A century and a half ago, Utah's mountains were the home of boomtowns as silver mining flourished across the Wasatch from Little Cottonwood to Big Cottonwood and over Guardsman Pass to Park City. Today, the same slopes that harbored valuable ore are the home of some of the worlds greatest ski resorts. In this episode of Last Chair, skier and mining historian Sandy Melville takes us on a virtual tour of the amazing mining structures that still exist at Park City Mountain.
The Bonanza Express base at Park City Mountain is a vital crossroads at the resort. Skiers glide down from the Payday and Town lifts, anxious to make their way uphill. At the same time, others are carving down from Pioneer and McConkey, all congregating at the high speed six-pack. Over a century ago, the location was a vital part of the local economy as hundreds of miners extracted nearly 500 tons of ore a day during Park City's silver boom.
For the next few hours, we'll ski back in time to the heydays of silver. Across the mountain west, it's not unusual to find old mines on ski mountains. But it's rare to find the 19th century structures so well preserved. Ski Utah's Last Chair podcast will provide you with a self-guided historical tour around the mountain. And watch for the return of the guided Silver to Slopes tour next season.
In this week's podcast with historian and ski guide Sandy Melville, you'll learn:
Join us for a step back in time in this episode of Last Chair: The Ski Utah Podcast presented by High West Distillery on your favorite podcast platform. Subscribe to get first access to every episode.
Silver to Slopes Virtual Tour
It's easy to learn more about Park City Mountain's historical mining sites. Here's an easy-to-follow tour, with interpretive signs at each stop.
Silver King Coalition Mine
Start at the Park City Mountain base on Payday Express, or downtown Park City on the Town Lift. From there, simply ski down to the Bonanza Express and you'll find yourself in the midst of the old Silver King mine, the most viewed mining site on the mountain.
The Silver King was one Park City's 'big three' mines with claims developed in the 1880s and incorporated in 1892. An aerial tramway was added in 1901 to transport ore down to the railroad. The shaft closed in 1953 as metal prices declined. In its day, it was a hugely profitable mine.
The mining history here was well over 100 years. And we're fortunate to have so many mining structures left on the mountain intact.
In the mid-70s the buildings of the Silver King Mine were used for several years as a training center for the U.S. Ski Team. The center didn't work out well, but the team has remained in Park City, where it still makes its home today. In 1987, the huge boarding house was moved 500 vertical feet uphill to its present location as Mid Mountain Lodge just above the Pioneer and McConkey lifts.
From the Silver King Mine, take the Bonanza Express six-pack up the mountain. Then ski down Homerun to Mid Mountain Meadows, skiing towards the historic Mid Mountain Lodge then hop onto Pioneer. From the top of Pioneer, ski down Keystone. Don't go too fast. About two-thirds of the way down, look down to the rising slope on the other side of Thaynes Canyon to see the California-Comstock Mine.
In the late 1800s, the two neighboring mines tended to have conflict on who owned what once they were underground. The Comstock Mine was incorporated in London in 1882. By 1890 it had a boardinghouse for 50 men on site. The California Mine was incorporated in 1897. By 1905, the two had merged. Unlike the Silver King, the mine location was quite a long ways away from the railroad, with travel on dirt roads. It was acquired by King Con in 1918 and then to Silver King Coalition in 1924.
Today, the remaining structure is one of the most photographed on the mountain. Its aging beams and gorgeous masonry was stabilized in recent years by Friends of Ski Mountain Mining History and Vail Resorts, as well as recovering a huge stone crusher.
A skier stands by the old California-Comstock mine in 1923. Today, the mine still stands, an impressive structure in Thaynes Canyon at the bottom of the Keystone run and near the base of the Thaynes double chair. (Photos: Park City Museum, Tom Kelly)
Just a few hundred meters down the canyon is one of the most spectacular sites on the mountain, the Thaynes Shaft. To get up close, you can cut through the woods off Keystone or Thaynes Canyon just after California-Comstock.
The Thaynes complex is one of the newer of the old mines, with the shaft sunk in 1937 by Silver King Coalition to reach the Spiro Tunnel. The work was based on depression-era incentives from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was one of many mines in Thaynes Canyon that were productive, but its shaft was closed to mining in 1947.
To exit, just slide over the Thaynes lift or continue on down the canyon to either Motherlode or King Con.
The Thaynes Shaft was one of many mines in Thaynes Canyon, which connects the Jupiter, Thaynes, Motherlode and King Con lifts.
One of the fascinating 'modern day' use of the Thaynes Shaft was its role in the famed Skier's Subway operated for four seasons beginning in 1965. Skiers would board mine cars at the Spiro Tunnel (at today's Silver Star base area), riding three miles into the mountain then riding the Thaynes Shaft elevator 1,700 feet up to the base of the Thaynes lift.
An innovative concept from the mining company to get skiers back to the new chairlift, it was fraught with problems and wasn't the most pleasant experience for skiers. Today you can visit the Spiro Tunnel opening at the Silver Star base and see the exit point next to the Thaynes lift.
Crowds load their skis before climbing onto the Skier Subway at the present-day Silver Star base area.
Photo Park City Museum Jan 20 1965 / Skier Subway
Yes, it's definitely an old mine tunnel as skiers climb onto the Skier Subway inside the Spiro Tunnel. (Park City Museum)
Photo Park City Museum Jan 20 1965 / Inside The Skier Subway
Skiers read a sign before their journey nearly three miles into the mountain through the Spiro Tunnel from Silver Star to the Thaynes lift.
Photo Park City Museum Jan 20 1965 / Skier Subway Sign
Daylight! After a three mile rail car journey and a nearly 1,800 foot ride up the hoist, skiers finally step out into daylight near the Thaynes lift.
Photo Park City Museum Jan 20 1965 / Top of the old Skier Subway
Preserving Mining History
The preservation of mining history is an important cause in the Park City community. The silver mining heritage is an important piece of the town's history. At the Park City Museum on historic Main Street, you can relive the mining days and even see an actual Skier Subway ore car.
An offshoot of the Park City Museum, the Friends of Mountain Mining History has been a crucial advocate for the preservation of the 20 historic mine structures on Park City's mountain trails. Vail Resorts and Park City Mountain have been valuable partners in the stabilization of the Thaynes conveyor, King Con counterweight, California Comstock mill, and the Jupiter ore bin among other sites.
Friends of Ski Mountain Mining History
Utah's High West was the first ski town distillery when David Perkins opened it in 2006 in a series of historic buildings in Park City, right alongside the old Crescent tramway that hauled ore over a century ago. While High West is now available worldwide, there are a few brands you can only get in Utah. It's well worth a visit to the distillery to sample a little High West Bourye, which we did on Last Chair with beverage director Steve Walton.
High West's beverage director Steve Walton leads a tasting of Bourye, available only in Utah. As a podcast recording session isn't complete without a tasting
Tom Kelly: Today, the Last Chair podcast from Ski Utah is coming to you live from the High West Distillery in Old Town of Park City. With us today, our guest, Sandy Melville, an expert on the mining history of Park City Mountain and Sandy, welcome to Last Chair. Thanks for joining us.
Sandy Melville: Well, thank you for having me, Tom. It's a pleasure.
Tom Kelly: We had a blast last week. Sandy and I went out and spent the morning skiing at Park City and visiting some of the historical mining structures. And Sandy, it's not unusual for mountains in the West to have a mining history. The one here in Park City, though, is really, really quite rich. And what makes it even better is that so many of the old mining buildings and structures are still there on the mountain.
Sandy Melville: The mining history here was well over 100 years. And there was an incredible amount of development work done. And we're fortunate to have so many mining structures left on the building on the mountain rather intact. Those buildings are standing yet after well over 100 years. And it's something that our guests find quite interesting when they're on the mountain to view.
Tom Kelly: Before we talk a little bit more detail about the mining heritage of the mountain and also the city here down in Old Town, let's just get a little bit of background on you. You've been in Park City now for some years, but just give us a little bit of background on how you made your way here to town.
Sandy Melville: Sure. Not an unusual story, I guess. I grew up in Wisconsin, in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, actually, and went to the University of Wisconsin undergraduate degree in physics and mathematics and worked for a few years as an engineer and industry and then went to graduate school at Purdue and got a master's degree in chemical engineering and worked in the actually the oil refining industry for many years, both domestically and internationally. As a young man, when I graduated from college, I could finally afford skiing and I took up skiing, then primarily in the Midwest and originally in some of those big hills, those big hills.
Tom Kelly: And by the way, just a caveat. I also am from Wisconsin. I went to the University of Wisconsin, different pathways completely. And we just happened to meet up here.
Sandy Melville: So, yeah. So after many years of work spending every vacation moment that I could skiing, my wife and I decided to retire to Park City. And we did that in 2008, moved to Park City and actually purchased a an old miner's house and did a restoration on the house in Park City. And that's when I became interested in really Park City history.
Tom Kelly: Yeah, it's an amazing history. And in a little bit, we're going to actually learn a little bit more specifically about high W we're going to do a little tasting coming up in a little while. But just to give us a little introduction to the place that we're at right now, these buildings on Park Avenue, just a block off of Park City's Main Street. Give us a little history of this place here at High West and all of the beautiful old architecture that we see in Old Town.
Sandy Melville: This area, Park and Heber Avenue is really a center of the old town, the old old town mining industry. There was a crescent mine-grade tramway that ran from the mountain five miles down the mountain and entered Park City just a half a block up from where we're sitting right here right now. The buildings that were sitting in one of the buildings, the livery building was actually built in 1984 by Ellsworth J. Beggs. And he was a carpenter, a master carpenter, actually, who came to Park City in the late 80s and built a number of buildings around town. He purchased this property, developed delivery, and you can see the front of the delivery. You can still see the faded paint and the false front of the livery stable in the national garage that was located there. Mr. Beggs also created the building that is the main bar area of High West. That was his home. And it was built to higher standards in 1987. So Mr. Beggs lived here for a number of years. And then further up the street to another house up the street, High West has an event center, the Nelson Cottages. Well, that building was actually an investment property by Leland Nelson in 1925. And Leland Nelson happened to be the daughter of Colonel Nelson, who had the Nelson farm, which is the base of Park City Mountain Resort. So it all comes back together again in this section of town.
Tom Kelly: That's an amazing little history. You know, when I look across to all the buildings, one of the things that I feel so good about is that the community has really paid attention to keeping the standards in the look in the feel of Park City as a silver mining town over a century ago. If you look through Old Town, even the new houses that have been built still maintaining the look and feel and some of the remnants of those old miner's shacks from 100 actually almost 150 years ago.
Sandy Melville: That's that's true. There are some pretty rigid standards in town. We actually maintain historic sites, inventory of old buildings in town. So the city has a record of every building that is on the historic sites inventory and visitors often wander about Main Street and around Old Town and they'll see homes with ribbons on them. Those are historic ribbons that are renewed every year. And the idea of the ribbons is to designate those sites that are historic and they're on the historic sites inventory. In addition to that, on our historic sites inventory, a lot of the mining structures up on the mountain are part of that inventory. And as you see about the mountain, you'll notice ribbons on mining structures. And they are also part of the historic sites, mining inventory. And we want to make sure that we keep track of them.
Tom Kelly: Let's talk broadly about mining here in Park City. When did it begin and when did things really, really start to boom?
In a mid-60s view from the original Treasure Mountains gondola, the remnants of the Silver King mine sprawl around the area presently occupied by the Bonanza Express lift.
Sandy Melville: Interesting question, yeah, the beginning was really with Colonel Patrick Conner in 1862, during the Civil War, Salt Lake City was pretty much a crossroads and an important place for communications and travel. And the federal government was concerned about protecting that infrastructure. And they recruited Colonel Connors to come to Utah from California. He had a mining background. He recruited miners from Nevada and California that were part of the gold rush, had a lot of mining experience. So Colonel Connors, when he came to Utah and opened for Douglas, those miners went out prospecting. He became sort of the father of the mining industry in Utah. Those miners went up Little Cottonwood Canyon, Alta ski resort, the Emma mine, Big Cottonwood Canyon, the Brighton ski resort and Cardiff mine. So they explored the area pretty extensively and came up that Big Cottonwood Canyon over what is now Guardsman Pass across Bonanza Flats to what is now called the Flagstaff Mine above Deer Valley. And that was really the first producing mine in the Park City area. That was in 1868. So it was pretty early on. The miners arrived there in the fall of the of the season, found some attractive looking samples, but they needed to get down the mountain because of their concern about weather.
Sandy Melville: So they took those samples down to Salt Lake, had them assayed, and they proved to be very valuable. And so the Flagstaff mine then developed a little slowly at first and then 70s, 80s, things really got rolling in Park City. Eventually, we had hundreds of mine claims over what is now Deer Valley and Park City Mountain. There were over 70 producing mines in the area and ultimately over 100 miles of shafts and tunnels. So this is all hard rock mining, underground, extensive operations. The mining then continued through the 40s and 50s. By the 1950s, Park City was in kind of a decline. The mining industry was not doing so well. And that led to the idea by the mining company of creating a ski resort. And that was Treasure Mountains and opened in 1963. But really, we owe everything, all of our skiing history, all of our skiing experience to the mining history. This was developed as private land and enabled a lot of flexibility in the development of the mountains. And I think that everything on our and our ski experience is due to that mining experience that preceded us by hundred years.
Tom Kelly: It's fun today as you go to the resorts in Utah, not just here at Park City and Deer Valley. But in Little and Big Cottonwood Canyon, so many of the run names are named after old mining claims and leaders in the mining industry from years ago. You mentioned the mine and Big Emma at Snowbird is a great run. And if you've been over to Deer Valley, Flagstaff Mountain is a really integral part of that ski area. I want to do a shout-out for an amazing organization here in the community that's helped to preserve so many of these structures. It would be pretty easy for the resorts to say, let's just get that old pile of wood and metal out of here. But the Friends of Ski Mountain Mining History here in Park City has been instrumental in working together with the resorts like Park City Mountain to keep some of these structures stable and standing.
Sandy Melville: Yeah, the Friends of Ski Mountain Mining History, they're a committee of the Park City Museum, and it's a fantastic organization. The museum itself is a fantastic organization on Main Street. I highly recommend it for visitors who are interested in Park City history. And it's a great place to learn about our history. But the Friends of Ski Mountain Mining History has been working so hard to preserve these structures and keep them from falling down. Vail Resorts has been a great partner with us on the on the preservation efforts at Park City Mountain. We have a lot of structures still standing. It's amazing that they're still standing. The Friends of Ski Mountain Mining History has been working to stabilize those structures and basically keep them from falling down so they can be enjoyed by guests for future generations.
Tom Kelly: Sandy, you serve as a mountain host at Park City Mountain. I know COVID has kind of curtailed this year a number of the different programs, but talk a little bit about your Silver to Slopes tour program. We're going to virtually recreate it here. You can't take it this year with a guide, but hopefully next year you can meet up with Sandy and do that tour. But talk about your role as a mountain host and how you've been able to introduce so many skiers and snowboarders to these wonderful old structures.
Sandy Melville: Yeah, it's been very fun. The resort has a navigational kind of a tour to showcase the mountain and so that they can explore the mountain and learn more about it, especially people who haven't been to the mountain before. Our mountain at Park City has all of these great mining structures that people are really interested in. And the interesting thing is that they're available on mainly intermediate level runs so we can structure our tours to take people around to the mine structures, uh, intermediate level skiers, and they can see the mining structures for what they are. So it's a great experience for our guests. We've been doing the tours for many years now. We do two tours a day, a morning tour and an afternoon tour, usually prior to covid. They've been quite popular. They're complimentary tours. And usually we have kind of oversubscription and we have to limit the numbers because they're so popular. It's a really unique experience in skiing. I can't think of any resort in North America where you can actually ski around to mining structures that date really from the late 80s.
Tom Kelly: It's a really good point because as you go to different ski areas, these structures do exist, are old mines may exist, but at Park City Mountain, there are so many of them and they're in such good condition for sure. A Deer Valley, you're going to run across some and there's some I know right under the ruby lift. That is a really nice attraction. When you're over in the Cottonwood Canyons, you're going to run across some old mine structures. But but here it's really quite well organized.
Yeah, that's that's true. It's interesting. I think that the mining company, when they got into this business here at Park City, they really were thinking, well, we'll get into the ski business to kind of supplement our balance sheet for a while, but we'll eventually come back to mining. So the mine structures were basically they just walked away and left them. Of course, silver mining never came back. And the mine structures are still there as they were walked away from in the 50s. Now, at Deer Valley, there are a couple of nice structures. There's Little Bell on the Bandana ski run. And there's a Daly West head frame that's above the Montage. Those are interesting structures themselves, but we seem to have more of them left on the Park City.
Tom Kelly: Yeah, it's an interesting tour. We're going to have Sandy do a virtual run-through of the tour. And by the way, you can go to skiutah.com and go to the last chair blog page and you can get a little bit more detail on how you could actually spend two or three hours at Park City Mountain and see some of these structures. We're going to take a quick break and we'll be right back with Sandy Melville to talk more of mountain mining history coming to you live today from High West Distillery in Park City, Utah.
Tom Kelly: And we're back now with Sandy Melville, we are talking Silver to Slopes today. Sandy is a mountain host at Park City Mountain and an expert on all of the many historic mining structures on the mountain and Sandy. We had a great little personal tour last week to get an outline of what we would talk about here today. And the first stop that we made was at the base of the Bonanza lift. And this was actually an important one for me because I worked for the U.S. Ski Team for over 30 years and for a couple of years that actually was our base. But let's go back many, many years ago to talk about all of the action that was right there at the base of what is now the Bonanza lift.
Sandy Melville: The Silver King Coalition is like the heart of mining history in the Park City Mountain. It is just an amazing, amazing area. They're located at the base of the Bonanza lift as as you indicated, it consisted in the day of. Well, let me back up just a second. In 1882, the Silver King Coalition Mine was formed. It was a combination of five different mines in the area and it was formed by some investors, David Keith and Thomas Kearns, or the probably the most notable. But they formed the company. It was quite a prosperous mining endeavor moving forward, then into the elite later. 1890s they built then hoisting works, which still exists today. So there's a big hoisting works right at the base of the Bonanza lift, down Woodside Gulch. There's an enormous mill facility that a lot of skiers ski by regularly and don't even notice. It's down the gulch from the base of Bonanza Lift. And then in combination with that, there's an aerial tramway system. So this was state of the art facilities in 1900.
Tom Kelly: When you talk about a hoist facility, the ore was mined deep in the earth and then they would use this to raise it up to the surface.
Sandy Melville: Yeah, that's correct. The hoisting works is still intact there inside that structure. It's an amazing old hoisting works. But the miners would go down in the cage on the hoist so they would descend about 3,500 feet in this case to a working area, and then they would branch out from there into various working areas. From that base. They would blast, they would drill and blast and then muck. We called it muck. After blasting, there'd be a lot of loose material that would be loaded into tramcars and it would be transferred over to the base of that hoist, the same hoist that the miners went down in.
Silver to Slopes guide Sandy Melville displays two ore samples - one contains silver, one is, well, just a rock.
Sandy Melville: And they used animals, incidentally, to haul those tram cars. So there were animals underground. Working tram cars then were hoisted to the surface. Thirteen hundred feet and they were conveyed then on a covered tramway over to the top of them, the mill facility. Now, that covered tramway has long been removed with the development of the resort. But there are some photos that we use on our tour that show the layout of the property at the time. The tram cars then went to the top of the mill in the name of the game with the mill was to separate the waste rock from the ore concentrates. These the miners were not we're not dumb. They did not want to ship any more material than they needed to. So the concentrates then were produced in the mill and basically, the mill was a series of grinding, crushing jigs and tables and to separate the evaluable or from the waste rock at the bottom of the mill as it proceeded down by gravity. The ore was essentially, you could think of it almost like sand. It was a very fine-grade material. And I should mention at this point that another little secret that I share only with guests is that our miners really never saw silver. We mined a material called galena, which was a lead sulfide.
Sandy Melville: We also mined a zinc sulfate asphalamite, it's called. But they never saw silver. The silver was actually an impurity in the galena that didn't appear until it went through the fine metals section of a smelter. And the smelters were located in Salt Lake. So our miners didn't see silver, but they knew very well what they were looking for. So this fine powder then at the base of the mill went by a conveyer up to a sampler building. Now, this is really an interesting building. It no longer remains, except for a beautiful stone foundation that you can still see on the hillside. The sampler building was about ninety five feet tall. So it was a big building. The ore went through the sampler and it was actually basically assayed. There was always a conflict between the mining company. And the smelting company, in terms of, well, I shipped you all of this quality in the smelting company would say, well, I received more of this quality. So they were able to do an online assay in 1900 that was nearly 100 percent accurate. After it went through that sampling building, the ore then went into the aerial tramway system and via buckets similar to our chairlift technology.
Sandy Melville: Today, I think our chairlift technology borrowed that idea. And the ore buckets then descended a thousand feet down the mountain on the aerial tramway, which was about seven thousand feet long to a voting station, which was right across the street from the High West Distillery here. And it was loaded into our cars and shipped them down to Salt Lake for smelting. So the whole process was amazingly complex, quite interesting and very sophisticated state of the art for the day. And people came from around the country to see how mining was done here in Park City.
Tom Kelly: The listeners, you can't see this, but Sandy has in front of himself right now two rocks. And these two rocks look relatively similar to the naked eye. But as I picked them up, one of them is appreciably heavier. So tell me the difference between the two and is the silver the silver or is really that noticeable in the weight?
Sandy Melville: Well, it's not really the silver ore that's noticeable in the weight. It's the lead. So the galena is the lead sulfide and the other rock is quartzite. And the quartzite is basically the host rock for the galena underground. And so what the miners tried to do then was separate that waste rock from the galena. The galena, when we look at it here, it has some shiny silver, silvery looking surfaces on it. That's really not silver. You can't see the silver in there. That's lead, but it's actually a chunk of lead. And think of the silver in there as being almost an impurity in the molecular structure of the lead sulfide. And that silver then doesn't come out until the fine metal section of the smelters, but a very valuable impurity, very valuable impurity indeed.
Sandy Melville: Well, it's interesting to note that, you know, we call ourselves a silver mine, silver mining camp here. It's because, you know, we mined the lead, the zinc, a little copper, little gold and silver of all those tons of material that was mined. When you assay it out, pay for it. The silver was approximately half of the value. So we mined a lot more lead to a lot more zinc in terms of weight. But the silver had more value. So about half was silver. And so we call ourselves a silver camp, but we could be a lead camp as well. Just not as glamorous.
Tom Kelly: You know, definitely not. Sandy, about how many miners were at its peak, working at Silver King Coalition. How many miners were working there?
Sandy Melville: I'm guessing around three to 400 in various capacities underground in the mill in the well, the aerial tramway actually didn't really require that many people operating. But there were a lot of how you call it back of house people as well, machinists, carpenters, you know, mockers. There were lots of other people working as well. So there was quite a large staff.
Tom Kelly: One last little piece of history, the Mid Mountain Lodge where many skiers and snowboarders have dined on the mountain for many years. It's in a wonderful location up the hill a little bit. But it was actually a part of the Silver King camp essentially many years ago and was moved up the hill.
Sandy Melville: Yeah, that's that's true. The owners of the Silver King wanted to treat their workers well. And it was a great boardinghouse. And that was our what we now call our Mid Mountain Lodge. But it was the boarding house for the miners. It was a cafeteria actually on the lower level. And in mine offices, the upper level of that beautiful old building were sleeping quarters for executives. Frequently they'd be working late in the day. It was very difficult to get down the mountain in those winter months. So they might stay up there overnight. But that beautiful building then served as a cafeteria for the miners in the day, and it's still serving our skiers as a fine eating establishment today.
Tom Kelly: Before we leave the Silver King mine, Sandy, can you give listeners some quick instructions on how you get up there? It's really pretty simple.
Sandy Melville: Yeah, it is very simple from our base area. Just take the payday lift and when you exit the payday left, go to the right on a run called Bonanza Access and it will take you right down to the base of the Bonanza lift and you'll see the. The enormous old hoisting works there, and if you look carefully to your left, you'll see the mill facility and there's also some descriptive plaques located outside of the hoisting works that describe what went on there in lieu of doing our guided tours. The plaques serve our guests well to better understand the mining activities that were done on the mountain and a quick bit of U.S. Ski Team history in about the 1974-75 period.
Tom Kelly: Those buildings actually were the home of the training center for the U.S. Alpine Ski Team, kind of short lived, but it was an interesting little enhancement on the mountain there for a couple of years. So we are now going to head up to the California Comstock mine and first of all, put us on the mountain. How do we get up to that mine site? And let's talk a little bit about that amazing structure that still stands today.
Sandy Melville: There're several ways you can access the California Comstock. My favorite route is to take that Bonanza lift up from the base of the Silver King and at the top of Bonanza, then exit underneath the chair down home run, take the first turn to the right on mid-mountain meadows and you'll ski right by that mid-mountain lodge down to the Pioneer lift. Ride the Pioneer lift up. And then when you exit Pioneer, take the Keystone run down to the California Comstock and the California Comstock is located in Thaynes Canyon, sort of at the bottom of the Keystone run.
Tom Kelly: Just a little recommendation. I've been living here for over 30 years and I don't think I'd skied back in that area for quite a few. But our kids used to go back there all the time. And I think everybody gets infatuated by the high speed six packs around the mountain. But this Pioneer lift takes you to a wonderful place on the mountain and place I hadn't been in quite a few years and nobody really goes there.
Sandy Melville: The runs underneath the Pioneer lift are underutilized because of that. And they're great ski runs. There's some great conditions there.
Tom Kelly: So the mine itself, the California Comstock, actually a combination of different claims. Tell us a little bit about that.
Sandy Melville: In the structures that remain today, the structure that remains there today is actually the mill structure, and it's a beautiful old wooden structure that is probably the most photographed structure on the mountain because it's set in such a great location right in the bottom of the canyon. But it was actually there were two mines there, the California in the Comstock, California, Comstock were close together. And it was an interesting merger. It was a result of something called the law of Apex. The law of Apex in Utah, it was a federal law, I believe. But it resulted in an enormous amount of litigation. It was really the greatest make work project for attorneys in the era. But what it said is if you had a claim and you had or that apex up on your property, simplistically this is you could follow it into your neighbor's claim. And of course, that resulted in endless arguments about who owned what and California. The Comstock then got into quite extensive legal battle over the law of Apex. And they finally just decided, rather than duking it out in court to settle and they merged and formed one company, the California Comstock. And then they built this mill facility, which we see today. The mill was really a smaller mill. It was mainly a crushing operation just to separate, again, the ore from the waste rock. And there are some enormous waste rock piles surrounding the property that are best visible actually in the summertime when you're hiking up there. But you can see the piles covered with snow in the wintertime. The California Comstock then was about 150 ton per day mill. And to give you contrast, the Silver King Coalition mill was about 450 tons per day. So considerably smaller. The Mill was a wooden structure. It's just a beautiful old structure.
Sandy Melville: And it was sadly in need of stabilization. It had been enjoyed on the mountain for many, many years. Snow loads had taken a tremendous toll on the structure. It was in danger of collapse. And the Friends of Ski Mountain Mining History, in collaboration with Vail Resorts, then worked for several years to stabilize this structure and actually rebuilt a portion of the structure.
Sandy Melville: They did a magnificent job. Some of the stonework there is just beautiful. When they were doing the structure, it was interesting to note that there was a pile of debris in the bottom of the old bill and they had a crane out there that lifted out of the bottom of the. And an antique stone crusher that we didn't know existed, and so that's Stone Crusher was pulled out and it's sitting actually behind that mill to this day, not visible in the wintertime, but in the summertime. If you're hiking up there or biking along the power line trail, you can observe the old antique rock crusher.
Tom Kelly: Sandy, can you give us any tips on the prime photo location coming down the run before you see the mine?
Sandy Melville: Yea what I think is the best shot of the of the old structure is as you're coming down the keystone run on skier's left, as you intersect the canyon, stop there because you get this great view of the old structure and it's framed by the mountainside behind it. And in the wintertime with the snow, it is just gorgeous. And that's a great way to photograph the structure. And there is also another one of our plaques in front of the structure. If you need more information when you're skiing out there, you can stop by the plaque and read up about what went on there.
Tom Kelly: That's the California Comstock Mine, a beautiful, beautiful sight to get there, up the pioneer, lift down the Keystone run and have your cameras ready. We'll be back in just a moment. Taking a short break and we'll talk more about the facelift just a little bit further down the canyon. But first, time to take a break for a tasting here at High West. We'll be right back on this episode of Last Chair.
Tom Kelly: And we are back to Last Chair and we still have a little bit of Bourye in the glass. I think I'm going to hold off till we're finished with the podcast. What did you think, Sandy?
Sandy Melville: Oh, the Bourye is great. I really did enjoy it. And I haven't finished mine yet either. I'm going to hold off for a little bit longer.
Tom Kelly: Well, Steve, Steve left a whole bottle. And I'm kind of looking around and I think we could probably put a little bit more. But what a tasty treat here at High W. It was absolutely fantastic. Did you learn something?
Sandy Melville: I learned a whole lot about whiskey, actually. As a chemical engineer, I enjoy distillation, but what I primarily distilled was oil. So I have a new appreciation for distilling alcohol.
Tom Kelly: Well, we had a year ago we had David Perkins, who was the original visionary behind High W on the program, and he, too, is a chemical engineer. And he was just taking a distillery tour one day. And he was looking around and he said, this is exactly what I do. But just with different materials, it's the same principles. I'm looking at the still here thinking I could operate that it's it's much better use of the process, though. So the High West Bouyre was really good. And thank you to Steve Walton for that. Let's get back now to our history. This has been a fascinating tour, Sandy, taking us around the mountain and reliving some of the mining times from 100 to 150 years ago for sure. One of the most impressive structures, though, on the mountain is the old Thaynes lift. And I know a lot of work has gone in very recently to stabilizing and shoring up that structure. Tell us a little bit about where this is and what role it played in Park City's mining history.
Yet the things the Saints shaft is just across the canyon from the California Comstock and it's just below the Keystone run. And there's actually a Keystone mine up there, too. So the main shaft is very visible from the thanes lift. When you're writing up the old Thaynes lift, if you look to your right, you can see the hoisting works for the Thaynes shaft. It has a really interesting story, though. The thin shaft was actually a later development. It was driven in the 1930s by the mining company primarily for access to the tunnel systems underground. And there was no there was really wasn't an expectation of hitting any valuable ore. And then they really didn't. But it did. It was driven in the 1930s. The enormous waste rock pile that you'll see as you go down Thaynes canyon was from driving the shaft primarily in the shaft, served its purpose for many years. It went down about 700 feet. So it's pretty deep shaft. But fast forward to our skiing history.
Sandy Melville: And that's when mining and skiing really became tied together, because in the early days of the resort, the resort, when it opened, the mine company opened the resort with the longest gondola in North America. It was a 22 minute ride from the base of the mountain to the top, and it was quite popular and had some pretty long lift lines. In 1964, the resort opened up the Thaynes lift, which was kind of backcountry in the day. It was way out on the back edge of the resort. They opened up the Thaynes lift, but they were having trouble getting skiers out to the Thaynes lift. And so they were looking for a solution to that and miners being miners. And we were still mining at the time, by the way, um, they had a creative solution. They said, well, should we go in and out of there all the time? We can just retrofit some mine cars and take the skiers out there through what is known as the Spiro Tunnel. The Spiro Tunnel, the portal to the Spiro Tunnel is located over by our Silver Star base area. And it was about a three mile long exploration and drain tunnel driven by the Silver King Consolidated Mining Company. Solen Spiro was the manager. It was driven out under the mountain. It actually goes right underneath the California Comstock mine. So the miners use that tunnel for access to the tunnel systems underground with the skier need. They decided to retrofit some ore cars and just pull skiers from the Silver Star base area in ore cars underground to the base of that Thaynes hoist.
Sandy Melville: They would load them in the cage. The skiers, they'd load in the cage at the base of the Thaynes shaft then and pull them at seventeen hundred feet to the surface where they'd come out of the shaft onto the snow, right to where we enjoyed stopping on our ski tour. Miners described being in open cage as being the feeling like being buried alive now you can imagine it's not very well lit. It's an open cage. There's this damp, earthy smell as you're proceeding along the area up or down the shaft. So it really is a kind of a creepy feeling. And it wasn't the whole thing wasn't that enormously popular with our with our guests. The ride out was rather long and the ride up the hoist was scary. And when they arrived to the surface many times, they were sort of damp and dirty. And of course, when they would hit the slopes and their woolen ski wear of the era would instantly freeze. So it was kind of an uncomfortable experience as well. But they would they did use it and they proceeded then to the thanes lift where they could have access to that great skiing in the Thaynes area. I actually had and my tours every year I will have a guest who has ridden the skiers. We called it the Skier Subway, the Thaynes skier subway. And some people say, well, it wasn't that bad. And other people say, I would only do it once. It scared the daylights out of me. So there was a mixed reaction to it. The resort only operated it for about four years, and then they discontinued it as being probably a risky operation that wasn't serving its purpose as well as it could.
Tom Kelly: It's an amazing piece of history. And I was never in the Skier's Subway. I did go down in the old Ontario mine, which is on the mine road, going up to Silver Lake at Deer Valley that was actually open for tours in the 90s. That was interesting to go down and experience that. But I will, I'm just hearing these stories about the skiers. Subway is quite remarkable. You can go to visit our blog page with photos here. And you can see some of the pictures of skiers going in the Skier's Subway three miles underground and then, what, 7500 feet up to the base of the Thaynes lift. An amazing journey.
Sandy Melville: And I'll add for anyone visiting Park City that is interested in this Skier Subway. If they visit the museum on Main Street in the lower level of the museum, there's an excellent display on the Skier's Subway. And you could actually sit in one of the old mine rail cars and get a feeling for what that must have been like to access the city or subway.
Tom Kelly: Now, that's a really good suggestion. The Park City Museum right on Main Street, an amazing resource to kind of take you back in time. Also head on over to the Silver Star base where you can get an idea of where that tunnel began. And imagine in your mind it going up Thaynes Canyon, the what's the period of operation for that mine over and Thaynes Canyon, when did that begin and when did it finally terminate as a mine?
Sandy Melville: Well, that mine, uh, the shaft was driven in the mid 1930s and it continued to be used well into the into the 50s. So it was an active site for many years.
Tom Kelly: Yeah. There's just so much history. And Sandy, it's been wonderful for you to share this. I hope that next season, if you're making your vacation plans to come to Utah next year, check out to see if Sandy's Silver to Slopes Tour is running. Otherwise, they'll be able to find you up in the mountains somewhere to ask you questions wherever you might be on your day.
Sandy Melville: I'm in a red coat, red pants with a big eye on my back. You can't miss me now.
Tom Kelly: And it is truly a unique experience. Just one closing question before we get into some fun stuff with fresh tracks. You know what is? I'm an historian myself and I know what fuels my passions for it. But what are the things that fuel your passion for mountain mining history?
Sandy Melville: Well, I think that, first of all, as an engineer, I became fascinated with the technical aspects of the mines. To me, it was so amazing that people could accomplish all of this with relatively primitive tools and methods. But they were very, very smart people. I'm continually impressed with how smart the people were, who did it, worked in the mines and the mining development here. So that's one area of interest to me. And the other is that I really think that by understanding that it's sort of a philosophical thing, but understanding that past, you can really understand the present. And I go about the mountain and I see things that raise a question in my mind and I go look at it and research it a little bit, and then I understand how that became what it is. So it's very important to me personally, and I think it's a great amenity on the mountain.
Tom Kelly: History is the roadmap to the future.
Sandy Melville: I agree.
Tom Kelly: OK, Sandy, we're going to go to fresh tracks now, a series of questions that I used to tell my guests. These are really simple questions and then the guests would come back in. Say, that really wasn't so simple, but how about this one to kick it off? Do you have a favorite story from back in the mining era, something maybe we haven't touched on yet today? A favorite mining story.
Sandy Melville: Oh, there are so many so many great mining stories. One that one that might interest the listeners because it's sort of a I think skiers can maybe relate to this story in Italy. It was in 1916 in the Silver King Consolidated mine where the Silver King consolidated mine was located on our claim jumper ski run. It's the only thing that's left there now is a beautiful old ore bin that you can ski. Just keep as you head down Claimjumper. There was a mine, there was in December, miner working underground, got caught in a cave and broke his leg badly, badly. And unfortunately, it was blizzard conditions. There was no way for the doc to get there. But miners being miners figured out a way. They loaded the doc.
Sandy Melville: The doctor's name was Doctor Snow, by the way.
Tom Kelly: Of course.
Sandy Melville: Of course. They loaded Doctor Snow in another bucket and there was an aerial tramway servicing the Silver King Consolidated Mine, the King Con, and they loaded him in or bucket and transported him to the site of the mine. He treated the miners leg and then they loaded the miner at the newspaper at the time, recorded it as they loaded him in another car in a comfortable couch and put him on another car down the mountain. Dr. Snow went in another or a car and they took him down to the miners hospital for further treatment. But as a skier, it was a howling blizzard. You can imagine how modern ski lifts rock in the wind. Can you imagine being strapped in another car with a broken leg in the middle of winter.
Tom Kelly: On a couch?
Sandy Melville: On the couch.
Tom Kelly: Yeah, amazing. Love that story. Yeah. How about this? An unusual the most unusual question that a guest has asked you about mining history.
Sandy Melville: Oh, about as a guest services we get I mean, that's our business getting questions so we get tons of fun questions from guests. And it's that's one of the actually the funnest parts about the job is answering guests' questions. One interesting question that I've had a number of times as well, how does the resort make the moguls? And that's a question that I guess people just don't understand how they get form. But it's a good question, but it's what makes the bubbles.
Tom Kelly: You know, I used to think it was all-natural. And then when I was involved in competitive mogul skiing, I started to understand that you actually can't make them with a Snowcat. But really, we're making those. That's the real answer to that question. That's a good one. And you got that frequently.
Sandy Melville: We get that occasionally. Yeah. The mobile question I did get one interesting question just recently. This winter, I'm standing at the top of the Bonanza lift at the map. There's a large map up there and it's a point of where guests swing by for questions. And it's a really nasty day. The wind is howling, the snow is blowing. I've got maybe twenty guests scattered around asking how to get here, how to get there. And you're rapid fire answering questions in this guest walks up with his skis over his shoulder and says, how do I get to the St. Regis? And it made me stop because I thought, oh, how did this guy get here? But he actually he didn't have any idea really where he was. And he thought that he could ski from Park City Mountain over to Deer Valley to the St. Regis Hotel. So I had to explain to the guy that really you're at the resort and in order to get to the St. Regis, you're going to have to ski down to the base and take a no.
Tom Kelly: I actually had a similar story to that. I was skiing with a friend and we had gotten separated. And I got a hold of her on phone and she was telling me where she was. And we started at Deer Valley. We were looking at Deer Valley. And all of a sudden she's telling me, well, I'm on this lift. It says, let's see. It says McConkey's. And I said, 'Oh, you are not at the right resort any longer.'
Sandy Melville: It happens. It happens, you know.
Tom Kelly: When you take a break from Park City and you go and you ski about somewhere, do you have another favorite Utah ski resort you love to go to?
Sandy Melville: Well, we are blessed with so many fantastic ski resorts in Utah. I really do enjoy them all. But I guess my go to second resort is Deer Valley. It's a neighboring resort. And I do enjoy the runs at Deer Valley immensely.
Tom Kelly: And back at Park City Mountain. Do you have a favorite run?
Sandy Melville: You know, my favorite run at Park City is I would have to say it's probably assessment. Assessment is a lovely intermediate run underneath the Silverlode lift. We groom it up every day and it has a nice pitch, nice terrain. And it's my ski day at Park City really isn't complete unless I take a lap on Assessment.
Tom Kelly: Now, that's a really good call, though. I have to say, when we skied last week, you checked the grooming report to make sure we could ski Silver Queen.
Sandy Melville: I did check that out. And we also checked out Crescent, as you recall.
Tom Kelly: Yes, we did. That was a fun time. How about a favorite High West whiskey?
Sandy Melville: Well, I have always enjoyed the Rendezvous Rye, but this Bourye is really nice.
Tom Kelly: It is. And remember, we have a whole bottle sitting here. And then, last question that I posed to all of my guests, groomers, glades, moguls or powder.
Sandy Melville: Oh, yeah, that's a tough question. We frequently groom some of our black runs at Park City and my favorite is one of those nice long black runs that's been groomed and then has 10 inches of new snow on. It doesn't get any better than that.
Tom Kelly: It sure doesn't. Sandy Melville, thank you so much for joining us. Silver to Snow. If you can't do it with Sandy, do it on your own. Go to the website, SkiUtah Dotcom and the blog article for Last Chair. We'll have detailed instructions to help guide you around the mountain. Thanks for joining us, Sandy, and sharing this history.
Sandy Melville: Well, thank you very much. It's been a pleasure.
Leave Your Comment
using your social media account or fill out the form below