Warren’s World: There’s Gold on Top of Them There Hills

By Beacon Staff

Thirty years ago I was producing a 20-minute film for The Fritzmeir Ski Company and The White Stage Ski clothing company in Park City, Utah. The working title was, “Stein Stork and the Chick” and featured Stein Eriksson, my daughter Chris and a leading professional ski racer whose name has slipped both from my memory bank and the record book.

The location for the film was chosen because of Stein’s availability and by the marketing director of White Stag who was firmly convinced that his old friend Robert Redford would do a cameo ski appearance in the film at the nearby resort of Sundance.

Everyone on the crew knew that this would never happen because Redford was in the middle of filming “Jeremiah Johnson” at the time. On a bright sunny morning instead of filming all day, two van loads of assorted actors, skiers, cameramen, sound operators and lighting experts followed the White Stag creative director/client in his rent-a-limo and drove to Sundance to film a cameo of Redford skiing for us. It was easy to find where his Hollywood film crew was shooting because it consisted of 72 people. They ranged from Redford himself to the chef who had to prepare the lunch and coffee breaks for the other 71 people. The catering company had driven a complete kitchen and dining room up from Hollywood that took up all of the space in a semi-trailer. Redford was rehearsing a scene in which he was the only actor on the set and was being directed on how to try to start a fire without matches. It took that many people to film one actor sitting under a tree in a snow bank and he didn’t even have his faithful horse in the scene. Redford had never met the White Stag marketing director as I had predicted.

On the drive back to Park City from Sundance, we stopped at a fast food joint for our late lunch break of mandatory Big Mac, fries and a chocolate shake and moaned about how we had wasted the day. However, some of the men on our crew were excited because they got to see the way Hollywood made real movies in the snow.

At lunch I brought up my first experience with White Stag ski clothes in Sun Valley, Idaho, in the spring of 1948. The company had paid me $5 and a one-day lift ticket to test two of their new parka fabrics. (I sold the lift ticket for $4 and took a lady to dinner that night.) White Stag had made a parka with one poplin fabric sleeve and one nylon sleeve. They wanted me to tell them at the end of the day which one of my arms had been the warmest. That was the level of technical research and development in ski industry technology in the late 1940s.

When Park City first started advertising in the 1970s, where we were filming our movie, its main attraction was the Mine Train Ski Lift. It was a very old, but still operable mine train that ran horizontally for about a mile or more underground and left from the same elevation as the town itself. You rode in on an open mine car, wearing a miners helmet and a yellow slicker. At the end of the train ride you were wet and cramped as you staggered out of the open ore car and into an elevator that then lifted you up to the summit of the mountain.

I only rode on it once and never took a second trip. The elevator shaft was somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 vertical feet and it wobbled in a frightening way as it raced its way toward the top of the mountain at a very uncomfortable speed. While riding it you also knew that it had been there for a lot of years. How many more trips did the hoisting cable have left in it before it broke?.Maybe on your trip?

During this same time of the late 1970s, the people who had been miners and were talked into joining the ski industry had Park City up for sale, including all of the real estate for a price of about $5 million. I had several friends who had me on the lookout for an opportunity to buy a ski resort, so I approached the owners and was able to enjoy three deluxe dinners with them. After the third long dinner party while sitting around and telling ski stories about other resorts while they had their after-dinner cigars, I came to the conclusion that anyone who was in the mining business would never sell any land. They might lease it, but never sell it.

So I gave up as a real estate scout for investors looking for the next white gold strike of ski resort real estate. Since then, more gold has come from the snow-covered surface of Park City than the total amount of gold and silver that the miners ever dug out from underneath the ski slopes.