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The discovery of gold in California inspired a rush of amateur miners to the Sierra Nevada mountains in 1849. Meanwhile, Europeans hurried to their Alps to climb during the Golden Age of Mountaineering. These events, seemingly separate, came from the same basic impetus. The Scientific Revolution eased the old fear of mountains from the religious tradition and gave humans the license and curiosity to explore. Mountains also offered capital incentive to adventurers in the form of mineral deposits, tourism and the glory that comes with athletic accomplishment. Between 1849 and 1936, "mountaineers" transformed the nearly inaccessible high places of the North American West into destinations for industrial tourism. For profit and pride, these capitalists changed locales that had once only hosted temporary visitors into permanent homes. This study charts the change from extractive industry to tourism in a handful of mountain communities throughout the North American West with a focus on those places most integral in the development of American skiing and mountaineering. In each of these communities the extractive industry led directly to tourism. Skiing and mountaineering became performative and utilitarian acts for the miners and their successors. In one community, ski races helped miners train for long seasons in the snow and backbreaking labor. In another, the death of a climber spurred the Europeanization of the North American mountain by paving the way for Swiss guides. In Utah, a former miner sold his claims to the United States Forest Service so that the property could be transformed into a ski resort. Taken together, these are the stories of how North Americans took their obsession for the untamable wilderness and for profiteering and used it to create and sustain two different industries in the same landscape.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Scharff, Virginia

Second Committee Member

Connell-Szasz, Margaret

Third Committee Member

Kirk, Andrew



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