Park City welcomes a world of internationals
Hundreds of foreign workers come each winter
Lucia Aguero’s house shelters a microcosm of Park City’s multiculturalism. Living under its roof are people from Argentina, the Philippines, Turkey and Azerbaijan.
Aguero, who traveled from Argentina to work in Park City, said she is lucky to live in a place where she can discover customs from different cultures. Since moving to Utah, she has tasted Filipino cuisine. Her Turkish roommates have also taught her about their Muslim religion.
But staying in a household of people from various countries and continents wasn’t Aguero’s first introduction to the mountain town’s international community. The 24-year-old said she’s been meeting people from across the globe since she arrived.
Shortly after her plane landed, Aguero befriended someone from Mexico, who introduced her to the Tanger Outlets in Kimball Junction. She then spent a week at the Park City Hostel, where she met people who, like her, are here on the J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program, which allows about 300,000 foreign visitors to come to the U.S. each year to work or study and to experience American society. Three hundred of which usually land jobs at Deer Valley Resort.
“The thing I most like about being here is you can go to the market, or any place, and there are people from every country,” Aguero said.
Each winter, hundreds of international workers such as Aguero are employed at Park City’s resorts, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Aguero works front desk at Deer Valley’s Black Diamond Lodge. Other J-1 Visa workers — most of whom are college students from the southern hemisphere who come here during their summer break — prepare meals, give ski lessons or rent out sports equipment.
Lisa Angotti, Deer Valley’s recruiting manager, said the resort has depended on international staffers for 30 years.
“In the winter, most of our college students in the U.S. are in school.” Angotti said. “We do run a seven-day-a-week operation from the time we open on the first Saturday in December to the second weekend in April.”
American students, who would normally take the jobs Deer Valley offers, are usually away at school during colder months and unable to commit to operating a ski lift or washing dishes for an entire season.
Angotti said Deer Valley is fortunate to be able to take advantage of the J-1 Visa Internship and Work Travel Programs.
A part of history
But fulfilling the need for winter workers isn’t the only benefit the resort reaps from people on sojourn from countries such as Ireland, Australia, Peru and Brazil. Foreign visitors also introduce their traditions to Parkites.
“I think the J-1s receive a lot of American culture and get a diverse look at who we are,” said Megan Wagner, a recruiting coordinator for Deer Valley. “At the same time, they’re bringing their culture to us. That’s something we always appreciate. An example of that is in our employee dining rooms. Some of our J-1 students make the daily special. It might be a specialty from Argentina or Chile.”
Adopting customs from other communities is a long-time practice in Park City that traces back to its founding days.
A census provided by the Park City Museum shows 266 people from England moved to Park City in 1900. High numbers of Chinese immigrants and Swedish workers also came to the mining town that year.
Mahala Ruddell, the museum’s research coordinator, said each group contributed to Park City’s economy and culture.
“Miners from the United Kingdom contributed their expertise to the smooth function of local mines and machinery including the Cornish Pump in the Ontario Mine,” Ruddell said.
While the Brits were installing devices that pumped water from the Ontario Mine, the Scandinavians became the area’s earliest ski pioneers.
“In particular, they brought with them a rich heritage of ski jumping, a sport popular at Ecker Hill and Creole Hill in the early 20th century,” Ruddell said.
Many of Park City’s early Chinese immigrants, who came here to construct a line for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, settled in Park City.
“Though the community often faced prejudice and some discrimination, many were successful business owners, real estate agents and restaurateurs,” Ruddell said.
Unlike Park City’s early Chinese residents, international students and interns who come to Park City today are welcomed with open arms. Though many businesses do their best to help international employees get situated, some people come across difficulties unique to ski towns.
Finding housing, which is sparse in Park City, is one of them.
Sofia Gonzalez and her boyfriend, Matias Heck, came to Park City from Argentina. Employed at a local hotel, they spent a week in Park City on the lookout for housing. Unable to find long-term shelter, they eventually made the call to go home.
Twenty-two-year old Paulina Balestrini, who is living in Park City for her second winter, said the roommate she had last year was homesick, which can also cause problems.
Balestrini, a ski instructor, said she has been lucky each year to have found housing in Park City before coming to Utah. And while Aguero was anxious about finding somewhere to sleep when she first arrived, she said her bosses at Deer Valley were supportive and tried to help in whatever way they could. She ended up finding a room by happenstance when she met someone at 7-Eleven who knew of an opening.
Aguero still depends on her employers, even if it’s just for laughs. When she talked to The Park Record at the beginning of January, Aguero — donning a work uniform comprised of a red-collared shirt, slacks and a black vest — stood behind the hotel’s front desk, joking with her supervisors.
Even though she was there to work, the extra flare she added to her outfit (lots of jewelry and a floral scarf) somehow symbolized Deer Valley’s practice of encouraging their employees to not be so serious and to take in the excitement and mystery of being in a place Aguero thinks looks like the inside of a snow globe.
A time for learning
While Aguero is in Park City to experience independence in a foreign culture, Hermann Sanders is here to educate himself. Part of an intern program, Sanders, from Colombia, works in the kitchen at Deer Valley’s Snow Park Lodge. He recently graduated from school and is in Park City to gain culinary experience.
“I was looking to get more experience from all over the world,” Sanders said. “We have this agency in Colombia that helped us come here.”
His favorite part of cooking is making sauces. He said he has learned the secret ingredient to a good sauce is time, not to be confused with thyme.
Already wanting to return
Aguero and Sanders said they like living in a place piled high with snow. They said they wouldn’t mind coming back.
Pete Stoughton, the director of programs for the Christian Center of Park City, said the center welcomes repeat visitors to its Tuesday Nite Dinners each year.
Irina Del Garpio, from Peru, has been coming to Park City, and the dinners, for three winters. For the most recent dinner, she watched Stoughton, wearing rose-colored glasses, impersonate a Beatle (It was ‘60s night).
Del Garpio said she isn’t looking through rose-colored glasses when she explains the town to her friends in Peru when trying to convince them to come for a winter season.
She also added she has met people from her home country she, otherwise, never would have met.
Across the room in the Park City Library, which is where Tuesday Nite Dinners occur, Tayna Bilibio met Anna Suliman for the first time.
Bilibio, who works at West Gate, was excited to chat with another person from Brazil.
Although she wasn’t at the Tuesday Nite Dinner, Balestrini said she hopes to convince more people from her home country to work in Park City in the winter. The Deer Valley ski instructor wants Park City to have an Argentinian presence.
“I have some friends who are coming with me next year,” Balestrini said. “My sister is also coming next year, which means there will be two of us.”
Ruddell said immigrants swaying family members to move to the mining town was also a trend occurring in Park City more than 100 years ago.
From then to now, Park City will always have a strong international presence, Ruddell said.
“No part of our town’s history is untouched by immigrants and international workers,” she said.
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The group that represents businesses in the Main Street core of Park City formally outlined a request to close the shopping, dining and entertainment strip to traffic on Sundays in the summer and early fall.