant manager for the Alta Lodge.

His expertise in photography began in his youth. His father, Andy Plofchan, was a highly respected professional photographer and passed along his knowledge to Tom. As a Petty Officer, years 1949-1953,Tom was assigned by the Navy to do specialized photography during the Korean War. Tom hails from the Michigan area and learned to ski at Boyne Mountain in the mid 50s. The legendary Stein Eriksen, who won 'a gold medal' in the 1952 Winter Olympic Games, was heading the ski school at Boyne Mountain at that time. Plofchan took lessons from Stein and worked his way onto the Boyne Mountain ski patrol. What brought Tom Plofchan to Alta was a fortuitous set of circumstances involving a short visit to Alta in the mid 1950s with a friend, Bob Jacobson. He liked it so much he made a decision to return the next year to seek employment. After several interviews, Tom was hired by the late Chic Morton to work on the lift crew servicing the Wildcat lift. This led to Tom meeting Alex Brogle, Assistant Director in Junior Bounous's ski school located at Sugarbowl Ski Area in California. After some discussion Tom elected to accept a position in Junior's ski school and taught here until he returned to Alta in the early 1960s.

Upon his return to Alta, he was hired part time as an instructor in the Alf Engen Ski School and full time in the Alta Lodge owned by Bill Levitt. This, in turn, allowed Tom to continue to pursue his deep passion for taking photographs at Alta. Some of his most memorable photos include a series of images with the late Robert F. Kennedy at Alta, just a couple of months prior to Kennedy's tragic assassination in 1968. His outstanding photo of an avalanche running off Eagle's Nest in 1964 has been highlighted in a number of books including FIRST TRACKS – A Century of Skiing in Utah (2001) by Alan Engen and Dr. Greg Thompson. Many other photos taken by Tom over the years with VIP dignitaries such as Lowell Thomas, William Buckley, Art Linkletter, Robert MacNamara and other visitors can be found in past issues of the Alta Powder News. Tom was asked to relate his early beginnings with the Alta Photohaus. In his own words, this is how he explained it. "After leaving my position of Assistant Manager of the Alta Lodge, the late Gene Huber let me sleep in a house trailer that he had brought up the canyon and parked behind the Old Deep Powder House shop (now the Shallow Shaft building). I spent the following winter in the Snow Pine Lodge but was hired by Peruvian Lodge owner, the late Edwin Gibbs, to be the lodge photographer. While working at the Peruvian Lodge, I put my request in with the Forest Service to build the Alta Photohaus. During the next several winters, I taught skiing in the Alf Engen Ski School providing private lessons to selected clientele. In 1968, I opened my retail store, selling fleece ware, T-shirts, film, and my scenic and action photos of deep powder skiing....(along with many families of guests in the various lodges at Alta.) I also did action movie photography and was hired to take guests helicopter skiing into Gad Valley and White Pine areas before Snowbird was developed."

During the 1970s and 80s, Tom Plofchan spent time as a member of Alta's Town Council with other well known Alta personalities, such as Jim Shane, Chic Morton, and Al Capp. Also, not known to very many people, Tom was appointed as the Town of Alta's first Chief Deputy Marshal and was also a member of the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office for four years in the early 1980s.Tom is currently a young 80 years of age but does not ski any more due to having total knee replacement on both legs. When asked how he would like to be remembered for his many years at Alta, he replied in his quiet demeanor, " I would like to be remembered as a successful entrepreneur, who completely loves Alta, and thanks God for being here." Alta Ski Area and many others at Alta thank Tom for his many contributions and for helping to make Alta the special place that it is.

*Article Credit:  Alta Ski Area and the Alta Powder News Number 136 - Winter 2011 

Tom Plofchan passed away on March 20, 2015 but his Alta legacy continues to thrive.