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Tom Kelly: The joy of being Santa

Santas skiing at The Canyons during Christmastime in 2008.
Courtesy of Tom Kelly

In today’s world, it’s a bit lonely riding chairlifts. One of my great joys as a local is sharing a 5-minute ride with strangers who share my own passion and have chosen to visit our town’s resorts. It’s an opportunity to meet fascinating people and to share some community pride. That will come back in time. So, for today, we are left with that chairlift time to conjure up memories on our own.

It was a stormy day last week as I rode silently up Carpenter Express at Deer Valley looking out along the ridgelines toward Jupiter Peak, watching a storm roll in. It was a typical mid-December day as the winter snowpack was starting to evolve.

It was a time to think of Christmas looming ahead — gifts and plans. How can we best engage with the grandkids? Which days will my passes allow me to ski? Most of all, it was a time to reflect on Christmases past.



As skiers and Parkites, we have a diversity of ways we approach the holidays. In our 30-plus years here, sometimes we have escaped and sometimes we have embraced. There were the many years we escaped for some on-snow Jeeping in Moab — it’s a time of year when you can have the town and trails to yourself. Floating on 4 inches of snow atop a sandy trail in Mill Canyon is pretty close to powder skiing!

And there were the years when our grandkids lived in SoCal and we would retreat to Oceanside, walking along the beach in the constant 65 degrees and fog. It’s not exactly a white Christmas but there were some redeeming qualities, albeit sans snow.



Then there was the famous Christmas of 1989 when a few feet of fluffy Greatest Snow on Earth blanketed the Wasatch. It was Christmas Eve in Scott’s Bowl when I traversed the whoop-dee-doos along the ridgeline — somehow whooping when I should have dooed. I knew I had broken something. But I couldn’t see how I could be tobogganed out from there. So I floated down through the 3 feet of fresh to the Thaynes lift and self-rescued myself up to the patrol shack.

Park Record columnist Tom Kelly.

“I have some good news and some bad news,” I told my wife when I called for a ride to the clinic. “The good news, well, I think I saw God on those runs down Portuguese Gap. The bad news, well, I broke my leg.” A few hours later I hobbled into St. Mary’s chapel on crutches for Christmas Eve mass.

Without question, skiing as Santa has its advantages. You’re pretty much everyone’s friend. And you’re clearly in line for certain favors. But, skiing as Santa also comes with responsibilities.”

But there are few memories more vivid for me than Santa on skis. It’s fun to don the suit and attach the beard each year and rip turns incognito. Without question, skiing as Santa has its advantages. You’re pretty much everyone’s friend. And you’re clearly in line for certain favors. But, skiing as Santa also comes with responsibilities.

There’s an art to being Santa! A good Santa never breaks form! When you slide onto a chairlift with a couple of kids, you are, all of a sudden, the REAL Santa. It doesn’t really matter which runs you ski as Santa. But you better be sure you can ski them well. Everyone will be watching! If you can’t ski bumps, stay out of them! And there’s nothing more elegant than Santa ripping big GS turns on an open slope, with an occasional launch over a little rise.

There’s much joy in skiing as Santa!

So this brings me to one of the greatest events of all time that is now, alas, just a memory. Remember Santa Ski Free Day at Canyons? On a mid-December Saturday (yes, a Saturday), Canyons offered free lift tickets (yes, free lift tickets) to anyone who showed up in full Mr. or Mrs. Claus attire (elves also permitted). All you needed to do was to show up for the group photo and ski a couple runs on Saddleback for the resort photographers.

A popular activity at ski areas, Canyons really did it well. It began in 2005 — the brainchild of American Skiing Company. It wasn’t long before dozens of Santas showed up. Soon the number burgeoned to 50 and to nearly 100. My favorite entourage was the family from Orem — Mr. and Mrs. Claus, with the kids as elves and reindeer. It was a red wave weaving down the slopes.

But, alas, all good things come to an end. After 10 great years, Santa Skis Free Day became just a memory.

On Christmas Day this Friday, you’ll likely run into Santa taking a break from his long night of driving the reindeer around the world to sneak in a few turns. Who knows, I may even dust off the red and white flannel myself.

From all of us skiing Santas, Merry Christmas! Enjoy the holidays in our wonderful resort town.

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 will be his 51st season on skis, typically logging 60 days in recent years.


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