Last Chair: The Ski Utah Podcast

A century and a half ago, Utah’s mountains were the home of boomtowns as silver mining flourished. 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.

Show Notes

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.

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 this week's podcast with historian and ski guide Sandy Melville, you'll learn:
  • Craziest question from a mountain guest
  • How mining and skiing came together in the '60s
  • Sandy's favorite High West whiskey brand
  • What's the significance of 'apex law'?
  • What role did Dr. Snow play in mining to skiing history?
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.

+View easy-to-follow tour map

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.

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.

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.

Silver to Slopes guide Sandy Melville displays two ore samples - one contains silver, one is, well, just a rock.

California-Comstock Mine
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. It's 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

Thaynes Shaft 
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.

Skier Subway
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.

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 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
Park City Museum

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

What is Last Chair: The Ski Utah Podcast?

Bundle up for the Last Chair Podcast, highlighting the best snow on earth and Utah's ski resort industry. Host Tom Kelly sits down with resort management in order to give you and insiders look into what is needed to create the best skiing experiences anywhere.