Former PC Ski Patroller on the ride of his life
December 19, 2007
Eric Cylvick was on vacation in Costa Rica six years ago when the idea came to him. He and his girlfriend, Sarah, had just completed a zip-line canopy tour over the Monteverde Rain Forest. Cylvick, who describes himself as curious and tenacious, began to think about the possibilities back home in ski country. What began as an intuitive leap to create an exciting downhill ride has catapulted this modest former river guide and ski bum into the adventurous, heady world of international business and high finance.
He was born in Huntington, New York, a bustling suburb on Long Island. He was the only child of Judy and Frank Cylvick. He grew on Eaton’s Neck near the town of Northport, where his parents owned and operated an electronics business.
Cylvick grew up on the water on the North Shore of Long Island and got his own 18-foot motorboat when he was nine years old. "It was my only mode of transportation to town, so my friends and I had lots of big adventures on the water," he laughs.
For Cylvick, everything ultimately revolved around skiing. "I’ve loved it since I was a kid," he says. "I only got to go about three days a year on ski vacations with my parents until I was 14 years old, then we started skiing out west and that was it!"
He attended public school on Long Island. He excelled at soccer in high school and graduated from Northport High in 1984.
His natural aptitude for math and science was put to the test at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York. "I wasn’t a very good student. I studied a lot but only got Bs and Cs. "I knew I never wanted to be an engineer but I just stuck with it, finishing college based mainly on principle," he confesses. "That can definitely get you into trouble sometimes but I just can’t see any other way." Cylvick took his degree in electrical and computer engineering in 1988.
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Throughout high school and college he worked for his father as an electronics technician and engineer. "I drove out west the winter of 1989 headed for Jackson Hole to ski and just happened to stop in Park City. Obviously, I never left," he says.
He quickly found work selling t-shirts on Main Street. "My parents were so proud of me," he chuckles. Within a month he had signed on as a ski patroller at Park City Resort. "Patrolling was a fantastic experience and I learned a lot about high-angle rescue, lift evacuation and alpine climbing."
When the snow melted that first spring, he talked himself into a job as a river guide on the middle fork of the Salmon River. Cylvick worked alternately as a ski patrolman at Park City and a river guide on the Salmon for over a decade. During those years he became the Snow Safety Director for the resort and climbed throughout the west and Alaska.
"River guiding was another fantastic job that taught me the importance of self reliance and how to balance excitement with safety. "I worked for 11 seasons on the middle fork and have logged 123 trips down that amazing river" he says.
Cylvick met Sarah in 1996. They remained close friends until 2000. "Our first date was on September 12 that year," he recalls with unusual clarity, noting, "It was inevitable." They married in 2003 and celebrated the birth of their son, Cash Alexander, last July. "He has been a great joy, beams Cylvick. "He is so fun and he’s been sleeping through the night."
The birth of Cylvick’s "ZipRider" came a few years earlier. The spring of 2001 found the adventurous duo in the heart of the Costa Rican rainforest. They’d enjoyed their zip-line ride over the forest canopy and wondered how the relatively simple technology could be adapted to mountain country.
"We thought the ski industry could really benefit from a little more excitement during the summer months," says Cylvick. "We realized the very first thing we’d need to design was some kind of an automated braking system instead of the traditional, free-wheeling zip lines with no brakes or safety back-ups."
The intrepid soul mates returned to Park City and pitched the idea to Vern Greco, president of Park City Mountain Resort. "He immediately saw the potential and we built the prototype ZipRider in our back yard in Tollgate Canyon," Cylvick recounts. "Vern rode it and loved it." The resort funded the first ZipRider, which opened to rave reviews on Labor Day weekend of 2002.
The opening marked the beginning of a wild ride for the Cylvick’s. Almost overnight, ski resorts all over the country were clamoring for ZipRiders. Two more rides were up and running at Park City’s Olympic park within the year. Cylvick’s ZipRiders are now found in Alaska and New Hampshire and more rides are under construction in California and Pennsylvania. The company has now gone international, with plans underway for ZipRiders in Russia and Czechoslovakia.
Cylvick’s newest company, ZipRescue, manufactures a modified ZipRider designed for chairlift evacuations. The innovative system is now in use at ski resorts in Utah, Colorado and at Turoa Ski Area in New Zealand.
"I’m passionate about creating, inventing and running our business." he says. "It’s been very exciting to have two very distinct careers here in Park City. The mental challenges of owning a business are fantastic and just as exciting as the challenges of river running."
It’s ironic that Cylvick, the man who said he never really wanted to be an engineer, is now at the forefront of emerging technology that can save lives and provide a radical recreational experience for people all over the world. Characteristically, he’s quick to attribute much of his new-found success to his wife. "Sarah and I have always been a team and I could never have done any of this without her."
In spite of his frenetic business ventures and newborn son, Cylvick still makes time for his favorite sports. "Skiing is still at the top of my list, but Sarah and I also enjoy mountain biking and trail running. I like to compete in the annual Park City steeple chase, he says.
In spite of many changes to the town since he’s been here, Cylvick says he still likes everything about Park City. "The growth has enabled my wife and me to start and run our businesses and enjoy a fantastic lifestyle," he concludes.
Age 41, married, one child
Favorite things to do: skiing, trail running, wake boarding
Favorite foods: traditional French cuisine
Favorite reading/authors: scientific journals, history by Jay Winik
Favorite music/performers: White Stripes, the Pixies. "I was a New York punk rocker, but now I listen to music mixes my wife makes."
Pets: Two dogs, Chandler a 12-year-old Border Collie, and Niko, a two-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback.