Southern girl realizes her dream in Park City
November 28, 2014
A teenaged Monika Duran wasn’t impressed with Park City in 1979 when she came here on a ski vacation with her family. "The town was super small and we were not at all excited about it," she recalls. Duran, who learned to ski at age 12, had by then skied at several Colorado resorts and liked it there.
Fast-forward 35 years and Duran, who recently moved here from Hailey, Idaho, has a decidedly different take on the town. "The people here are friendly and outgoing, the mountain biking is phenomenal, the views are beautiful everywhere you look and the public school system is awesome," says the mother of two young boys. Why the change of heart? It’s a long story.
Duran was born and grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, about as far away from snow country as you can get on this continent. Though they settled in the Deep South, her parents were from Germany and yearned for their familiar winter sports. She learned to ski at age 13 when the family trekked to Crested Butte for their first ski vacation. Over the next several years Duran escaped to ski country once a year. She became an avid alpine skier and secretly dreamed of one day working as a ski instructor.
That dream was put on hold when she went off to college, graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Auburn University in 1982. It was an eventful year for Duran. An aspiring athlete, she qualified and competed in the 1986 U.S. Triathlon Series national championships at Hilton Head, South Carolina. "That was a different era," she says. "I had no coaching, no training partners, no Power Bars or Clif Bars."
Later that year she met Terry, her husband-to-be, while on a bike ride. Soon after they began dating, she gave up triathlon. "He was a bike racer and competing was much more important to him than it was to me," she explains. "I realized if I ever wanted to see him on weekends I would have to go to his races. It was all good because we met and rode with lots of fun people on fast, intense group rides. It was our lifestyle."
The couple married in 1988 and eventually settled in Atlanta, Georgia. Duran worked in real estate advertising and marketing while her husband completed his degree in industrial engineering at Southern Polytechnic State University. In 1995 they moved back to Birmingham after Terry got a job there with Wesco, an electrical engineering company. Still an avid cyclist, he went on to take sales jobs with Cannondale Bicycle Company and, in 2004, with Scott USA, another bicycle company. Snow skiing was no longer a priority for Duran, as the young couple built their future in Birmingham. Her dream of becoming a ski instructor gradually faded away.
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In 2000, Duran turned a childhood hobby into her new profession. "My dad gave me a camera when I was 10 years old and I took photos of just about everything. I loved it," she recalls. "I always had in my mind to be a professional photographer, but I never thought I could make a living at it. In Birmingham, I started working part-time on weekends assisting a wedding photographer and really enjoyed it. With encouragement and support from another photographer, I quit my day job in pharmaceutical sales, bought professional equipment and started my own business. I advertised in local magazines and business boomed! I was privileged to be the photographer for so many beautiful, lavish southern weddings over the next 11 years," she says.
The Durans’ two sons arrived in the early 2000s, Ethan in ’01 and Kristofer in ’03. Duran reluctantly closed up shop in 2011 when Terry was promoted to national sales manager for Scott USA and transferred to Hailey, Idaho.
Duran didn’t resume her photography business in Hailey, choosing instead to spend more time at home with her growing children. Back in ski country at last, a distant dream stirred. "Ski instructing was a lifelong dream of ‘wow,’ that would be fun to do. I immediately knew I wanted to be a ski instructor at Sun Valley," she says. After training hard and earning her Level One Alpine Certification, Duran’s dream was finally realized. She worked as a ski instructor at Sun Valley for the next three years.
When her husband took a top-level management job last summer with Willier Triestina, a venerable Italian bicycle maker, they made the move to Park City. "Hailey was pretty isolated and there wasn’t much opportunity there for the boys. We needed to be closer to a major airport so Terry could travel. Also, we wanted better schools and a place where we could enjoy an active, fulfilling lifestyle," explains Duran.
Though she only arrived last July, Duran is very enthusiastic about her new home, noting it’s not the "super-small town" she remembers from 35 years ago. "Here we are in Park City, with so much to offer for everyone in the family: skateboarding, skiing, mountain biking, arts programs and lots of photography opportunities.
"My major goal right now is to make sure my kids make good grades in school and go on to college," she continues. Son Ethan, now 13, attends Ecker Hill Middle School and Kristofer, 11, is at Trailside Elementary.
The newly minted Parkite plans to start up her photography business again, this time specializing in maternity, newborn and baby portraits. She’s already taking lifestyle photos for a slick, Sun Valley-based magazine called Big Life, which is expanding its circulation and advertising base into the Park City area. Go to http://www.monikaduranphoto.com to see some of her photos.
Duran says she had two other goals when she moved here — to be a ski instructor at Park City Mountain Resort and to earn her Level Two Alpine Certification. She’s halfway there already, having recently been hired as a ski instructor at Park City Mountain Resort. The dream lives on.
Favorite activities: Skiing, road and mountain biking, photography
Favorite foods: Tacos, hamburgers, fajitas, mashed potatoes, spaghetti and chicken salad
Favorite reading: "I am reading for the third time the Professional Ski Instructors of America manual on ski instruction and Core Concepts for Snowsports Instructors."
Favorite performers/music: "I like upbeat, fun, catchy dance music to work out to. I love Jack Johnson, Chris Isaak, Jimmy Buffett, Sheryl Crow and Eva Cassidy."
Bucket list: Heli-skiing; France, Italy and Germany; a week on a houseboat on Lake Powell; buying a house in Park City
Steve Phillips is a Park City-based writer and actor. Send your profile comments and suggestions to him at email@example.com