Still in business after all these seasons, the Park City Ski Area officially completed 25 years yesterday. From Dec. 21, 1963, through Dec. 21, 1988, without a break or a bankruptcy. That's worth celebrating. William Randolph Hearst himself may have had more setbacks.
Appropriately, Utah's largest ski resort held a large birthday party Wednesday, with free prizes scattered on the ski runs, chuck wagon breakfasts, 25-gun salutes, a street party down Park City's Main Street, and silver medallions everywhere. The 25th anniversary celebration will continue throughout the season, but the actual birthday begged for a party - and Park City has never needed much of an excuse to have a party, much less to be begged.Any number of original settlers were brought in for the reunion. People like Otto Carpenter, one of the original developers with the United Park City Mines, who was introduced at the VIP birthday dinner at Steeps and said, "After we got the ball rolling, this is what happened."
Carpenter was in appropriate awe, knowing full well that even the original Park City Miners didn't envision anything quite as grandiose as what has unfolded: A world-class destination resort with 13 ski lifts, one gondola, and 2,200 acres of skiable terrain, which, translated, is plenty more than you could get through in any given 8-hour shift.
"A lot has changed," said Phil Jones, now the president of the area who joined on as a ski instructor in 1964, the second year of business when Treasure Mountains, as the resort was first known, got by with
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the 21/2-mile gondola and the Prospector Lift.
The ski area was an outgrowth of the failing mining period and the burgeoning ski business, eras which coincided in the early '60s. The United Park City Mines Co. knew it had a mountain on its hands with three huge problems: Declining ore reserves, declining prices for those ore reserves, and increasing problems with underground water in the mine shafts.
Those problems prompted the decision to mine what was on top of the ground - the snow - rather than what was in the ground. Treasure Mountains was born.
That first season, the idea was to stick with the mining motif as closely as possible, including using an actual electrically powered underground mine train to transfer skiers up the mountain.
The ski industry's first, and believed to be only, underground subway ski lift was called the Spiro Tunnel and moved skiers three miles from the resort base to a location underneath Thaynes Canyon, where a hoist elevated them 1,800 feet to the surface. The tunnel's name came from its original developer, a miner named Solon Spire, who spent five years of his life to build it. All, incidentally, to little avail. He didn't strike any mother lodes along the train's route and eventually sold out.
A few years later, $3 million worth of ore was found just 40 feet from the start of his tunnel.
In a parallel, the Treasure Mountains resort of 1963-64 was on the right track with the Spiro Tunnel, but not quite there.
The tunnel closed down shortly after it opened, and the resort started concentrating on above-ground lifts.
And, as was the case with Solon Spire, the United Park City Mines Co. sold out. For the area's eigth season, in 1970-71, Edgar Stern bought the resort. Five seasons later, in 1975-76, Stern sold out to the Alpine Meadows Corp., the current owner.
Along the way, the improvements have kept getting better and better, and, if you gauge it by the price of lift tickets, the mountain has kept getting richer and richer. Consider that the price of an original Treasure Mountains day pass in 1963-64 was $4.50. In 1988-89 a day pass costs $32.
As a matter of fact, the price of a Park City day pass has increased every season since 1967-68, when the cost was $5. In 1968-69 it was $5.50, in 1969-70 $6, in 1970-71 $6.50, and so on. Since 1975-76, when Alpine Meadows took control, the day pass prices have gone like this: $9, $10, $11, $12, $14, $16, $18, $20, $22, $24, $26, $27, $30, $32.
As Otto Carpenter said, "This is what happened."
Park City's mountain has successfully reversed its three problems of 25 years ago. They found an alternative treasure to mine, i. e. the snow; they found that the snow has an increasing value; and they found that the millions of gallons of water flooded in the underground mine shafts can be used to make certain there is snow on the hills in November and December - even if it doesn't fall from above.
Park City should continue for another 25 years, at least. That's not an excuse for a party, that's a reason.