History of Deer Valley

Jami Balls

In February of 1936, the Salt Lake Junior Chamber of Commerce held “Park City’s first winter carnival” on a north-facing hillside at the head of Deer Valley. The Denver and Rio Grande sent a “snow train” up to Park City with more than 500 visitors to join in the festivities of the day. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) built ski trails, toboggan slides, slalom courses, ski-jump takeoffs, and shelter cabins during the winter of 1936-1937 encouraging annual participation in the festival’s winter sports.

In 1946, two residents of Park City resolved to build an authentic skiing facility in the area complete with a mechanized ski lift. Bob Burns and Otto Carpenter selected the same hillside previously cut by the WPA. Using homemade wooden towers, surplus mine equipment, and a great deal of ingenuity, they assembled Utah’s first lift. Otto Carpenter was a carpenter and Bob Burns a machinist and together they kept the antiquated equipment from breaking down. “That lift was made out of pine poles that we cut when we cleared the area–we built the wheels and we bought a big Hercules truck engine that sat up on the top,” Carpenter stated in 1986. Although originally designed as a T-bar lift, they soon converted it to carry chairs and eventually added a second lift for beginners powered by a Ford Model-A engine.

Mel Fletcher, who directed the ski school, started a local ski club called Snow Park and soon the name transferred over to the resort. Burns and Carpenter operated and kept the lifts of Snow Park running, while their wives cooked hamburgers in the resort’s meager concession stand. Their lifts only ran on weekends bringing around 100 skiers a day and producing small profits. Fletcher recalls that restless skiers were often the cause of the lifts breaking. “A lot of times the kids would bail off in between stations. Either that or they’d fall off the chair messing around–they’d swing the chair and when the chair would swing, it would catch one of the towers, and it would very easily pull it down–it would just lift the poles right out of the ground.”

By the early 1950s, many of the major mines closed, plaguing the economy of Park City. However, Snow Park continued to operate throughout the winters. In 1958, the United Park City Mines commissioned a study to determine whether the Park City area had the qualities to become a year-round recreational area. They attained a loan from the federal government for the purpose of constructing a major recreation complex. Meanwhile, Otto Carpenter had bought Burns out and continued to run his small resort in Deer Valley. Carpenter continued to run Snow Park until 1968 when his lease on the property expired.

During the 1970s developmental spending increased in Park City. The Royal Street Land Company acquired the rights to develop Deer Valley in 1975 and within a year unveiled a proposal for a six-phase project to accommodate 12,000 skiers. The development not only included the original Snow Park, but also Bald Mountain, Flagstaff Mountain, and Empire Canyon.

Deer Valley resort opened in December 1981 with five chairlifts and thirty rails. It included the Snow Park and Silver Lake lodge along with the “Burns” and “Carpenter” lifts. By the late 1980s, Deer Valley ski area was recognized as one of the country’s elite skiing areas. Since then, Deer Valley has continued to expand, opening lifts on Flagstaff Mountain in 1990 and in 1998 boasting fourteen ski lifts with an uphill capacity of 25,600 skiers per hour.

Sources: David Hampshire, Martha Sonntag Bradley and Allen Roberts, The History of Summit County