Tom Kelly: Adolph’s — ski racing’s gathering place |

Tom Kelly: Adolph’s — ski racing’s gathering place

Tom Kelly
Adolph Imboden, owner of Adolph's Restaurant, poses in the entryway of his establishment on Tuesday. Imboden plans on closing the restaurant at the end of April.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

Whenever I walk to my table at Adolph’s there’s a short period of distraction. Scanning the room, I step back in time to relive some of the great moments in ski racing history amid the hundreds pieces of memorabilia adorning the walls. Across the dozens of nations that have played host to the FIS Alpine World Cup around the world, few gathering spots have become the type of global Mecca as Adolph’s.

Adolph Imboden, who will turn out his last plate of Veal Adolph’s later this month at the restaurant that bears his name, grew up in Interlaken, Switzerland, during the ’50s as a passionate ski racing fan. As a young teen, he watched the legendary Austrian Toni Sailer win four straight Lauberhorn downhills in nearby Wengen.

“I was just totally taken by skiing,” he said, reminiscing this week. It was his uncle Christian who made sure young Adolph would ski on the alpine slopes of Wengen.

He brought that passion with him to America in the ’60s, hopscotching from Vermont’s Mt. Snow to the new resort of Vail in Colorado. He eventually worked for Austrian legend Pepi Gramshammer, and watched the very first FIS World Cup there in 1967, meeting Serge Lang, the father of the new “white circus” tour. While managing the dining room for the Lodge at Vail, he met the great racers of the time from Austria and other nations.

A random tip from a New Orleans guest about the new ski area Edgar Stern had purchased, Treasure Mountain, brought him to Park City in the early ’70s.

Adolph’s became not only one of Park City’s most distinguished fine-dining restaurants, but it became the local hangout for the U.S. Ski Team, which was growing its presence in town during the ’70s with the development of a training center on the mountain.

During that time, his friendship grew with the U.S. Ski Team’s German-born head coach, Willy Schaeffler. Adolph accompanied the legendary coach as he navigated the steep pitches that would become the World Cup race runs including the coach’s namesake Willy’s Run and the adjacent Erika’s Gold. Schaeffler regaled him with stories of the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley.

“I was fascinated with everything,” he said. “I couldn’t get enough.”

With the advent of the World Cup at Park City in March 1985, Adolph’s soon became a melting pot for sport leaders, coaches and some of the world’s greatest names in ski racing. Deals were brokered with sponsors at the Stammtisch. Tales were told at the bar over bottles of Stiegl.

The legendary Marc Girardelli, who won the 1985 World Cup slalom in Park City, and his father Helmut, became regulars. The incomparable Alberto Tomba, who swept to a pair of America’s Opening wins in 1991, spread his romantic charm with the staff.

“When he did his Rossignol Tour, Tomba came here every night for schnitzel,” said Adolph. “He wanted me to make a big one — falling off the plate.”

Austrian superstar Hermann Maier won the giant slalom in 1997, just months before his dramatic crash and double gold at the 1998 Olympics in Japan. Maier quickly befriended Adolph, borrowing his BMW (he told Adolph he had the same car back in Austria) for his late-night forays.

In 1997, Adolph moved his restaurant from the golf course to the U.S. Ski Team complex on Kearns. His menus sported the tag line, “Official Restaurant of the U.S. Ski Team.” It was a two-minute walk from the office to the bar. It became the scene for the team’s holiday party, with drop-in celebrities like Olympic medalists Phil and Steve Mahre. It was the congregation for the board before every annual meeting.

World Cup weekends didn’t just pit the Swiss versus the Austrians on the race course. “The Swiss would sit at one table in the bar and the Austrians at another,” said Adolph. “The Swiss, they didn’t party like the Austrians. Hermann and the Austrians would just have a great time every night — it was like a party drinking Stiegl, the Austrian beer. The next day he would go out and win a race again. It was just incredible.”

At the 2002 Olympics, the world came to Adolph’s table. From officials of the International Olympic Committee to the International Ski Federation, they dined in style. Every night for three weeks, Adolph and his team flipped 80 seats three times — that’s a lot of veal!

“We served so many celebrities, coaches and the press,” he recalled.

After the Olympics, the heyday of Daron Rahlves and Bode Miller was going strong. When World Cup abandoned Park City, Adolph would head over to Beaver Creek every December to watch Rahlves, Miller, Steven Nyman and the new kid from town, Ted Ligety.

In 2003, hometown hero Erik Schlopy won bronze in the St. Moritz World Championships. The banner from the celebration at Adolph’s still hangs on the wall.

Three years later, Rahlves won the fabled Lauberhorn downhill just a short train ride from Adolph’s boyhood home. Adolph was there.

Rahlves was a part of the Atomic Skis contingent that dined often. “Atomic would come in with a big table of six,” he said. “Then all of a sudden it was 20 in the middle of the dining room and they would say ‘Oh, we are going to have a party tonight.’”

“Daron would say, ‘We’ve got to see the Duke,’” said Adolph with a smile. “That means they had a little schnapps and left for a bit — no one knew what they were doing.” You can see the photos with the full-sized John Wayne cutout still hanging on the wall.

Just before the 2010 Olympics, Adolph bought Miller dinner one night and told him, “I think you’re going to win some medals in Vancouver.” Miller won gold, silver and bronze.

Adolph spent a lot of time on snow, as a skier and racer himself. It was not unusual to see him making turns with the great Stein Eriksen. At celebratory hometown parades, Adolph was always there.

One chef running a restaurant for 47 years is a long time. You can do the math on how many plates of raclette and gallons of fondue, or continue trying to figure out the salad dressing recipe.

But for me, I measure it in the number of medalists who have left with memories of a night out at Adolph’s, and for the solid gold heart that welcomed them into the hall.

Machs guet, gueti Zyt!

Wisconsin native Tom Kelly landed in Park City in 1988 (still working on becoming an official local). A recently inducted member of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame, he is most known for his role as lead spokesperson for Olympic skiing and snowboarding for over 30 years until his retirement in 2018. This is his 51st season on skis, typically logging 60 days in recent years.

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