Handprints for Sam
As this year’s holiday period began, a pack of young skiers came charging down to the bottom of First Time at Park City Mountain. Dar Hendrickson’s Devo Alpine Team racers came in hot, flipping their skis on edge to hockey stop alongside the blue rail feature. Coach James Saarela’s Devo Freestyle kids came down too, not quite as fast but looking stylish with their moves.
Few of the young athletes knew exactly why they were there. But they all knew it was important.
Park City Mountain Terrain Park Manager Alex Falkenstein helped the youngsters put on blue mylar gloves and dip their hands into white paint. The kids clamored for position, placing their painted hands onto the blue rail frame. “Don’t rub up against the paint with your coats,” yelled one of the coaches. Still, a few kids picked up badges of honor – all with a bit of impish pride.
This week marks the fifth New Year since the passing of 15-year-old Parkite Sam Jackenthal. The rising freeski star was killed in a training accident in Australia in the summer of 2015.
As an athlete, Sam’s fearless approach to sport inspired his teammates. But beyond athletics, it was his personality and values-based, positive approach to life that has made him such a role model today. Today, the Live Like Sam Foundation is touching hundreds and hundreds of kids and growing. The Park City-based organization was established by Sam’s family to spread the positivity that Sam stood for.
“Sam’s absolute love for life infected those around him all for the better,” said freeskiing friend Jack Severson. “Sam always carried this confidence about him when faced with the unknown – you could follow that guy into anything and trust that you’d be alright.”
The kids with the blue gloves covered in white paint had heard about Sam, maybe from older brothers and sisters, or their coaches. It was hard for them to really connect with his story, at first. But they knew about the tricks he threw to win national titles. And now they were learning more about what he stood for as a person.
“Being able to see this rail in the park and go by it every single day is a reminder to keep that vibe and energy going – on and off the hill – to Live Like Sam,” said Saarela. “This is a great way to bring in these younger kids in who didn’t really know Sam to help pass on that positive attitude and keep the sport fun.”
“It is so good to see the impact Live Like Sam is having on our community,” said Chris Haslock, freeski director for Park City Ski & Snowboard. Chris was one of Sam’s coaches and was deeply impacted by his death, as was the entire youth sports community. “It was especially cool for Dar’s Alpine Devo Team to be here to join the cause. Although many of them never knew Sam, it’s cool to see Sam’s spirit living through them – the next generation of skiers.”
More friends wandered down to put their mark on the rail boards. The Live Like Sam features were first installed in the Park City terrain parks three years ago and quickly became popular. So they took a beating. Today was an afternoon to spruce them up with new paint and new handprints.
“It is awesome of Park City to give us the opportunity to not only help design the rail, but also paint it in remembrance of Sam,” said close friend and fellow athlete Colby Smith. “This project embodies the joy of skiing and celebrates Sam’s passion for park skiing. The main goal of this project is just to spread the enjoyment of skiing.”
Sam’s father, Ron, stood by and watched the procession come down to the rail. It was endearing to see the support. His mind drifted to that day in the Australian hospital a few summers ago when the end was near. A nurse asked him if he wanted Sam’s handprint. “It really meant nothing to me at the time,” said Ron. “My mind was on other things. But I figured she knew. And I told her, ‘yes.’ I’m so glad that I did.”
Today, Sam’s handprint is emblazoned in yellow on a series of rail features in Park City’s terrain parks. More importantly, though, are the dozens of others in white, packing each side of the blue railboards.
Park City was Sam’s home mountain. And the mountain has stepped up in a very genuine way to show its support for the vision of Live Like Sam.
“It has been a privilege to work with Ron and the Live Like Sam organization to bring the community together and dedicate these features in Sam’s memory,” said Falkenstein as he poured more white paint into the pan. “This is a true testament to Ron’s commitment of supporting local youth.”
Sam’s good friend Joe Lauer also stopped by. “This project is all about community,” he said. “It is really meaningful to his friends and family to have these rails repainted and retouched so they can return to the terrain park. The terrain park at Park City Mountain was Sam’s home, and now holds a special place for everyone he touched.”
“This has been a great feel good event for me,” said Sam’s father Ron, who was handing out stickers and greeting Sam’s friends. “And it’s a real act of kindness for Vail Resorts and Park City Mountain.”
I don’t ride the First Time lift all that much. But last weekend I spent the morning with our neighbor kids and it’s their ritual. As the lift cruised up over the terrain park I could see the familiar blue rail feature down below, firmly planted in the snow. On the side were dozens of handprints.
“Hey, kids, see that blue rail down below,” I shouted out to my lift mates. And I told them about Sam and the values by which he stood. It was just a small piece of our ski day. But as thousands more pass by this season, it will cause them to pause and think about why dozens of kids put their white handprint on the rail boards to remember a friend.
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 50th season on skis, typically logging 60 days in recent years.
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A bounty of powder days still means that, at some point, the snow needs to be plowed.