Park City welcomes legacy of Tori Pillinger, local skiing phenomenon
Skier helped put Park City on the map with her fearless racing
In one week it will be 37 years since the first Jans Winter Welcome.
The fundraiser, which supports youth sports programs through the Youth Sports Alliance, will continue like it has since it was created, but will also take a moment to recognize two key figures who died this year – Jan Peterson, the sporting good store’s namesake and founder of the event, and Tori Pillinger, the skiing prodigy who became the Winter Welcome’s original cause and the fearless daughter of a single mom.
Those that were close to Pillinger, who died of breast cancer on Aug. 26, remember her for being gutsy, charming and vivacious.
She was also a preternatural downhill skier, who, as a child, was too poor to support her skill.
“She just couldn’t afford it,” said Andrea Terwillegar, her long-time friend and daughter of Peterson. “She didn’t have equipment, didn’t have anything.”
Terwillegar said her father gave Pillinger a pair of goggles, then continued to give her small items to help her compete.
“They would find mittens in the free box,” Terwillegar said. “She didn’t care, she just wanted to go ski and she went skiing every day after school.”
So she and about 50 other kids would meet with Bob Marsh, the Park City Ski Team instructor, to practice ski racing.
Marsh said Pillinger’s talent was hard to miss.
“You know, it was pretty clear from the very beginning she had that sparkle in her eye to achieve things,” he said. “That certainly set her above a lot of other people.”
In particular, Marsh said Pillinger was cool under pressure, and loved to race.
“(She was) always that one that would stick her nose out further than most other people,” he said. “That was certainly realized at an early age when speed never bothered her, taking risks never bothered her, which was why she was identified at an early age as someone that could handle certain races and terrain.”
Marsh said it was clear to Peterson that, without proper funding, her talent would go unrealized, so he organized the first Winter Welcome.
John McMillian, a Park City resident and chairman of Marker ski bindings, also recognized Pillinger’s talent.
“The very first (Winter Welcome), he bought all the auction items twice,” Terwillegar said. “Then the next year they had a little bigger event. Then a little bigger event.”
Pillinger went on to compete with the U.S. Ski Team in Giant Slalom and Super G.
In 1987 Pillinger started preparing for the 1988 Winter Olympics as the national Super G champion after taking sixth at the World Cup in Val D’Isere, France, the year before.
During a race in Leukerbad, Switzerland, Pillinger lost her balance over a bump as she approached the final gate and went sailing into a steel post.
Terwillegar saw the crash on TV.
“I thought she was dead,” she said. “She hit the pole, there was a huge scream. … Basically broke her back, compound fractured her femur, blew out her knee.”
Terwillegar added that Pillinger was such a high-profile athlete for Utah that the governor sent a military medical plane to fly her home.
After a lengthy recovery, Pillinger returned to skiing with the U.S. Ski Team, but retired in 1989.
She moved to California and continued to live an active life, working as an emergency room nurse and a rafting guide where she met her husband, Marek Robinson, and eventually started a family and became a mother to two daughters.
Though she no longer lived in Park City, she continued to be influential in its ski scene. Marsh said she frequently made trips back to support the Park City Ski Club, to speak about skiing, and to give back to those that had helped her.
Jesse Hunt, executive director of Park City Ski and Snowboard, concurred.
“She was the kind of person that represented the program well in both her ski racing and who she was,” he said. “Even since leaving the community, she’s made an effort to come back and give back.”
In 2011 she underwent chemo therapy for breast cancer, and kept a blog chronicling her life.
In May she added her last update, in which she announced she had only months to live, and so she took it as an opportunity to make amends, see the world and embrace those close to her.
Her friends remember her through the slogan #liveliketori, a shorthand for how she engaged with the world.A scholarship has been set up in her honor.
“That’s the kind of person she was,” Marsh said. “She was all of those things that any parent would love to say, ‘I’m proud to be associated with Tori’ and I know we all are.”
A celebration of Pillinger’s life will be held at the Stein Eriksen Lodge the day after the Oct. 28 Winter Welcome from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Winter Welcome starts at 6 p.m. at the Stein Eriksen Lodge at Deer Valley Resort.
The Park City High School girls golf team took second in the Class 4A state championship tournament on Thursday. It was the team’s fifth consecutive time as runner-up.