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Park City was becoming a ghost town when two local guys built a ski resort

First Published      Last Updated Feb 15 2016 03:54 pm

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."

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