Tom Kelly: The smiles have returned

Tom Kelly
Guests break through the traditional “opening day” banner Sunday on the Canyons Village side of Park City Mountain Resort as part of the festivities marking the start of ski season. Hundreds took to the slopes covered with man-made white stuff on a bluebird day.
David Jackson/Park Record

I had a smile on my face as I drove down S.R. 224 on a crisp, cold morning Sunday. The sun had just come up over the horizon, warming the landscape on what would become another unseasonably warm day.

It mattered little to me that this year’s opening at Park City Mountain Resort was moved from the original base area over to Canyons Village. I’ve become accustomed to celebrating the opening of our local ski season on Saddleback with early runs down Kokopelli. So I was at home.

By the time I settled into the Canyons lot, it was already getting warm. And as I looked around, the smiles on everyone’s faces cast a jubilant aura on a blue-sky morning. What was most notable was that you could actually see the smiles this year.

As skiers, we lived through a pandemic season last year. We enjoyed being outdoors, arcing an edge down on hardpack and floating through powder. And we came out in record numbers!

But a key element of what we love about our sport was missing. Last year we couldn’t make a spontaneous drive to the mountain without a reservation. We weren’t able to share lift rides with strangers and show off our pride at being a Park City local. Most of all, we couldn’t see the smiles on the faces of kids of all ages.

As I grabbed my gear bag and began the parking lot boot-up process, a cheerful guest services hostess arrived like clockwork. “Blueberry muffins anyone?” she said, as she handed out treats.

The granola bar mornings are a staple in the Canyons lot. I grabbed one and tucked it away in my jacket pocket. It’s still there. But it’s not so much that skiers were able to grab a freebie — it’s more about the welcoming feel of a new season.

“How long did it take you to find all your gear last night?” she laughed, as she talked to the family next to me.

Walking to the cabriolet I was struck by the new signs with big bold letters: LOADING ALL LIFTS AND GONDOLA TO MAXIMUM CAPACITY. Well, now that’s a positive statement.

Park Record columnist Tom Kelly.
Courtesy photo

I climbed onto the cab with a bit of trepidation. What would the scene be like in the village?

My cabriolet partners included a local who boasted of already skiing three days at Alta. OK, you got me there, I only have one Alta day this season. The other was a woman from Virginia on the last day of their family ski vacation — one designed to introduce the kids to skiing. Oh, well. But she seemed happy, having enjoyed their time here in Utah. The kids were up for a quick lesson before rushing to an afternoon flight home.

Arriving in the plaza, I was treated to hot apple cider (which I somehow managed to keep in a spare hand all the way to the gondola) and an oatmeal raisin cookie. There was a pretty good line at the Red Pine Gondola already at 8:30 a.m. But I remembered those “maximum capacity” signs and breathed a sigh of relief. I got a spot in line, listening to a DJ playing live tunes in the plaza.

About this time it also struck me that I had just entered a singles line. They’re back! The line stretched all the way to the end of the corral. But as the gondola started carrying skiers, it was just minutes until the lines had evaporated. Eight persons in a gondola will do that!

No real surprise that I knew about half of my gondola partners. We shared stories of ski seasons past and our good fortune to be skiing again.

Those first corduroy turns down Kokepelli were rejuvenating. It was my second day of the season after hitting Alta’s opening. But this was my mountain, in my hometown. It was pretty sweet.

Meeting up with my ski buddies Tom and Bruce, we joked about “which run do you want to ski next?” Our chairlift chatter turned from ski gear to ski racing (did you hear that Mikaela interview?) and eventually to cooking and writing novels.

It was a happy-go-lucky day. It was a time to give thanks for our blessing of living in a ski town that has two remarkable resorts.

But most of all, it was good to see the smiles on people’s faces again.

Wisconsin native Tom Kelly landed in Park City in 1988 (still working on becoming an official local). Inducted into the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame in 2019, 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 52nd season on skis.


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