Tramway Builder, Former Palisades President Passes

Hans Anton Burkhart | Aug. 27, 1935 – Feb. 1, 2023

Hans Anton Burkhart, 1935 – 2023

Hans Burkhart — whose work with ski lifts and aerial tramways thrilled skiers at resorts including Banff, Snowbird, Jackson Hole, Telluride, and others, and whose leadership as a ski industry executive at the resort then known as Squaw Valley (now Palisades Tahoe) brought that ski area into the modern era — died after a brief illness on Feb. 1 surrounded by his family.

Born in Oberammergau, Germany, on Aug. 27, 1935, as a teenager Burkhart fell in love with wire rope and uphill transportation and followed that fascination throughout a career lasting more than 50 years and stretching from Europe to Canada and then to the United States.

After success as a ski racer and mountaineer in Europe, from 1958 to 1960 Burkhart taught skiing in Aspen Highlands for skiing legend Stein Eriksen and first visited the North Lake Tahoe area for the 1960 Olympic Winter Games as Eriksen’s guest. He returned for good in 1961, working as a boat boy at the Henry J. Kaiser estate on Lake Tahoe’s West Shore and hand-digging tower footings for the first lifts at Alpine Meadows. In 1963, Burkhart became the site manager for the installation of the original four-passenger gondola at Squaw Valley, and through that project came to the attention of Squaw Valley ski area founder Alexander Cushing, who hired him to supervise the gondola’s operation and maintenance. Soon, Burkhart’s skills and strong work ethic became evident, and Cushing put him in charge of the daily operation of the mountain and lift maintenance.


While Cushing and Burkhart’s interests and skills complemented one another neatly — Cushing’s vision for his resort needed someone who could translate his ideas into concrete and steel — they were both determined, hard-headed individuals, and this led to a number of titanic clashes during the course of their nearly 40-year relationship. Nevertheless, Cushing described Burkhart as one of the only people he trusted completely and the man to turn to when you “absolutely want the very best.” Burkhart had the same reputation with others in the ski industry as well, and cemented it by taking on projects that were in trouble or had been deemed too difficult or even impossible by other contractors, and successfully completing them. 

After building the aerial tramway at Squaw Valley in 1968, the largest in the world by a significant margin, Burkhart took on building an even more impressive tramway (plus three chairlifts) at Snowbird, Utah. He also contracted to build a section of the Pacific Crest Trail through the backcountry near Ebbetts Pass, California, working by himself much of the time. He returned to lift construction and was an early and successful proponent of detachable chairlifts, having seen the successful implementation of that technology in Europe. In the late 1980s, after returning to Squaw Valley as general manager and president, Burkhart focused on the guest experience, which paid handsome dividends as the resort was recognized for the first time as one of the very best in North America. In the late 1990s, Burkhart took on the project that he cited as the most difficult of his career – building the Squaw Valley Funitel. He took only three days off during the 17-month project: The Funitel is still the only lift of its type in North America.

Like everyone who undertakes a demanding professional career, Burkhart struggled to find balance between work and family life. His son, Markus, was born in 1964 and daughter Kathrin in 1966, but his marriage to Hedi ended in divorce. In the late ’80s, Hans won sole custody of daughters Anika and Mekala from his relationship with Arlene McDonald, and raised them as a single dad.

In addition to his career as a contractor and ski industry executive, Burkhart served as a director for the Squaw Valley Mutual Water Company and managed the Verdi Water Company. He was fascinated by history and collected artwork and artifacts of and by Native Americans. Frequent trips to Europe kept him in touch with his family in Bavaria and allowed him to compete in Nordic ski racing and to continue his mountaineering habit.

Burkhart also built custom homes in Verdi and Oberammergau. Both showcased his art collection and served as gathering places for family and friends, and each was an aesthetic and technological tour de force. In 2006, Burkhart helped replace the venerable Jackson Hole Tram — an icon for the community that had been in service since 1964. The project was a typical Burkhart undertaking: miserable weather, tremendously challenging terrain, and a technically demanding project, requiring total commitment from everyone associated with it. As with all of his projects it was completed on time and within budget, and then it became the subject of a documentary aired on the National Geographic Channel.

It is impossible to fully capture the breadth and depth of a career or personality as large as that of Hans Burkhart’s in a few words. He was a complex individual: demanding, but with a puckish sense of humor that could defuse a tense situation; consistently the hardest worker on any project, who usually worked seven days a week; a boss who believed in paying workers a living wage; and a brilliant technician and problem-solver who always seemed to have a solution right at his fingertips. He could be equally charming and abrasive, a loyal friend, generous with his time and skills, an immigrant who recognized that other immigrants were usually the hardest workers he could hire, an athlete and skier who carved a turn with unmistakable power and elan, a loving and supportive dad and opa who loved taking his kids on lavish vacations and taking his grandchildren for rides in the snow cat.

True to form, Hans worked right up to the end of his life, because, as he was fond of saying, “Retirement is the leading cause of death.”

Hans is survived by his son Markus (Annette Trilevsky), daughters Kathrin (Bill Hudson), Anika (Kevin Schneider), and Mekala (Kyle Green); grandchildren Max and Nikolas Burkhart, Sophie, Bodie, and McCoy Hudson, and Eliana and Wyatt Schneider, as well as his former wife, Hedi Fitzi Burkhart. Hans’ three surviving siblings, Herta, Blanda, and Marita, live in Germany.

A celebration of life is planned for within the month.

~ Submitted by the Burkhart family


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