45 years and counting
December 28, 2007
Beneath the lift lines and corduroy snow at Park City Mountain Resort lie tunnels tapping into veins of precious metal ore, connecting to an estimated 1,200 miles throughout the area. Though snowboarders and skiers might zoom past the crackled mine buildings, unaware of their ties to the mining underworld below, Susie Williams, a Park City resident for 43 years, can’t forget it. "It’s all honeycomb down there," she says.
Williams worked at the Main Street Post Office for 26 years before retiring four years ago. On her days off, when she still owned horses, she says she used to ride up the resort’s hills after the snow melted. But before she went, she says her older miner friends cautioning her to be wary of hidden mine shafts she might accidentally fall in, they told her.
Today, Williams, dressed in a bright orange mountain host jacket, leads a pack of skiers on a historic ski tour of the mountain — a new daily 11 a.m. feature added this year to commemorate the resort’s 45th anniversary.
She takes the group on a two-hour loop that includes the King Con ore bin on Claimjumper run, mine ruins in Thaynes Canyon, and the Silver King boarding house, which is now a restaurant called Mid-Mountain Lodge. She notes that during the trip, the group will cross the tracks of the narrow-gauge Crescent Railroad, which ran to and from Main Street, 25 times.
In the first years of the resort, the century-long history of mining was fresh and unmistakable. Until 1969, the best alternative to the resort’s original gondola was to take a train three miles into the Spiro drain tunnel in the "skier’s subway," an upgraded miner’s train that stowed skis instead of ore. The tunnel was originally constructed by Solon Spiro to drain the underground water from the Silver King Consolidated Mine. Later, an underground mining museum opened in the tunnel in 1967, according to the Park City Historical Society and Museum. It closed in 1978.
Williams points out the area where the Spiro tunnel lies, beneath the ground: in Thaynes Canyon to the right of the King Con lift. As a skier, she says she took the train only a handful of times.
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"It was dark and wet and the only reason I ever took it was because I was waiting in line for the gondola and thought I might see what it was like," recalls Williams. "It took quite a while."
Today, the tunnel is one of Park City’s main sources for culinary water, producing about 3,000 gallons per minute, according to Hal Compton, the museum’s research historian.
David Gorrell helps to guide the mid-day tour as "the caboose," making sure that the group doesn’t split up, and as an expert in the skiing history of the resort. Gorell moved to Park City in the 1970s, he says, and became a racer in his 30s. He remembers well the resort’s decision to become home to the United States Ski Team shortly after he arrived, and later, when it became one of the hosts for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. The Eagle Lift, low on the mountain, was built especially for for the Games’ giant slalom races and beneath it, the 14.8-foot-high, 55-foot-long half-pipe for the The Games’ snowboard compeititons. "Have you ever looked [below Eagle] on C.B.’s run while these guys are training now?" he asks. "They’re absolutely incredible."
There’s a photo in the Museum’s archives that was taken in 1963 of Lady Bird Johnson riding up the gondola at Treasure Mountains, the area that would later become Park City Mountain Resort. Johnson is dressed in her First-Lady best, hair perfectly coiffed, wearing pearls, there to celebrate United Park City Mines’ effort to diversify its interests and revive Park City’s withering economy with its first attempt to run a ski resort.
With the help of an ARA loan from the U.S. government, the mining company planned to subsidize mining with income from the resort until the value of metal improved, according Larry Warren in his book, "Park City: Mountain of Treasure" never expecting skiing would become their sole business.
For the mining company, the task of converting the mountain to a resort with lifts and a gondola was not a big stretch. As Warren writes, "The truth is that Parkites had seen similar aerial lift technology for generations before 1901, when the Silver King tramway was built (On the tramway,) eighty buckets were attached to a 7,399-foot cable supported by 39 steel towers." And town citizens knew about skiing for decades, from cross-country treks in the 1890s to daring the ski jumps off the Creole mine dump in the 1920s and 1930s (now part of Park City Mountain Resort’s Creole run), and riding lifts at Snow Park, a small resort opened after World War II in the area that is now Deer Valley Resort.
But the mine company eventually left the development of the resort to others. Since United Park City Mines, the mountain has had three owners. Edgar Stern, who later became the creator of Deer Valley Resort, purchased Treasure Mountains in the early 1970s, introducing Stein Eriksen as ski director. Later, Stern sold the resort to the Badami family, who is credited with opening the expert terrain known as Jupiter Bowl, updating lifts and grooming. The current owner is POWDR Corp, owner of Killington and Pico Mountain in Vermont, Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort in Nevada, Boreal in California and Mt. Bachelor in Oregon, the company responsible for updating the resort for the Olympics.
Fourty-five seasons since it first opened, Park City Mountain Resort has come a long way since "The Skier’s Subway." The resort now boasts 15 lifts including four high-speed, six-passenger chairs, and the new Silver Star Triple Chair added this year, and a total of 3,300 skiable acres with 106 runs and four terrainparks for snowboarders.
Take a historical tour of Park City Mountain Resort
Tours meet daily at the Demo Center at the top of Bonanza Chair at 11 a.m. and last two hours. All tours are free and open to all Park City Mountain Resort lift-pass-carrying guests able to ski or ride intermediate (blue) runs. For more information, visit parkcitymountain.com or call (435) 649-8111.