Ski Through History with This New Signature Mountain Tour

Park City is the only town in the US with historic mine structures still standing on the ski slopes.

By Michaela Wagner December 13, 2017

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Historic mining structures are scattered across the slopes of Park City Mountain Resort. You can visit them and find out all about the town’s mining history this year on a signature Historic Mountain Tour.

Image: Vail Resorts

The mining days in Park City are gone, but they're certainly not forgotten. We find ways to bring the rough and tumble history into town in a myriad of ways, from Park City Ghost Tours to the annual Miner's Day Celebrations. This year, Park City Mountain Resort has teamed up with Friends of Ski Mining history to create a new signature experience for guests, Historic Mountain Tours. The free guided tour is a great way to discover the hidden relics and historic mining buildings scattered across the resort and delve into some interesting stories from the past.

Preserving these structures, however, is no easy task. Here we get the inside scoop from Sally Elliot of Friends of Ski Mining History to find out a little bit more about the group's efforts and the challenges they've had to overcome. 

When did you first get involved with preservation efforts?

I wrote minutes from a meeting in 1998 after United Park City Mines and Park City Mountain Resort tore down the Kearns Keith Mill below Pioneer Lift, so I guess that would be the starting date. Now, almost twenty years later, we have the full cooperation of both Park City Mountain and Deer Valley to preserve the remaining sites on the ski runs at those resorts. When I was a ski instructor at Park City Resort, I asked Phil Jones, the President and General Manager, if I could do history tours of the mountain and he said, "Ok, but don't you get me involved in historic preservation." That was probably about 1987 or 1988. I guess I've been passionate about this for nearly 30 years.

What do you think having these historic buildings adds to the experience of skiing, or even just visiting Park City?

While active mining ceased about 1953 and the mines were shuttered, desultory work continued in some of them until the 1970s. Most of the really big, interesting structures, except for the Ontario Headframe, are on patented mining land that became ski runs beginning in 1963 when United Park City Mines decided to use the asset for skiing. The big old buildings, the tunnels, shafts, boarding houses, and enormous piles of overburden have always been a special part of skiing in Park City. No other ski area anywhere has such a visual reminder of how the land was used in earlier times.

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The Silver King Mine at the base of Bonanza lift

What are the specific challenges involved with preserving the mines here?

The biggest problem is that while Mid-Mountain Lodge was moved and restored in 1987, none of the other buildings are possible subjects for "adaptive re-use." Mining is not coming back. If it does return, it will not be accomplished in the same fashion as it once was. The old structures cannot be used for any economically viable purpose and the underlying landowner has no economic interest in preserving the structures. Until Vail purchased its long-term lease on Park City Mountain, no owner had any interest in preserving the structures. Vail, however, was very receptive to our overtures and agreed the structures and stories contributed mightily to the ski experience and our history was a significant part of the brand they bought. Our work season is limited to the very short summer period when the rough roads are dry and we can bring up cranes and heavy equipment to do the required work.  

What’s your favorite story that goes with one of these sites?

Probably the most significant is the story of the Silver King Mine at the base of Bonanza Lift. Tom Kearns arrived in 1883 as a young, ambitious man with ten cents in his pocket. He pitched hay out in Snyderville for a day to get the money to come into town and find work as a miner. Luckily, Kearns met David Keith, who recently arrived from Virginia City's Comstock Mine to install and manage the great Cornish Pump in the Ontario Mine. Keith hired Kearns, mentored him, furnished him with books on mining, and suggested he follow a promising ridge up Woodside Gulch. Kearns did just that and the two of them acquired claims and contracts, gradually putting together the ground that became the fabulous Silver King Mine. While searching for investors, they approached James Ivers who had contracts for hauling ore in the mining community. Ivers went home and told his wife if only he had a little money to invest, he could make the family very rich. While he was taking his customary nap, his wife pulled down a coffee can from a shelf in the kitchen and sat it on a table in front of him. When he awoke he saw the can, looked inside, and was astounded to see it filled with a rather large amount of money. He asked his wife where the money came from and she replied that every night when he hung his pants up and went to sleep, she emptied the coins out of his pockets and put them in the can. Ivers became a very profitable investor in the fledgling mine company. Both the David Keith mansion and the Tom Kearns mansion were magnificently restored and preserved on South Temple Street in Salt Lake City and the Kearns mansion is the official home of the Governor of Utah.

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An ore bin at the King Con Mine

Why should someone go on one of these tours?

There are as many reasons for participation as there are participants. We see lots of families on the tours who want their children to have rich cultural experiences when they travel for winter recreational fun and others who are just interested in history and seek to connect as they travel to understand our community. Some of the tour participants have been involved in the mining industry and are curious about how it was done here, and other people simply have no idea about mining. They leave with an enlarged understanding about how our natural resources are converted to useable products in the marketplace.

The Historic Mountain Tours depart daily from Park City Mountain Village area at 10 a.m. and at the top of Bonanza lift at 1 p.m. and are recommended for intermediate level skiers/riders. To commemorate your visit, you'll also receive a signature pin after the tour. You can also help preservation efforts by donating to the Friends of Ski Mining History. Donations of $1,000 make you eligible for the Miners Club, whose members will be treated to First Tracks on March 1, 2018. If you're interested in learning more about the town's history off the slopes, visit the Park City Museum or book a tour with the Park City Historical Society and Museum (435.649.7457)

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