PARK CITY SKI AREAS
By contributors Robert and Patricia Foulke
At this time of year many skiers in the East and Midwest begin to plan a final fling on the slopes-out West. If that impulse strikes you, think about Park City, where you'll find three major ski areas in one place. And you can get there almost effortlessly.
More than 70 cities offer flights to the Salt Lake City International Airport, and a 40-minute drive brings you right to the slopes of three ski areas. There and in the town you will find many choices for lodging and a multitude of restaurants.
Park City was very much alive a century before skiers came-with Mormons and miners.
Brigham Young reached Salt Lake in 1847and ordered a survey of the Park City area two years later. When soldiers discovered silver on the mountainside above Bonanza Flats in 1868, prospectors flooded into the area. Young didn't want non-believers to come, but Mormons sold supplies to the miners.
Prospectors came from all sections of the U.S., Canada and Western Europe during the boom, including George Hearst in 1872, father of William Randall Hearst. American soldiers stationed in Salt Lake City to protect the mail became part-time prospectors. In 1884 Park City was incorporated, a boomtown with a population that grew to 7,000 in the late 1890s, comparable to today. When the Great Fire of 1898 wiped out Main Street, it was rebuilt in eighteen months. Mining was so extensive that 1200 miles of tunnels remain under Park City, more than the length of subway tunnels under New York City.
Although many famous Western ski towns like Aspen, Breckenridge and Telluride began as mining camps, the heritage of Park City is unique. In most of them mining had collapsed long before skiing created a second boom. In Park City mining and skiing were contiguous, with a mining company starting the ski area to keep the town alive during a depression in silver prices. The geological situation of Park City, located at the intersection of the north-south Wasatch and east-west Uinta ranges, produced unusual stress. That in turn created both the rich lodes of ore for mining and the intersecting bowls, gulches and canyons for spectacular skiing.
Now this immense system providing access to silver and gold veins is matched above ground by an equally vast network of lifts and trails in the three adjacent ski areas that cover the same terrain: Park City, Canyons and Deer Valley. Each has lifts to many peaks, a vertical drop of more than 3,000 feet, and more variety than you can encompass in a week. Ski hosts are available at all three areas to help you plan your route and explore the mountains.
Park City Ski Area
The Park City Ski Area grew directly out of its mining history. Many competing silver mine shafts peppered the mountain slopes throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But as silver lodes were exhausted and the price of silver declined, only United Park City Mines survived by the end of the 1950s, and the population had declined to little over a thousand residents.
Park City Historian Larry Warren told us that the mine corporation needed a new industry to tide it over until mining resumed, and there was a precedent for skiing. Miners had been occasional skiers since the 1880s, when they used "longboard snowshoes" to slide down mountains home after work. And in the 1920s and 30s recreational skiing began on Park City slopes and ski jumps. So with the help of a $1.2 million federal redevelopment loan, United Park City Mines leased the surface land to the town (retaining sub-surface rights) and built lifts to start the ski area.
In December of 1963 Ladybird Johnson dedicated the Treasure Mountain Resort, opening with a gondola, a double chair, two J-bars, two lodges and 18 miles of skiable terrain. The gondola line soon became too long, and the new resort turned to the mines to create an alternate route up the mountain. The Skiers' Subway took skiers 2.5 miles through the 1915 Spiro Tunnel to the Thaynes Shaft, where a miners' elevator lifted them 1,750 feet to the surface. But the damp, dark ride took an hour and skiers emerged wet into the cold air, and the innovation only lasted four years.
So it's no accident that mining history is reflected in trail and lift names: Prospector, Powder Keg, Short Fuse, Fools Gold, First Temptation, Erika's Gold, Dividend, Pay Day, Silver King and Silver Queen, among many others. You can take a complimentary Historic Tour of Park City's rich mining history on skis. In the process you will ski almost the entire perimeter of the ski area and ride the main lifts-a great way to familiarize yourself with both underground history and skiable terrain.
The odds of good location and extensive mountain terrain favored the development of Park City Resort (the name adopted in 1966) during the decades when the skiing population was expanding rapidly. Edgar Stern bought the resort in 1970 and brought his Aspen neighbor and friend with him. Enter legendary Olympian Stein Eriksen, who would be associated with Park City ski areas for decades. His distinctive skiing style and personality, both on and off the slopes, brought dedicated skiers from all over the world to Park City. And the terrain grew as well. In five seasons the resort added 5 new chairs and cut 25 new runs.
In 1975 another major figure began steering the resort's future. Nick Badami, controlling shareholder of Alpine Meadows at Tahoe, saw the potential of the growing resort and negotiated a purchase. With him came his son Craig, an avid ski racer who introduced his father to the sport. For more than two decades the elder Badami's leadership would spur growth by increasing skiable terrain and uphill capacity, lift the vertical rise to 3000 feet, introduce snowmaking to extend the season, allow snowboarders on the mountain and build halfpipes and terrain parks for them. At the same time Craig became a tireless promoter of major racing events and the U.S. Ski Team. As a result the resort began hosting World Cup, Pro Circuit and other major competitions in the mid 1980s, a practice that continued after a tragic helicopter accident killed him in 1989.
Five years later Craig's father sold his controlling interest in the resort to Ian, John and David Cummings of the Powdr Corporation but continued to work closely with the family for many years. Nick's influence spread far beyond the resort in his roles as chair of the National Ski Areas Association and American Ski Federation, board member and chair of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, trustee and board member of the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee. When that effort came to fruition in 2002, Park City Mountain Resort became the venue for men's and women's giant alpine slalom and all snowboard events.
Today Park City Mountain Resort has seven mountain zones, a 3,100-foot vertical, and 15 lifts serving 3,100 skiable acres.
Canyons Resort is both the newest and one of the oldest incarnations of skiing in Park City. It was founded in 1968, just five years after Treasure Mountain, which had already changed its name to Park City Resort. So the area opened as Park City West on nearby terrain with three double chairs, four rope tows and a lift ticket costing $4.50. Like Killington in Vermont, it would grow mountain by mountain, with extended trail and lift links between them. With centrifugal forces that seem inevitable, it is now the largest ski resort in Utah and still pushing outward, even proposing a gondola link to Solitude.
In 1975 Jack Roberts and Harold Babcock bought the resort and changed its name to Park West to avoid confusion with Park City Resort. Working with some of the steepest terrain in the region, left without grooming, Park West attracted young expert and extreme skiers who also liked to party. When Jerry Gilomen bought out Harold Babcock's share in 1985 uphill capacity had increased to seven lifts. A decade later another pair of owners, Kenny Griswold and Michael Baker, bought the resort and changed the name again to Wolf Mountain, renaming the runs for endangered species.
Two years later, in 1997, three decades of very slow growth for the resort, in contrast to neighboring Park City and Deer Valley, came to an abrupt end. The American Skiing Company added Wolf Mountain to its holdings, changing the name once again to The Canyons Resort. In the first year $500 million of investment boosted the skiable terrain from 1,400 to 2,200 acres. Phase I of the expansion plan had added the mid-mountain Red Pine lodge and four new lifts. By 1999 lifts to two more peaks-Ninety-Nine 90 and Peak 5-had been added as the resort marched eastward, bringing the skiable terrain to 3,200 acres. During the millennial season the addition of Dream Peak brought the total summits served by lifts to eight, and the Grand Summit Hotel opened.
As the first decade of the new century began, the 2002 Olympic Winter Games brought celebrities and lots of snow. The Daybreak lift helped create The Colony, a real estate development of trailside mansions, and brought skiable terrain to 3,500 acres, the largest in Utah. Subsequent new lifts took it to 4,000 acres. Talisker, a Toronto real estate company, purchased the resort in 2008, modified the name to Canyons, and continued development. Iron Mountain, the ninth peak, opened last season. The proposed Ski Link to Solitude is undergoing environmental review. The expansion generated in 1997 shows no sign of waning.
Today Canyons has nine mountains, a 3,190 foot vertical, and 19 lifts serving 4,000 skiable acres.
Fifty years ago two local men who had worked in the silver mines until the bottom dropped out of the market decided to team up and start a resort. They had been measuring snow in the basin above Park City for years and knew there was more than enough of it to satisfy any skier. Perhaps they were aware that people had ridden trains up from Salt Lake to ski in Deer Valley during the 1920s and 30s.
They literally created Snow Park out of nothing in 1947 and proved that two local fellows could build lifts using their own ingenuity. Bob Burns and Otto Carpenter spliced the cable and built towers from trees. They cleared enough scrub oak to fashion runs. A T-bar was built from scratch and in heavy snow years it was buried. The chair lift was higher and skimmed over the snow. A Ford engine at the top of the lift required someone to wade up through drifts to start it. A gas can went up on the first chair.
Bob and Otto designed and built Snow Park Lodge so skiers could go in for chili and hamburgers. Thus with courage and tenacity, not big bucks, two men succeeded in creating a workable ski area with their own hands. Some of their grandchildren ski the same slopes in the resort that replaced Snow Park, which closed in 1965.
Ten years later the plan for Deer Valley began with a land purchase and the idea of another tenacious man, Edgar Stern. He had owned Park City Resort adjacent to that land from 1970 to 1975 and knew both the terrain and the business. A hotelier himself, he imagined a ski resort that would be organized like a five-star hotel. It would cater to skiers and eliminate the hassles and annoyances that mar an expensive day on the slopes-distant parking lots, ski theft, jammed and cluttered cafeterias, and most of all long lift lines.
The ski world had changed radically since the early postwar years, so Stern's vision required more than hands-on ingenuity. Six years and $30 million later, in 1981, Deer Valley opened on a grand scale with five chairlifts, 35 runs, two lodges, and three restaurants. The process of expansion began almost immediately. Fifteen years later, in 1996, the resort had 11 chairlifts, 67 runs and three bowls, larger lodges and eight restaurants. And growth never stopped. Celebrating its 30th anniversary last year, Deer Valley had 21 chairlifts, 100 runs and ten on-mountain restaurants. During the same three decades 50 ski instructors had become 500, 200 employees 2,300.
One thing that has not changed through these years of growth is Stern's vision of a ski resort infused with the idea of first-class service. Amenities that were novel in 1981 continue: ski valets to carry your skis to the slopes, free ski check, licensed child care on site, gourmet dining in luxurious slopeside lodges. At that stage of ski lodge development, who could imagine bathrooms with marble tops, brass faucets and plenty of space between washbowls? Stern did. And Bob Wheaton, now President and General Manager who has been with Deer Valley from the start, confirms the vision: "The bottom line at Deer Valley since day one has been a commitment to excellence in everything we do."
That commitment involved much more than slopeside amenities. Once again, as he had done when he bought Park City Resort, Stern invited his friend Stein Eriksen to help in the planning process and become director of skiing at Deer Valley. After his gold and silver medals in the 1952 Olympics and three gold medals in the 1954 World Championships, Stein had served a series of American ski areas as instructor, director of the ski school, or director of skiing-Sun Valley, Boyne Mountain, Heavenly Valley, Sugarbush, Aspen Highlands and Snowmass. Stein serves both as director of skiing and host of Stein Eriksen lodge.
As lifts and trails multiplied, meticulous grooming of the expanded terrain remained a high priority, as well as controlling lift lines by limiting the number of tickets sold on any day. The area provides multiple maps daily, including one for experts and another for runs groomed during the past 24 hours, as well as a good overall trail map and guide to Deer Valley's six mountains. Mountain hosts lead morning and afternoon tours for intermediate and expert skiers, blending orientation to the terrain with the historical context of mining beneath it.
Like Park City Resort, Deer Valley has promoted ski racing, especially freestyle events. It hosted World Cup competition every year but one in the first decade of this century, 2002 Winter Olympic freestyle events, and the FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships in both 2003 and 2011.
Today Deer Valley has six mountains, a vertical of 3,000 feet, and 21 lifts serving 2,026 skiable acres.