Red Card Roberts
Imagine living in New York and never having seen the Statue of Liberty. Or residing in Paris yet somehow having neglected to check out the Eiffel Tower. Or spending a few years in Rome but never bothering to pass by the Coliseum. Sounds downright blasphemous, right?
But a good number of Park City locals are guilty of something very similar. We have access to a national treasure right in our own backyard, yet most of us just drive by it every day without a second thought. It’s the Utah Olympic Park (UOP), and to say it’s worth frequenting is the biggest understatement since the pilot of the Hindenburg said, "I smell gas."
I’ll be the first to admit that the UOP hasn’t really been on my radar. I’ve lived here for nearly ten years and I’d only been once, for a meeting. But last week I had some friends from the UK in town and was looking for ways to entertain them. A bobsled and skeleton ride seemed like something a few Brits might appreciate. And they were "chuffed as nuts" when I told them it was part of their itinerary.
All three of them Aaron, Geoff and Phil declared the bobsled ride their favorite part of their Park City vacation. (Although, if you do the bobsled, my one word of caution is this: During the pre-ride briefing, don’t dismiss the "you get up to 5 Gs" as no big deal because, after all, your cell phone is 4 Gs and you can handle it just fine on vibrate mode. Rookie mistake.)
As the Brits’ official tour guide, I was a bit embarrassed to admit I’d never taken advantage of the UOP. But I’m far from alone. Even Jennifer Clarke, the UOP’s media director, admits the first time she visited the park was for her job interview there.
"We’d love to see our neighbors here more. We have made a focused effort in the past couple of years to get the word out to our local residents that Utah Olympic Park has something for everyone," she told me.
And indeed it does. The day the Brits left town, my 62-year-old parents arrived (I now have a new respect for those in the hotel industry). Given the rave reviews from the Brits, I took my mum and dad to the UOP for a skeleton ride, and at least one of them really dug it. (As for Pops, let’s just say I’ve seen calmer people in an electric chair.)
Regardless, the entire reason I took them was because, the week before, the Brits couldn’t stop talking about the experience.
"Bloody oohsim," was their unified conclusion. And they were each in complete amazement that I didn’t cruise down the UOP’s track on a semi-weekly basis.
And while that might be a bit more often than practical, as locals we really should support the UOP more. At some point, it just becomes wallpaper on our drive into town and we lose sight of what a true treasure it is to have an official United States Olympic Committee Training Site in our backyard.
What’s even cooler? Athletes of all kinds are generally training there and you’re bound to run into one or two while visiting.
Yes, I realize it’s Park City and you can hang with your choice of gold medalists anytime you want. But that’s the point: Very few other towns in the world offer that, and we should be more supportive of the UOP a place that makes it possible.
Jimmy Shea, 2002 skeleton gold medalist, even met the Brits and me on the track before our ride. He took video for us, played photographer and even gave us a few pointers.
"Just lay there like a sack of potatoes and hold on," he said. Which I couldn’t help but think was slightly simplifying the 50 mile-an-hour ride. But in truth, that’s really all there was to it. And there’s pretty much nowhere else in the world where the best in the world is going to give up an hour of his Saturday to make sure a local’s UK buddies enjoy his sport.
That’s the kind of thing that makes Park City so special. And it’s the reason we should all embrace the UOP as our own iconic "must see" landmark.
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Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, public-relations guru and globe-trotting thrill seeker. In a former life she worked in TV news, both as a reporter and sports anchor. She has bagged peaks on six continents, kayaked the Zambezi and Nile rivers, swam with great white sharks in South Africa and tracked mountain gorillas in Rwanda. She was once very nearly sold for 2,000 camels while traveling through Morocco.
Anita Lewis, Brent Ovard and Travis English were influential in shaping how residents interact with the county.