Often, we attribute the title of Park City’s first skier to Emmett “Bud” Wright, who used skis for his job repairing telephone lines ranging from the mountains around Park City to the Wasatch Front. He also taught others to ski in the small mining town.
But was he truly the first in town to ski? The evidence suggests otherwise.
Early skiing was sometimes referred to as snowshoeing. In context, it is different than using snowshoes to stay on top of the snow. The earliest reference to skiing or snowshoeing found in the Park Record is from November 5, 1881. The paper reported that men living up near mines and claims were using snowshoes (for “actual necessity”) due to winter’s arrival and that “one prospector told us it was utterly impossible for him and his men to get from one claim to another without snow shoes.”
That report was for men using snowshoes for work. But it wasn’t much later that the Park Record gave a report of their use for fun. On December 24, 1881, they wrote “Fennemore is turning out a fine lot of snowshoes and is offering them at moderate rates. Those who need them and those who want them for sport should give him a call.”
One family believes their descendant was Park City’s first skier. In 1955, several children sent a photo of their father to the Marriott Library at the University of Utah along with a letter explaining his story. They wrote that he, Ole Gunderson, arrived in Park City in 1875 to help his brother Lars in a sawmill. Lars moved away, but Ole stayed and made a home high up the mountain and needed to use skis to get into town for groceries in the winter each Sunday.
They continued that “after that first Sunday when he skied into Park City to the store, an Irishman walked up to [his] cabin the next day and wanted to know what it was that our father had on his feet. He said that when he saw him, he thought it was the Devil coming down the canyon. He wanted some things just like them, so our father made him a pair of skis. Soon many of the miners and others about the town had him making skis for them also. She said that he was kept busy all winter making skis, as everyone took to the sport. As near as we know, our father was the first man on skis in Park City District.”
There are no reports in the Park Record to support the story, and no records of Ole Gunderson either. The letter also contains known inaccuracies, such as that when Ole arrived in 1875, “there was only mine in Park City, called the Ontario,” which is not true. The first mention of any Gunderson in the Park Record is of an “L Gunderson” in that same December 24, 1881 edition, where he is mentioned as “doing assessment work on the Lizzie claim….”
The next mentions of the same L. Gunderson come a couple of months later, wherein Gunderson issued a challenge on February 25, 1882 to anyone in Park City to a snowshoe race from Park City to Alta. A “J Pape,” most likely saloon-owner Jack Pape, responded in the March 11, 1882 issue “to call my place of business and complete arrangements” for the race. The result of the race, if it happened, is unknown. While L. Gunderson is probably not Ole, someone with the Gunderson family name was indeed one of the earliest recorded skiers in Park City.
This story will be continued.
The Park City Museum will reopen to the public on January 27.