Bringing Home Gold from Down Under

DSC_9382Stephani Victor is a 5-time Paralympic Medalist and World Champion. She will be sharing her experiences on the road as the clock counts down to the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

Not everyone has Alpine World Cup racing on his or her mind at the start of August, but I did as we headed to New Zealand and Australia for the opening World Cup races.  It seems like just yesterday I was sitting on the deck at Royal Street Café enjoying my summer favorite, the Asian Grilled Chicken salad, and mentally packing my winter ski clothing.  I have trained in New Zealand with the team many times in the past, but World Cup racing “Down Under” would be a first.

The top of the ski area in Coronet Peak overlooking Queenstown.

The top of the ski area in Coronet Peak overlooking Queenstown.

Our World Cup circuit began just outside the tranquil waterfront village of Queenstown at Coronet Peak Ski Area with two Slalom races as part of the Audi Quattro New Zealand Winter Games line-up.  After my Paralympic Slalom win in the 2006 Torino Olympic Games, I have had a bit of a reputation for being a Slalom specialist, but even I had no expectations of winning on the first day or at all.  We just hoped I’d make the podium and start the season off with a good feeling.  New Zealand had reported their warmest winter ever and although the snow coverage started out well in June, by the time we arrived early August the base depth was dwindling.  If it weren’t for the freezing temperatures overnight, we may not have had any racing at all.  The steep T-lift access to the top of the racecourse made me long for the comfortable chairlift rides in the Wasatch.  Being on an island, in the Southern hemisphere in the middle of our summer looking at the sun on the what feels like the wrong side of the sky results in a less than comfortable feeling for ski racing (which in my mind was a great preparation for the Paralympic Games in Sochi less than 200 days away).  Unlike the beautiful corduroy groomers I am so fond of early morning on Big Stick, the snow under foot sounded more like metal grinding on metal because it hardly resembled snow, it was blank ice.  Fortunately, I was taught by my coach (and husband) to love all conditions both snow and weather.  “Skiing is outside” he would say which meant “deal with it.” The sun was warm and the visibility great.  From the top of the racecourse I looked out over the valley and took in the views of the other mountaintops in background hovering over beautiful Queenstown and the lake.  I thought to myself “I am in New Zealand!  Racing!” and I pushed out of the start with such excitement it was as if I was beginning my first season and not my last.

Queenstown Award CeremonyI have had the great privilege of being a member of Team USA for 12 years.  I have competed in three Paralympic Games starting in Salt Lake City (incredible to race at home), and I have exceeded my performance at every Paralympics by finishing with my best Games ever in Vancouver (2010) where I won the first Gold medal in the Super Combined and took home two silvers in Giant Slalom and Slalom.  How could I possibly top that in Sochi?  Well, for my last Games I am going to give it all I have.  For me nothing has been more important than the support of my loyal friends and sponsors who are there for me to shake off the disappointments and celebrate with me in times of victory.

Mt Hutt ski area before the Super Combined race.

Mt Hutt ski area before the Super Combined race.

I won all four of the World Cup races in New Zealand, two Slalom races in Coronet Peak followed by a Super G and Super Combined in Mt Hutt.  For all the hours I discussed with my sports psychologist how to build confidence, I learned that “winning” World Cup races really helped!

IMG_0520#1I never get tired of hearing the National Anthem and it really means something to know that your athletic performance is the reason why you are hearing it.  Each time the American flag was raised and the song began to play I would close my eyes and beam my gratitude and thanks all around me.  Grateful that I have not lived my life “confined to a wheelchair” as I was originally diagnosed after my accident.  Grateful that I am healthy, strong and able to compete with and sometimes win against people much younger than me.  Grateful that my husband is my coach and continues to share this wonderful journey that takes us to every corner of the globe…. to SKI!

Marcel and Stephani

Top of the ski area in Thredbo Ski Area, Australia.

Top of the ski area in Thredbo Ski Area, Australia.

Next stop was Thredbo, Australia for four more World Cup races.  Please know in advance I spent five hours a day 5-days a week (sometimes six) this summer working with my athletic trainer, Adam Friedman, in Gold’s Gym in preparation for this season.  Training pays off.  You have to train strength, conditioning, skiing and your mind.  Ski races are won by hundredths of a second and your mental edge may be your best skier’s edge.  We landed in Sydney and had two beautiful days off in the city to explore and coincidently celebrate my birthday.  How wonderful to bask in the sun on Manly Beach and rest in preparation for our next race series.  We drove six hours southeast towards Thredbo and it was very apparent we were in a different world, even different from the island world of New Zealand.  Not only was it the hottest winter in New Zealand, Australia shared the same warm winter record.  We arrived in the Jindabyne Sport Reaction Center which looked more like a cross between a campground and an army basic training facility but it would be our home for the next week.  All the teams from around the world were stationed in various cabins around the campus sharing the same dining hall, tuning rooms and outdoor track. The people there hardly seemed like ski racers in their tank tops and gym shorts roaming the grounds looking for Kangaroos.  I couldn’t imagine we would see a Kangaroo much less have a family hop right past our front door, but they did!

DSC_9822The best time to see a Kangaroo is at dusk or sunrise and little did we know we would be up before the Kangaroos to make our World Cup races happen.  Up at 4 a.m., I would do my morning warm-up routine of Kundalini yoga, eat breakfast and load the vans.  Driving in the pitch dark up to ski area my teammates and I shared the task of looking for Kangaroos on the side of the road like deer.  They tend to jump out in the road and freeze like a “kangaroo in headlights” (maybe that will catch on).

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 5.30.53 PM - Version 2Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 1.47.08 PMAt the base the snow looked thin, okay you could see patches of dirt and some runs no one bothered to do anything more than let the grass grow.  But the World Cup race run started at the summit and to our surprise, a whopping 2,000 meters in elevation. We would have to start the inspection in the dark, loading the chairlift at 6:30 a.m. and start the race at 7:30 a.m. to finish the race before the sun turned everything to mashed potatoes.  All the racers were willing to start early and thank goodness it froze at night other wise as we discovered on the last day, the racing would not happen.

DSC_98967 medals Austalia World CupFull of confidence and excitement I raced the first Giant Slalom as if I had nothing to lose.  I didn’t expect to win, how could I keep this winning streak going?  But I did; I won all three of the three World Cup races in Australia to bring home a total of seven gold medals and memories to last a lifetime.  I am so infused with energy and excitement for this season.  It is the truth, I am fortunate to ski all over the world but every time I come home, I know I have arrived at the best place on earth.  I can’t wait to ski in Park City!

Paddleboarding Birthday Party

Lance bdayOur first stand up paddleboard experience was such a rousing success, that no sooner were our feet dry, and lunch eaten, than Lance decided he wanted to celebrate his impending 10th birthday by inviting a few pals to try the sport with him and then have lunch at the Deer Valley Grocery~Café.

I, for one, could not think of a more fun way to celebrate my firstborn son’s first decade. Trent Hickman, owner of Park City SUP, was thrilled. “I love when people get excited about the sport after the first try,” he said. “I can’t wait for the party!”

paddlesWe booked one board per child, and one for me, for one hour. I figured that it made sense to have an adult on the water, and since Trent would likely be on and off throughout the hour, tending to other guests—and I’m crazy about SUP—I nominated myself as the adult. Secretly, I was hoping that Seth would get up the nerve to paddle solo, and kick his old mom off the water, but I didn’t tell him that. Fact is, he announced up front that he preferred to “ride with the professional.”

trent bdayIt was, by far, one of the easiest birthday parties I have ever planned. The team at Deer Valley Grocery~Café made it easy—Janine (DVGC Manager) and I sat down with a menu a couple of weeks ahead of time, and scrutinized it for party-friendly options.

Kid-favorite/birthday party staple pizza? Check.
Lemonade? Check.
Unexpected fun nosh in the form of house-made potato chips in multiple colors and flavors? Check.
Menu settled, the countdown began.

About a week before the party, Lance got into the habit of checking the weather forecast. I keep trying to explain to him that “forecasts” in Utah are more like “suggestions of what could happen at any given time on any given day,” because the weather can change three or more times in an hour. (There’s a reason that locals wear out the phrase, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.”) Still, there were thunderstorms predicted on the day of the party. I reasoned that we needed only one hour of clear weather—the hour we planned to be on the water. Fortunately, the morning of the party dawned just partly-cloudy, with the storm clouds hovering just outside of Deer Valley Resort.

kids bdayAnd so, we paddled. The kids assembled—most had paddled previously—and Trent offered a few words of safety instruction, and we were off. Seth announced to Trent, “I’ll ride with you.” Trent, as I suspected, needed to tend to business on the shore, so he suggested that Seth ride on mine. And, just like that, the kid sold me up the proverbial (and literal) river. “I don’t trust her, she’s not a professional!” Quick-thinking Trent said, “She’s better than a pro—she’s your MOM!” and Seth climbed aboard. I have never had more fun supervising a party—just watching the kids invent games while they paddled, “accidentally” fall into the water, and even take sunbathing breaks (I’m looking at you, Anna!) was a hoot.

Seth bdayThe hour-long rental was perfect—the kids worked so hard on the boards that they were wiped out after about 45 minutes, and then splashed around and goofed off for another 10 or 15 minutes before we dried off for lunch. Trent took me aside and said, “I hope we can get Seth out a couple more times this summer—he’s on the verge of gaining the confidence he needs to paddle solo, and I’d love to see that happen.” I made a mental note to use that little tidbit to entice Seth to keep at it.

candlesAbout five minutes into lunch, those storm clouds moved in, and rained onto the deck awning that covered our tables. The kids told jokes, did magic tricks and generally ignored the weather while the adults shook our heads in amazement at the luck of it all. Pizza and chips were consumed (the grownups enjoyed the DVGC Burger—delish!) and by the time we served cake, the weather had cleared.

Birthday groupAfter lunch, we rounded up the kids for a “hike” along the paths around the ponds, and a couple of photo ops. I had to take a moment to look at my child and his wonderful friends—at least one of whom he’s known since birth. Jeff and I looked at them—and then at each other—in amazement. How lucky we are that our children are growing up in a community where they bond with their friends over interesting outdoor sports, and laugh uproariously while they do it. The fact that we have Deer Valley as our playground all-year is an amazing thing, and one we don’t take for granted.

Adventures on Lost Prospector Trail

m-lostprOften, I have guests who are looking for a mellow hiking trail. And while I am always quick to tell them about some of the easier hikes at Deer Valley Resort (in large part because they all start and finish at Royal Street Cafe, and nothing’s better after a hike than an alfresco Bison Burger and an iced tea–or one of the cafe’s award-winning cocktails while the resort is open during the summer season). But I’m also a fan of some of the amazing views of town you can get from trails all around Park City. One of my favorites is Lost Prospector. You can start at the bottom of the Aerie or from the Rail Trail and catch views of the ski resorts, City Park, Park City High School, Round Valley, and beyond.

IMG_0883It is a great kid-friendly hike, and we typically include it on our itinerary while entertaining out-of-town guests. At the viewpoint for the Park City landmark on Treasure Mountain, the kids took turns in photo-ops designed to make it look like they were holding the letters in their hands.

IMG_0886Granted, on one of my first outings of the summer, I took the first half of the trail name a little too seriously, and instead of connecting back to the Rail Trail via either the fire road at the back of Chatham Hills or Skid Row, I followed the trail all the way to the very back of Solamere. In just over 90 minutes, I had traveled about 4.5 miles, in a combination of trail running and walk-paced hiking, and now I had less than 20 minutes to get myself back to City Park before my kids two-hour skateboard camp ended. Oops. Thankfully, this classic Park City “problem” had a classic Park City solution–I simply called my friend Beth, who lives nearby, and who also had kids at the skate park, and asked her to meet me at the fire road in her car. Laughing, she agreed, and I sprinted my way back along the trail to meet her.

My next outing on the Lost Prospector trail involved two friends and our mountain bikes. We set out from the parking lot at Rail Central, took the paved path up through City Park to the bottom of Main Street, walked our bikes across Hwy-224, then rode uphill in the Aerie a few hundred yards to the trail head. As we took off, I reminded both of them of my recent calamity, and assumed that if we got separated (read: I fell behind), we would meet at the bottom of the fire road. The ride itself was a lot of fun. On my hike the week before, I had identified about a dozen spots where I thought I might need to get off and walk (around sharp corners, over extremely rocky sections) and surprised myself by walking less than I’d planned. Most of the trail is so smooth and shaded that it’s a pleasure to let your tires glide over stretches of single track. It was a casual ride with plenty of breaks to hydrate and chat.

Of course, I fell behind just enough that I did not see them pass the fire road so we could, ostensibly, take the Skid Row exit to the Rail Trail. I walked down most of the fire road (even my experienced biker friend said she would do the same…it’s straight downhill and rather rocky), and then, when I didn’t see them at the trail head, hightailed it back to the parking lot alongside the Rail Trail where we had started, saw they were not here, and biked back to the Chatham Hills trail head to look for them. They spied me for the trail above and shouted that they would meet me at the cars. A few minutes later, my phone rang and it was my friends, telling me they had missed the Skid Row turnoff and were now walking their bikes down a more technical exit trail–(duh! Why hadn’t I thought to call them, earlier). “Go ahead, we’ll call you later’” they said. “No problem,” I replied. “I’m going to buy a trail map.”

Mountain Trails Foundation offers an interactive trail map on their website www.mountaintrails.org, and paper maps for sale at many local retailers.

Don’t Try This at Home: Champagne Sabering Ceremony at the St. Regis

nancy and jayChampagne is something we don’t drink often enough.  Traditionally Champagne is the beverage of choice for celebrations, and I don’t know about you but I tend to only pull out a bottle for the big things. When there is a new job or promotion, a wedding, a new baby or a new home, out comes the bubbly.  My European friends on the other hand, will pop open the cork simply for a beautiful afternoon to enjoy together. They know how to celebrate life every day.

My husband Jay and I, along with some good friends, decided to follow the European tradition and celebrate a beautiful evening in Park City.  We headed to Deer Valley and took the Funicular up the mountain to the St. Regis to enjoy the nightly Champagne Sabering Ceremony.  I figure, if you are going to enjoy champagne, why not enjoy the pageantry of the sabering ceremony while taking in the view of my favorite ski runs from deck of the St. Regis?

pre saberAs often happens in the mountains on a beautiful clear evening, a cloud appeared and sent droplets of rain on all of us.  Though we easily could have gone inside, we stayed out on the deck with a few other adventuresome patrons and ducked under the substantial umbrellas until it passed over.  It was worth the wait as the sky cleared up and the St. Regis Butler jumped onto a large boulder with a champagne bottle in one hand and a saber in the other.

post saberIn the blink of an eye, he sheared the top of the champagne bottle clean off.  At first, I thought he had sliced the cork and it popped off because I’d never seen this before.  Under closer inspection, the sword indeed had sliced cleanly through the neck of the bottle.  After holding the heavy and very sharp saber myself, I could see how it could be done.

nancy with saberThough I wouldn’t recommend trying this at home but watching at the St. Regis mountainside deck with good friends, definitely!

Cheers!

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The St. Regis Champagne Sabering Ceremony is held every evening on the deck. Contact the hotel for more information. The gorgeous views and the champagne are complimentary.

 

The Park City Food and Wine Classic

bari nan and husbandThis summer, Jeff and I were invited to enjoy “The Best of the Best” event during the Park City Food and Wine Classic, held at the Montage Deer Valley. Lucky for us, we got to spend the night, too.

There is something magical about pulling up to the Montage—for me, it means my blood pressure drops to near-sedated levels. I’m in my favorite corner of Deer Valley Resort, Empire Canyon, and I’m just minutes from home, but a world away. This time, it felt even more “away,” because my kids were not with me. And my husband was. To say we were excited about the prospect of an overnight “away,” is a mild understatement.

hotel roomHere’s where I will include traditional disclaimer about how we LOVE our kids, and can’t IMAGINE life without them—it’s all true. Except for the second part. I remember quite clearly the 30 years of my life before them, and they were good years. The years with the kids? Better than good. But a night off from parenting is a key ingredient in recharging one’s parenting batteries. A night off at the Montage is even better, because I could turn off the whirring in my brain—the schedules and bedtime battles and snack requests that serve as so much white noise (and a trusted friend was in charge of the kids and accompanying “noise” for 24 hours).

See, all the thinking is, well, pre-thought for you at Montage. The details of daily living are sorted out for you by the able staff. Even checking in is a treat, as a staff member greets you, room keys and paperwork in hand, to escort you directly to your room, and handle check in procedures there.  Imagine my delight when I found our room equipped with in-wall USB charging ports for the gizmos we brought with us (iPads, phones, kindles), as well as current issues of our favorite magazines. (By the way, I needed none of these items—the view from our twin terraces was breathtaking and all-consuming).

people archeryThe property is beautiful—wandering the grounds makes a person feel like she’s ensconced in a lovely movie about resort life, since the gardens have hidden speakers that makes it seem like the flowerbeds are singing to you. We took in a view of the archery field (lessons offered multiple times a day), and then went to lounge by the pool. Kermut, a helpful staffer, situated us on lounge chairs that he outfitted with comfy toweling covers, and then proffered cocktail and snack menus. We ordered the Park City Mule and For Jonas cocktails—light, refreshing and fun—, and a charcuterie platter, and while we were waiting, a lovely woman arrived to ask if she could give my sunglasses a complimentary polish. Who was I to refuse?

drinkscheese and meatpoolAnd with the clarity of vision returned to my favorite pair of shades, came a moment of clarity: One of the best things about staying at a property where all the details are managed so that your stay is effortless is that your brain has time to relax and explore some of the terrain that usually goes neglected when you’re fussing and fretting over the actual running of your life.  Which meant that Jeff and I had the chance to let our minds wander, do some brainstorming about various creative endeavors we’ve been pondering, and, yes, notice how much the kids would totally enjoy a stay at the Montage, as well. Tons of kid-friendly activities were available at nearly every turn—from the human-sized chess pieces on a walk-on board adjacent to the pool deck, to the aforementioned archery lessons, Paintbox Kids activities, lawn games, and, of course, Daly’s—the sports pub/grill complete with bowling alley and a gaming arcade. A pact was made: We would satisfy our craving for more top-notch service and relaxed unwinding time by returning with the kids in a few weeks. After all, they deserve to see that their parents are more than just schedule keepers, meal-providers and homework-naggers, too!

Before long, it was time to return to our room and prep for the evening ahead—which promised wine and food paired tasting stations featuring inventive dishes from the Montage (everything from fire-roasted wild boar tostadas to DIY s’mores with homemade flavored marshmallows and locally sourced dark chocolate). I didn’t get to any other events at this year’s Park City Food and Wine Classic, but from everything we sampled and tasted over the course of the evening, I have to agree—the Montage presented The Best of the Best.  I don’t think anyone at the property would take credit, but some much-needed rain sprinkled onto the terrace off the lounge, and then…a rainbow.

hotel room bedAn evening of revelry behind us, we retreated to our room—and to the world’s most comfortable bed. (Yes, I did look up the bedding on the hotel’s website, and I may or may not have ordered a feather bed and some new pillowcases by the time you are reading this post.) By morning, we felt refreshed— and ready for alfresco breakfast at Apex. Now, we were well-entertained, well-rested and well-fed, which may well be the trifecta of the mini-break.

By the time we checked out, I had a to-do list for our next visit: Hang out with the hotel’s resident Bernese Mountain Dogs, take archery lessons, dine at Daly’s and hit the Deer Valley trails for a hike—all of the above, with the kids. Plus, a detour to the spa for Mom. Yes, it does sound like the makings of a great family getaway. Stay tuned!

Rafting Down the Weber River

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Cindy giving the thumbs up before we begin our tour.

The writer, Deer Valley Resort communications coordinator, Katy McEver, has lived in Park City just over a year and a half with her dog Ellie. As a transplanted Southerner, she plans to keep finding new adventures in the mountains and deserts of Utah.

Last summer, I made the mistake of keeping my adventures limited to hiking nearby local trails. This is a tragic mistake and every local and visiting tourist should make the effort to explore! Nearly finishing my second summer here in Utah (and in case you were wondering, I definitely caught the local bug called ‘came for the winter and stayed for the summer!’) I decided this summer to jump feet first into finding adventures located right in my very active backyard.

A month ago, I had the pleasure of experiencing one of the ‘must-do’ summer activities in Utah—rafting! My friend and colleague, Kyle Hooker, owns Park City Tubing and when I asked where he would recommend a novice rafter (I don’t even own a pair of Tevas or Chacos, oh the horror!) to start he quickly pointed me towards the Weber River.  Luckily for me, just down the road in Morgan, Park City Rafting offers guided rafting tours from two hour to full day trips. Its sister company, Barefoot Tubing is also located in Morgan and offers tubing rentals that are a huge hit with locals on the weekends. Both companies put in on the Weber River, a 125-mile long river starting in the Uinta Mountain range and dumping into the Great Salt Lake.

I asked my friend Cindy, a veteran river rafter, to join me. She’s someone who knows a thing or two about rafting and just prior to our tour had gotten back from a eight day trip down the Grand Canyon! While I wasn’t ready for anything that adventurous, I was looking forward to our day trip which last about two hours depending on the water height and the rapids.

IMAG0076We arrived at Park City Rafting and were greeted by Kyle’s son who was manning the post while Kyle tended to the Barefoot Tubing operation and filled out necessary paperwork. We needed to wait just a bit for the groups in front of us to make it back before we could start our tour. While we were waiting I wanted to get to know our fellow rafters. It was a family affair with two families, one local and the other visiting who were just as excited for their rafting adventure.

IMAG0077IMAG0079Our guides (who are all very skilled and certified in First Aid and CPR) met us to drive us the very short distance up the Weber to our drop in point. It’s amazing how short the drive is and yet how fun river miles can be while paddling! Our guide helped us into our boat and off we went –dead-last behind the two other groups!

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Katy posing before hopping in the raft.

IMAG0082Right away we helped him navigate through Rock Alley (a fun obstacle course of rocks that caused our guide to yell out, “all forward!” or “all back” at any given moment while he steered at the rear of the raft).

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Emerging from Rock Alley

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One group down as they hit a snag in Rock Alley

While in between rocks or rapids we talked about the history of Weber Canyon, the river and the areas we passed. Our guide was more than willing to answer my questions about the “Devils’ Slide” an interesting rock formation that looks just like you could slide down the mouth of the rock and about the beautiful willow trees that seemed out of place in the middle of the desert. We also learned that the railroad track that runs along the river is actually the original track laid during the building of the Transcontinental Railroad by Union Pacific! Another fun fact, due to how difficult terrain was in Weber Canyon, the railroad was only able to build two feet of track per day. Learning about my new home in Utah is always fun. I like to test the knowledge of local Utahns with interesting facts I have picked up here and there.

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Taggart Rapids

I mentioned earlier that we started off third (dead last) on our tour, but since there were only three of us in our raft, we made good time (and I believe this is due to our amazing paddling skills). We passed both groups and picked up a bit of water when we splashed through the Taggart Rapids and ended up at the take-out spot. It was refreshing to feel the cool water and enjoy a couple of hours doing an activity less than an hour from Park City.  I plan on floating the Weber in the near future and continue to feel like one of the luckiest people in the world that I can call this area my playground!

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After the trip, posing with our rafting guide.