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Park City sleighs get national attention

Dan Bischoff, Of the Record staff

Huge Belgian horses, Bill and Merle, stood as grand kings of the frosted Weber Canyon on Wednesday afternoon.

Their crowns of harnesses, bridles and reins were highlighted by fresh powder that clung to the trees, enveloped the ground and swathed their gigantic hooves.

The horses, owned by Sheldon Thompson and used by the Rocky Mountain Sleigh Company, impressed Ron Claiborne, news anchor for ABC News’ weekend edition of Good Morning America. He sat at the helm of the sleigh and learned how to command the animals and drive a group of kids for an episode, which will run Dec. 9 or 10.

With a flick of his wrist, the reins popped on Bill and Merle’s backs. The sinewy Belgians’ shoulder muscles rippled as their feet stomped through the snow, propelling the sleigh onward through the Stillman Ranch. Despite biting cold, the children, who are grandchildren of Ed Baltz, owner of Rocky Mountain Sleigh Company and a 26-year Park City resident, laughed and wore smiles from ear-to-ear because they knew they would be on TV.

"I loved it," Claiborne said afterward. "The horses are powerful, but easy to control."

This wasn’t the first time Baltz’s sleigh company, which originally started sleigh rides at the Park Meadows Golf Course in 1994, received national attention however.

A year ago, USA Today ranked his sleigh company as one of the top 10 in the country. More recently, Triple A named them as one of the top five across the U.S. Baltz hopes this recent exposure will help promote his growing recreation enterprise.

"Right after that we got a phone call from ABC to do this. I’ve never had national TV coverage so it will be interesting to see what happens."

It began humbly. About 16 years ago, Baltz started giving horseback rides to customers at Park City ski resorts.

"When we started, we just felt there was a need in the late ’80s. We felt there was no horseback riding in Park City. We thought that might be something to enjoy and something people would expect in a western town," Baltz said.

He started trail rides, which has led to acquiring more land and more opportunities. Now, Baltz and his employees take people on pack trips, fishing and hunting trips, snowmobile rides and other adventures along with the horse and sleigh rides year-round. His trips in the Uinta Mountains include such things as archery, line dancing, horseshoes and gold-panning and even wedding parties.

He has hosted visitors from all over the world for outdoor recreation, showing them the wonders of the mountains. Baltz’s company, Rocky Mountain Recreation has two main branches through the U-Bar Ranch (the Uinta drainage of the south slopes) and the Stillman Ranch (the North Slope of the Uintas) consisting of a total of more than 175,000 acres.

"We built it from nothing," Baltz said, referring to his family. "There isn’t anyone that has the myriad of activities that we have."

Baltz and his employees share the same love for their work. Each employee has a passion for the outdoors and spending time in the environment, but, he says there are other attributes, which are essential

"It’s a very unique business and it takes certain kind of people to do this," Baltz said.

People that guide and work in recreation must have a love for people and make friends easily. Baltz takes joy in showing other people "something that they don’t experience in their everyday life," he said.

"The biggest thing for me is the people I meet," said Shawn Christensen, a two-year employee who works with the horses. "You meet really cool people and get to know a lot about them."

"It’s a people-oriented business," Baltz said. "We make long-term friends. That’s what makes this fun. People come from the big city and it’s fun helping people have a good time. If you don’t like this, you’re in the wrong business."

Reservations are recommended. For more information or to reserve a trip, call 645-7256 or log on to http://www.rockymtnrec.com.


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