She wasn't just Alf Engen's wife.

Evelyn Engen was an influential figure in her own right in making Alta Ski Area -- and Utah's billion-dollar ski industry -- what they are today.

"One can see her as the grand dame of 20th century skiing," Gregory Thompson, co-founder of the Utah Ski Archives, said of Engen, who died Monday at the age of 92.

"She was the stage crew behind the star," added ski historian Mike Korologos, "the elegant, charming supportive lady."

While Alf Engen and his brothers Corey and Sverre were up on the hill introducing legions to the joys of skiing, Evelyn was working in the background to make it all a success.

She often worked the counter at Alta's ski school (later named after Alf), setting up patrons for their lessons. She handled the ski school books. She managed the Alf Engen Co., which produced ski waxes, and another family business, Western Pharmacal Co.

"I don't mean any disrespect to Alf, but she was the brains behind the outfit," said Korologos. "He was the athletic end of the operation. She was the financial end. And you have to have both to be successful."

Not that Evelyn was not athletic as well.

"I never saw her ski, but I was told she was very good. You couldn't hang around Alf much without being able to ski well," said Thompson, also citing her role as Alf's "coach" during his ski-jumping days, part of what made him The Salt Lake Tribune's selection as Utah's most important athlete of the 20th Century.

The "wind beneath Alf's wings" is how she was described by their sons, Alan and Jon.

Evelyn's contributions to Utah skiing continued in recent years with her donations of material and money to both the Utah Ski Archives, which are part of the special collections section at the University of Utah Marriott Library, and to the Alf Engen Ski Museum in the Joe Quinney Winter Sports Center at Utah Olympic Park.

Korologos noted that she donated $175,000 to the museum and its statue of Alf Engen and Quinney, the Salt Lake City attorney who founded Alta.

Just as importantly, she continued her mother-in-law's practice of preserving every medal, article and ski keepsake accumulated by her family over the years and turning it over to the Ski Archives, helping make it a renowned repository for all things skiing.

"She gave us 16 very thick, very heavy scrapbooks, like those old, old ledger books," said Thompson. "They're a little difficult to handle from an archivist's perspective. They have to weigh about 45, 50 pounds apiece. But they're amazing, wonderful for the amount of information saved and presented."

For all that she did, Evelyn Engen was one of 10 women who received "Ski History-Maker" awards in 2004 from the Ski Archives.

She was born Oct. 8, 1917, in Centerville to Karl and Valeria Cheney Pack. A Davis High School graduate, she attended Ricks College in Idaho and the University of Utah before marrying Alf Engen in 1937.

Survivors include her sons Alan (Barbara) and Jon, both of Salt Lake, three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her husband (in 1997), sisters Rosalind, Muriel and Karla, and a granddaughter, Chelsea.

mikeg@sltrib.com