Way We Were: Ski lift traces tramway

Dalton Gackle
Park City Museum
A helicopter from Rocky Mountain Helicopters lowers a Town Lift tower into place while a crew from CTEC Construction Co. waits below to bolt it into place. Photo taken from Mel Fletcher’s home on Park Avenue on Aug. 2, 1985.
Park City Historical Society & Museum, Mel Fletcher CollectionMel Fletcher Collection

A frequent question we get or myth we hear at the museum is about whether the Town Lift at Park City Mountain Resort used old infrastructure from the Silver King Coalition Mines aerial tramway system.

The answer is no: The two systems are separate. They do, however, share roughly the same path.

Work on the Silver King Aerial Tramway began in August 1900, and the construction was scheduled to be done in 90 days and employ 50 men. The A. Leschen and Sons Rope Company of St. Louis was contracted for the work, which ultimately cost around $25,000.

The 7,000-foot line of the tramway across the hills was lined with men laying foundations and erecting towers for the cable. On Dec. 21, due to a shortage of lumber and bad weather, work on the aerial tramway was suspended until spring.

Eventually, 20 men stretched the traction rope for the tram in just three hours on April 25, 1901.  The work of stringing the two standing cables was completed on April 30, and the ropes were tensioned on May 1. 

On May 25 the last bucket was strung, and June 6 saw the first bucket loaded with ore go over the system. Thousands of tons of ore passed by overhead until the mine closed in the 1950s.

After the mine closed, ore buckets were removed from the line, and the traction rope (a cord of metal cables) was released and dropped to the ground below. In 1981, the terminal for the tramway, the Silver King Coalition Building, burned to the ground in a massive blaze that peeled paint from houses across the street.

But the tramway towers remained standing — and still do. The bases of the towers have been stabilized to maintain their upright status, but the towers have otherwise not been renovated or reused in any way.

Luckily for Park City Ski Area, as it was then called, the line of tramway towers had a built-in path from the bottom of Main Street up to near the center of the resort’s terrain.

In 1980, they proposed — and were approved — to build a new lift from a new plaza where the Coalition Building had been up to just above the top of Payday Lift. The original proposed name for the lift was “Coalition West” to pay tribute to the lost mining era icon.

Some Parkites were concerned about a lift passing over the top of homes, as a couple of the tramway towers do, but Nick Badami laid out a route to be narrower than the tramway towers, keeping the lift from going over rooftops. One historic home at 713 Woodside Ave. ultimately had to be moved (and now sits at 508 Marsac Ave.) to accommodate the path of the Town Lift.

The new towers for holding the ski lift were installed on Aug. 2, 1985, by a helicopter operation carrying and placing each tower from above and crew bolting them into place on the ground. The new lift officially opened on Nov. 29, 1985, the day after Thanksgiving.

In a victory for the resort and skiers, the new lift gave access to the mountain directly from Main Street. And in a victory for historic preservation, the aerial tramway towers were left in place and a historic home given a new space. Since 1985, skiers have been able to ride alongside pieces of Park City’s past as they head up the mountain.

The Park City Museum is offering a members-only guided historical hike past all the aerial tramway towers and up to the Silver King Mine on Sept. 27. To sign up, join as a member at

Dalton Gackle is Park City Museum’s research coordinator.

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