Tom Clyde: Banking on another 50 years
December 21, 2013
Today is the actual 50th anniversary of the opening of the Park City resort. That wasn’t the beginning of skiing in Park City. The Snow Park resort had been in business over in lower Deer Valley for years. But it operated on a scale so small that it gets overlooked. What is now PCMR marked the beginning of the modern, commercial ski resort in town. It was a change as big as the discovery of silver a hundred years before.
It’s hard to imagine two less-similar pursuits than hard rock mining and frolicking in the snow. One is all about producing something tangible — hacking ore out of the mountain and turning it into tangible metal. Skiing is almost the reverse, taking large amounts of silver coin and converting it into memories. No wonder there were some cultural hiccups as the town made that transition.
I have only a few memories of Park City in the pre-skiing days. It was rough, with blocks of abandoned houses and a boarded-up Main Street. The former prosperity was obvious from the number and substance of the buildings. The decline was equally obvious, even to a little kid. Kamas seemed positively bustling by comparison.
Despite a lifetime of watching the transition, and having made a good living participating in it, I still don’t quite believe it. The other day I had the business channel on, and some financial guru was saying the wealthy Chinese are trying to get their money out of China. She said they are buying things like high-end U.S. real estate, specifically the Montage Deer Valley. That still sounds strange to me.
And it’s all based on skiing. When you think about it, skiing is really quite absurd. Many sports mimic skills that might have had some evolutionary value in defending against enemies, or conquering them, or catching a meal. Skiing is all about sliding downhill. It’s one-way transportation, at best. It exists because it’s fun, not because it’s useful.
The first year that Jupiter Bowl was open, a more athletic friend goaded me into trying it. The first run was a disaster, starting with a cart wheeling fall on the lip of the bowl, and ending with a slide-for-life all the way down the face. There was gear and clothing scattered all over, and if I had rolled another 50 feet, I think I would have been buck naked. Others rounded up my debris and dragged it down to me.
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Still alive, and completely humiliated, it seemed entirely reasonable to do it again. That was no more successful. Pride wouldn’t let me abandon the effort, though I really wanted a helicopter rescue. We went up for a third. It wasn’t pretty, but I got down in one piece with everything still attached. And I was hooked.
I ski about 100 days a year now. No two are alike. Even the same run will be different from day to day. The snow changes, the weather is different, the company (or lack thereof) changes up the pace. Just when I think I know every nook and cranny on the mountain, somebody will suggest a new line or skiing off a lift I normally don’t use, and it’s a fresh experience.
There is something spiritual about hiking Jupiter Peak and soaking in the view ranging 50, maybe 100 miles in all directions. There are days when the force of a big storm puts a sense of urgency into every turn, or the cold penetrates to the bone. Other days the sun and warmth of the coming spring, the smell of the pines, and the overall sense of sun’s embrace make it a gentle experience. It’s always beautiful up there, and always in different ways. This last week, being above the clouds was surreal.
Twenty years ago, I took up telemark skiing. It was something new, and leveled the playing field with a girlfriend who was more about social skiing than conquering the mountain. It took a season or two to get comfortable with it, but it added a new dimension to skiing. I clearly recall linking about 10 turns down Payday for the first time. My first thought was, "I’ve got to find a way to quit my job so I can do more of that."
It’s hard to imagine life without skiing. I fear it would have been a dismal affair, hermetically sealed under florescent lights, the modern equivalent of hard rock mining. Life without knowing the joy of powder skiing, the thrill of plunging off the cornice into some impossibly tight chute — I’m not sure that would be living at all.
To paraphrase Thoreau, the time spent skiing cannot be deducted from a man’s life. I’m banking on another 50 years at PCMR.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.