This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
There was a time when Deer Valley was not a glitzy ski resort with mansions, millionaires and movie stars. It was an era, long forgotten now, when what is now called Deer Valley was like the little mining town of Park City just down the road a quiet, down-home place.
Right after World War II, two local guys decided to build a ski resort from scratch with scrap from the mines and timbers from the mountainside. No one remembers what it was that got into Otto Carpenter and Bob Burns, about 70 years ago, when they determined to build the ski resort they would call Snow Park.
When the war ended, Park City's mines, once propped up by the conflict, were all but done. In its heyday, about 1900, the boomtown's population was 7,000. By 1946, however, people were continuing to move out, leaving fewer than 2,000 residents and a growing inventory of empty houses.
As GIs streamed home, many from the Army's 10th Mountain Division fanned out across the West to continue their quest on skis. Snow Park came into being about the same time the first commercial chairlifts were installed at Alta and Brighton.
To get to Snow Park, you'd drive past the railroad depot at the bottom of Main Street and east up Heber Avenue, where only one house of prostitution remained from Park City's silver-boom days.
For several years, Carpenter and Burns had been measuring the snow in the area where the Little Kate and Success runs now drop to the stylish Snow Park Lodge at Deer Valley.
The two had worked for the mining company, but, by 1945, they were among many others seeking new employment. Carpenter, who had worked as a skilled woodworker for the mines, took his trade elsewhere. He continued to be enamored with the outdoors and was an enthusiastic angler, hunter and skier.
In the 1920s, he had taken up ski jumping with Alf Engen and his brothers. Many old family photos show Carpenter launching off Ecker Hill like an eagle, his arms outstretched.
Carpenter's son, Richard, said it was classic Otto Carpenter form.
"The Engens used to jump with their hands down at their sides," Richard said in a 1996 interview. "But dad would have his arms right out in front over his head."
Their skis, too, were handmade in the early years.
"They'd cut the wood and steam it and bend it into form," Richard recalled. "He had some concoction that he'd mix up and paint on the bottom for a base."
Built by hand • If Otto Carpenter was the consummate outdoorsman, Bob Burns was the quintessential tinkerer and machinist. People remember Burns as the one with the ability to create Snow Park's chairlifts from materials you might expect to see lying around an old mining town.
They acquired the cable for the chairlift from the Park Consolidated Mining Co., Burns' son, Darrel, recalled in a 1996 interview.
"My father and Otto spliced the cable themselves," he said. "And we helped out as much as little boys can help."
Carpenter and Burns built the lift towers from trees they felled to clear the runs.
"Between the two families, we cut all the scrub oak by hand with a brush hook," Darrel said. "The runs we used are still there, although some have been altered."
Darrel was 12 or 13 when they cranked up the chairlift for the first time in 1946.
It was powered by an old Hercules truck engine. But the power plant was located at the top of the lift, so Carpenter or Burns would have to hike up through the snow to start the engine and get the lift running.
"Some of those cold mornings, it was hard turning the engine over," Richard Carpenter recalled. "We'd tie the gas can on the chairlift and that would be the first chair up."
A day pass at Snow Park was $1 for kids and $2.50 for adults. "But even if some of the kids didn't have any money, they'd let them ski anyway," Richard said. "Anybody who wanted to ski would help Dad and Bob out."
Carpenter and Burns also built the first Snow Park Lodge, not far from where the present-day Snow Park Lodge sits. The lodge at Deer Valley boasts vaulted ceilings and stylish furnishing it's an upscale place famous for it pastries, seafood delicacies and other dishes.
The original Snow Park Lodge, by contrast, was more of a shack with its signature chili and 25-cent hamburgers cooked up by La Rue Carpenter and Rintha Burns.
Former Park Record Editor David Hampshire, who has written a history of Summit County, came across a New York Times article on Snow Park in which the writer described La Rue's hamburgers as "possibly the most succulent two-bit hamburger in the West."
At lunchtime, kids would hang wet clothes on the coal stove in hopes they would dry by the time the chili was gone, Richard recalled. Then they would pile all that clothing back on for the afternoon ski runs.
Mel Fletcher had come home from the war with an idea to start a ski club in Park City, Hampshire said. He called it the Snow Park Ski Club, and that's how the resort got its name.
Snow Park operated only on the weekends. On a good day, there could be as many as 100 skiers from as far away as Salt Lake City and Provo.
Hampshire, who was with the local paper from 1980 to 1985, recalled a story Fletcher had told him: Sometimes, if kids were swinging on the chairlift or jumped off too early, a chair could get caught on a lift tower and it would pull the tower right over. Everything would stop for a while until the tower could be pushed back upright.
A new age • When the Treasure Mountain resort opened in 1963 it would later become The Park City Ski Area and then Park City Mountain Resort Mel Fletcher was lured away as ski patrol director, David Hampshire said. But he would come back to Snow Park on weekends to head up the ski school.
The entire operation was a labor of love. Otto Carpenter and Bob Burns didn't set out to get rich from Snow Park and they didn't, Richard said.
"It was probably a losing proposition by the time they paid everybody and bought the soda pop," he said.
Despite the competition from Treasure Mountain, with its new gondola and ski lifts, Snow Park remained open until 1969, when the mine company which had morphed into United Park City Mines refused to renew the lease.
Burns died in an explosion at his home in 1981 while working with an acetylene torch, just months before Deer Valley's inaugural season. Carpenter died in 1996 of natural causes. Fletcher lived until 2010.
Today, Carpenter and Burns would not recognize Park City. Not only is Deer Valley a noted stopover for the glitterati, but Vail Resorts Inc. has combined Park City Mountain Resort with nearby Canyons Resort to make the largest ski area in the nation.
The contrasts between then and now are stark, Hampshire noted. In the late 1980s, he took Carpenter up to Deer Valley to have a look at the place.
"Here was this old guy in a fedora," Hampshire recalled. "He just looked around shaking his head."
Burns' and Carpenter's Snow Park is now a faded memory. But you can still ski there. A handsome young attendant dressed in Deer Valley green will carry your skis from the car to the chairlift and will even help you step into the bindings. A day pass is $120.
Editor's note: Christopher Smart interviewed Darrel Burns and Richard Carpenter in 1996.