Prospectors in the early 1900s believed there was a fortune to be made mining silver in the North Fork of Provo Canyon.
They were partly right. There was a fortune to be made, but not in silver. The mother lode at the spot that would one day become Robert Redford's Sundance Resort was snow.The first person to grasp the area's potential as a ski resort was Ray Stewart. The Stewart family had been spending summer months on the back slopes of Mt. Timpanogos (they called the area Timp Haven) since the early 1900s.
In 1930, Ray Stewart and his brother, Henry, spent the winter in the family cabin at Aspen Grove, skiing and enjoying the winter snow.
Shortly thereafter, at the urging of his skiing friends Earl Miller, Junior Bounous, Dick Hawkins and Dick Johnson, Stewart rigged a rope tow up the side of a hill in the area of the present road to the Sundance Summer Theatre and gave birth to Timp Haven Family Winter Funland.
Timp Haven's first ski run was something to behold. From the top, about two-thirds of the distance to the Summer Theatre, skiers swooshed back down the mountainside and across North Fork Creek via a bridge of cut logs covered with straw and packed with snow.
The rope tow was eventually replaced by a T-bar lift that ascended "The Face." In 1951, Stewart's brother, S. Paul Stewart, joined as a financial partner in the resort. The brothers installed a used chair lift they had purchased from Kimball Junction in Park City.
Ray Stewart managed and ran the lifts and headed the ski patrol, which consisted of anyone who happened to be skiing and knew first aid. Volunteers were given free lift passes in exchange for monitoring the slopes and assisting injured skiers.
Also in 1951, a city recreation program was initiated by Junior Bounous and the Brigham Young University physical education department.
In the summer months, when the resort was closed, Paul Stewart herded sheep on the mountain slopes.
The resort really leaped into the modern day in 1956. Paul Stewart bought an old building from Provo City and moved it to Timp Haven, where it was converted to a snack bar and lunch room, complete with running water, toilets and modern cooking equipment.
A year later, Paul Stewart bought out his brother and Bounous and assumed full ownership of the resort. He created a tubing hill (on the gentle bunny hill slope to the left at the base of the mountain) and a skating rink, adjacent to the tubing hill.
Stewart bought 600 tubes to rent out that year. It cost 50 cents to rent a tube and use the hill. It also cost 50 cents if you brought your own tube.
"I remember a chain of up to 30 people swooshing down the hill together," Stewart said. "A man told me once his kids called it . . . what was it? A blast?"
But the tubing hill and skating rink took too much policing, Stewart said, and they were eventually closed.
In 1957, Stewart imported a $40,000 Poma lift from France, added new runs at the resort and organized a formal ski patrol.
The Poma lift extended 2,600 feet up the mountainside (where Maverick Run is today), with a vertical rise of 600 feet, which seemed tremendous at the time.
By today's standards, the Poma lift was a crude affair. From the cable descended a spring-loaded shaft with a disc-shaped platter at its end that skiers put between their legs. The lift operator would hand the skier the shaft, wait for him to mount the platter, trip a lever and the skier would zing up the mountain.
The key to getting up the mountain successfully was keeping your skis evenly in the grooves left in the snow by previous Poma riders.
The bottom terminal of the Poma lift and a building housing its motor were wiped out by a snowslide on Jan. 30, 1963.
In 1965, the resort's first all-electric double chair lift was installed; it was 5,600 feet long, rose 1,400 feet vertically and could accommodate 1,200 skiers an hour. Just in case of a power failure, a gas auxiliary motor was kept on hand. That lift - Mandan - is still in operation at the resort today. A second double chair lift - Navajo - was installed at the base of the mountain in 1969.
So how did Timp Haven eventually become Sundance, owned by Robert Redford?
Prior to becoming an actor, Redford was an art student at Colorado University in Boulder, Colo. He traveled between his hometown of Santa Monica, Calif., and Boulder via Utah. The beauty of the state impressed him. In 1963, after achieving success as an actor, Redford built a mountain cabin at Timp Haven. It was a refuge from the pressures of Hollywood.
Hilda Stewart, Paul's wife, remembers the first time she met Redford, he wanted to borrow their truck and 15 cents to make a phone call.
"I didn't want to lend it to him," said Hilda, who had no idea who he was. "He had a shock of red hair and a pair of overalls on. He was just another kid who came up and bothered me about things."
Redford was not quite just another kid. Five years later, when Stewart began considering selling the resort, Redford, concerned that his refuge was about to be taken over by less sensitive interests, formed a corporation with several businessmen and bought Timp Haven for $1.8 million.
Redford changed the resort's name to Sundance (after his role in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid") and in the ensuing years has made a number of major changes at the resort, including the addition of two new ski lifts.