Tom Kelly: This is what it takes to get a ski area like Park City Mountain Resort ready for the season
It was a bluebird day at Park City Mountain Resort — hard to believe it was just the first few days of December with so much terrain available. Park City’s Vice President of Mountain Operations Brian Suhadolc and I slid into the gate at the bottom of the Silverlode six pack. A voice shouted out from behind us, “Hey, the mountain looks great! Thanks a lot.”
It was a random shoutout from a skier. But for Brian, the one responsible for managing the largest lift-served ski resort in America, it meant something.
“You do feel proud when you hear that from the guests,” he said as we boarded the lift.
Between PCMR and Deer Valley Resort, Parkites have more than 9,000 skiable acres of world-class resorts at their disposal, all just a few minutes from home. Nowhere else in America does that exist. This week, PCMR was operating 16 lifts and 85 trails. Deer Valley opened last weekend with 42 trails and 16 lifts. Not bad for early December.
Suhadolc knows every nook and cranny of the mountain. We started out with a quick shot up Payday to Bonanza, then a nice cruiser down Homerun and Claimjumper to Silverlode.
“When we opened Silverlode last week, we opened with the entire pod,” he said. “I can’t remember us ever doing that. With the snow we had and the work the snow cats did in track packing, the ability to get the whole pod open was awesome.”
The New Jersey native who grew up skiing at Stowe is yet another example of a skier who moved out to Park City to work for one season. Now, 29 years later, he’s still here.
In his first season at the mountain, he started in snowmaking. Suhadolc has memories of his first America’s Opening — still on Willy’s — when he boot packed bottom to well up past the dogleg four times hauling hose to get the run prepared for the World Cup.
“Snowmaking has really evolved over the years,” he said. Today’s guns can be fine tuned to produce far better snow. Some fixed guns are now adjusted from a control center on the mountain. Despite Utah’s natural snowfall, snowmaking is more important than ever — both for early-season opening and longevity of the season.
“Right now we need to compress the natural snow to ensure it lasts,” he said.
As we ride in the chairlift, Suhadolc recounts the work that goes into getting a resort open each season and the accomplishment the team feels as every new piece of terrain opens.
“Literally the day after we close we start to tear apart our lifts to do maintenance — and our snow cats and snowmobiles,” he said. “The maintenance teams play a huge role in getting the place open. They’re behind the scenes so people don’t see them. But what they do is unbelievable.”
It was opening day for McConkey’s, benchmark terrain, so naturally riders were flocking to the ridgeline. As we hit the lift line another voice shouted out to Suhadolc.
“Hey, is that my buddy Bri?” a snowboarder yelled. “First day out — it’s amazing.” It was one of Suhadolc’s lift maintenance employees in plain clothes, taking a morning off for some early December pow. He had already done four laps in McConkey’s. It was just 9:50 a.m.
“It’s so great when the employees can get out there to enjoy it.”
Suhadolc is one of a handful of employees who have transcended three resort ownership groups, from the Badami and Cumming families to Vail Resorts today. He carries the experience of an evolving mountain. But a constant for him is the people.
“To me it’s all about your attitude,” he said. “I’m a pretty positive person. I look for that aspect in the people who work on our mountain.
“You can see it in the snowmakers who are genuinely excited to be out there — and that’s not an easy job — you have to like working outdoors.”
As we headed up the lift, he pointed over to Jupiter Bowl. Six weeks earlier, after an October snowfall, ski patrollers had hiked up to Jupiter to break up the new snow and help it set, to better prepare it for the real snowfall that would come in late November.
So what does it take to open the door every November? With 43 lifts across the canyons and ridgelines from King’s Crown to Condor, there are nearly 50 miles of wire rope hauling 3,400 chairlifts and gondola cabins. Snow guns dot the landscape. So it’s no easy feat to flip a switch and turn on an entire resort. And with every new pod of terrain, skiers are ready and waiting.
“It’s iconic when you go up to ski 9990 or Jupiter and you’re third chair.” Suhadolc said. “Back when I was younger, I was that guy.”
We looked up at Jupiter from the McConkey’s ridgeline. A rope line was still in place closing the boot pack trail.
“Hey, when is this story running” he asked. Looking around, he whispered and winked — “don’t tell anyone but I think we’ll open 9990 tomorrow.”
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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