These days, snowy roads in Utah are paved and salted, but around the turn of the twentieth century, streets across the Wasatch Front were closed to traffic to encourage winter fun. Winter nights produced laughing, yelping, and screaming as Utah families raced down icy hills, ice skated across homemade rinks, or sang carols while sleighing city streets bundled up in warm quilts.
Some cities used natural wonders for their winter activities, like ice skating on the frozen-over Bear River. Oftentimes the place to cool off in summer was the same place to play in winter, like the Kimball Mill in Bountiful or Silver Lake up Big Cottonwood Canyon. During long winter nights, ice rinks were often illuminated with burning tires to create a romantic atmosphere. Some folks went out of their way to manufacture winter fun where they could -- like in Provo where locals tried to flood a baseball diamond to create an ice rink, but needed to shade it during the day with burlap curtains to prevent the ice from melting.
Another popular winter sport was sledding, known back then as "coasting" or "shinning." It was most common on steep snow-covered city streets and was eventually regulated after a series of accidents. Some towns charged a twenty dollar fine for sledders caught in the act, while others actually designated entire neighborhoods for sledding. In Park City, sledders had to skirt around regulations to get their runs in. They developed codes to signal each other: “Chisel” meant law enforcement was coming, “Shovel” meant pause the fun for a moment, and “Pick” meant all was clear to keep on coasting.
No-one sledding through Utah’s city streets ever imagined it would be completely banned, but eventually it did decline in popularity as automobiles became more widely used. People began to turn to the mountains for their downhill adventures and have been skiing Utah’s powdery snow ever since.
Image: Sledding in Salt Lake City, 5th North and Center Street. Courtesy Utah State Historical Society.
See Miriam Murphy and Craig Fuller, “Glimpses of Ice Skating and Coasting in Utah,” Utah Historical Quarterly, volume 70, number 4, 2002, pp. 326-340; “Silver Lake Draws Skaters despite Absence of Winter Popular during Warm Spell,” Salt Lake Telegram December 12, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6jm6cqx/18828668