Way We Were: The man who put Parkites on skis
Before Park City’s resorts existed, Emmett Wright turned people on to the sport
Park City Museum researcher
You no doubt have stopped between the front of the Park City Museum and Dolly’s Bookstore to admire the statue of Emmett Wright, with his mismatched skis — one 2 feet shorter than the other. It was just another day at the office 100 years ago when “Bud” Wright fell and broke one of his handmade skis and had to ski home with the odd pair.
Wright was an early Parkite, born in 1887, just three years after the new mining town incorporated. He was in just the third graduating class of Park City High School, after which he studied for a career in the new field of electrical engineering. After completing correspondence classes, he worked for various Park City mines. Meanwhile, Park City was just the third Utah town to install telephones. The Utah Independent Telephone Company had a phone line between the mining towns of Alta, Brighton and Park City, and Wright was hired on to maintain the lines year-round.
As an avid outdoorsman, he was well suited to the job. Linemen then were called “boomers” and he and fellow boomers planted poles and strung telephone lines and then kept the lines humming. In winter, lines were only accessible on skis, and when a tree would fall on a line, or winds would bring one down, it fell to Bud to keep them connected.
He would ride a horse from town to the Silver King Mine, next to what is now the Bonanza chairlift base at Park City Mountain Resort. There he’d pick up his skis and a pole to drag between his legs as a brake, attach his boots to the skis with long leather thongs, and sling a leather rucksack over his shoulders.
In the pack he hauled his tools, plus mail and food for the miners at higher elevations who wintered over while stockpiling ore to haul out once the snow melted. He stayed overnight in the mine camps while on his journeys to maintain the lines. He often worked alone, far from help if anything went wrong, and learned to be cautious, especially on steep terrain.
Once, Park City leaders were worried about the buildup of a cornice above town on Treasure Hill, and asked Bud to climb to the top and try to knock it loose. Previous cornices had let loose and wiped out houses. Wright skied up, probed it with his pole and then jumped on it. The cornice wouldn’t budge, so the fearless boomer skied off its top and slid home. Those living under the cornice no doubt slept better that night.
On the weekends he continued to ski, only for fun. He organized winter outings on skis, teaching his friends and younger Parkites how to maneuver the difficult primitive skis. In the late 1910s and 1920s when Wright was actively skiing, it was difficult to make a turn because bindings did not firmly hold boots to skis. The good skiers could make wide sweeping turns, but those less skilled could only travel downhill in a straight line and use their single pole as a brake to come to a stop.
Although equipment was basic, Bud would lead winter ski outings to the top of the ridge outside of town. Today we call it Ski Team Ridge at PCMR. They would get to the point where Crescent chairlift now lands and hold picnics while skiing and tobogganing.
Wright was among the first to take up skiing and introduce the sport to kids and adults in Park City. By the 1930s he moved to Salt Lake City, but he left behind that first generation of Parkites who took skiing from a means of winter transportation to a recreational sport that would eventually change the old mining town forever.
Tune in to our next virtual Museum lecture on the general history of skiing in Park City, given by Tom Kelly, on Wednesday, April 21, from 5 to 6 p.m. Register at parkcityhistory.org.
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