Tom Kelly: From silver to slopes
Keystone is one of those magical runs at Park City Mountain Resort. It’s a bit tucked away — you need to take the old Pioneer lift to get there. Filled with undulating terrain, it’s a nice blue groomer with a ton of width. Given its location, you never have to play pinball with crowds so you can unleash some big, sweeping carving turns.
As you ski down Keystone it’s important to position yourself to the left. As you near the bottom, slow down and stop. At the base of the run, just across Thaynes Canyon, is one of the unique landmarks that make our mountains here in Park City so special.
The California-Comstock Mine is one of nearly two dozen old mining structures that dot the landscape of PCMR and Deer Valley Resort. Today they are silent reminders of the 19th century silver boom and the impact it left on our town for three quarters of a century, evolving Park City into the ski resort town it is today.
During the late 1800s, mines dotted the Wasatch Range landscape from Little Cottonwood Canyon to Big Cottonwood and over Guardsman Pass to Park City. Today, the hoists and trams of the mines are replaced by chairlifts and gondolas. But the memories of the mines endure.
Skiing Park City Mountain is a real history tour. A good place to start your tour is the Town Lift, which parallels the route of the Crescent tramway. Over a century ago, the tramway moved ore down the mountain from the Silver King Consolidated Mine to waiting railroad cars. Today the lift passes over restored miners’ homes and the historic livery that houses High West.
As you look down on the number two tower of the abandoned century-old tramway tower, look for some bent steel from a mining accident when ore came tumbling down.
My guide for the day is Sandy Melville, a mountain host who has come packing a saddlebag of photos to illustrate the historical sites. Sliding down to the Bonanza Express base, Melville talks of tonnage and depth of the shafts as hundreds of miners took nearly 500 tons of ore a day from the mine. His eyes light up as he recounts the history of the silver era.
The Silver King site is an important one for me. In the mid-’70s, it served as a base for the U.S. Ski Team — a somewhat ill-conceived idea for the time but one that was replicated successfully 30-plus years later with the Center of Excellence.
Today, you can whisk your way to the top of the mountain in minutes on the Bonanza Express. Then it’s a cruise down Home Run to Mid Mountain Meadows. Longtime Parkites will remember the day in 1987 when what we now know as Mid Mountain Lodge moved 500 vertical feet up the mountain from the Silver King mine to its location today above the Pioneer and McConkey’s lifts.
It’s nostalgic for me heading up Pioneer and down Keystone. We all get into ruts and this is an area I hadn’t skied for two decades. My guide Sandy tells me to slow down, and suddenly California-Comstock comes into view — a majestic wooden structure with big, broad beams. You can almost imagine the scene in the late 1800s as miners loaded ore onto wagons for the long ride down Thaynes Canyon.
A few hundred yards down the canyon is one of the most impressive structures on the mountain, the Thaynes shaft and conveyor. A more modern mine, the Thaynes shaft was sunk in 1937. But it’s big claim to fame came in the mid-’60s when over four seasons it was the terminus of the fabled Skier Subway, which whisked skiers in mine cars through the Spiro Tunnel 3 miles from Silver Star to Thaynes. The hoist then brought the skiers nearly 1,800 feet to the surface to then ride the Thaynes chair.
As Sandy guided me around the mountain, he brought the aging mining structures to life with his history and lore. We’re blessed in our community to live amid our own heritage. Groups like Friends of Ski Mountain Mining History and our two resorts have invested heavily to stabilize and preserve these structures to help us literally see our past.
From silver to slopes, it’s a pretty cool history we live here in Park City.
Wisconsin native Tom Kelly landed in Park City in 1988 (still working on becoming an official local). A recently inducted member of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame, he is most known for his role as lead spokesperson for Olympic skiing and snowboarding for over 30 years until his retirement in 2018. This is his 51st season on skis, typically logging 60 days in recent years.
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