My Deer Valley – Donna McAleer, Ski Instructor

Last spring, I was out for a run in the Swaner Nature Preserve—and I ran past my friend Donna McAleer with surprising ease. In fact, I was so shocked that I had passed her up on the trail that I stopped, turned around, and greeted her with: “What’s wrong?” You see, at best, I’m a mediocre runner, and at her worst, Donna—well, in truth, I’ve never seen her at her worst. Until that day. “I’m recovering from stomach flu,” she confessed. “But my mind was racing and I had to get out for a run.”

Donna, you see, was midway through her campaign for a seat in the United States Congress, representing Utah’s District one. She’s a West Point Alumna, retired United States Army officer, and is the award-winning author of Porcelain On Steel: Women of West Point’s Long Gray Line. Oh, and she once served as a bobsled driver in a bid to compete in the sport in the 2002 Olympics. Which is, in case you are wondering, how she came to live in Park City, and eventually lead the People’s Health Clinic, a local non-profit dedicated to giving free and low-cost health care to underserved populations.

If that’s not evidence that she’s hard to catch, I’m not sure what is. Donna’s daughter Carly attends the same school as my sons—and we met about five years ago, when her daughter and my son were attending a local music program together. As two preternaturally busy moms, we bonded and recognized both kindred spirits and the opportunity to help each other out, and a friendship—with a side-order of carpool—was born.

Amidst all of this, the 40-year veteran of ski slopes has spent the last nine years as an instructor in the Ski School at Deer Valley—and eight years as a member of the Deer Valley Synchronized Ski Team.

It will surprise you not at all that the only time we could connect our schedules for a chat was at 6:15 a.m. on a recent morning.

1. Have you always skied on the powdery slopes of Deer Valley? No, I grew up in the east, and I learned to ski on the blue ice and in the frigid temperatures of Okemo Mountain in Ludlow, VT.

2. What interested you in teaching in the first place, and what is your favorite part about teaching at Deer Valley?   I love being outside and sharing my love of the sport with others.  And I love helping guests improve their confidence and ability. Plus, Deer Valley has the best office view, anywhere.  Any day on the mountain is better than a day in an office!

3. How often does the Deer Valley Synchronized Ski Team practice?
We do about eight sessions prior to the performance on December 30 — we train at 4:15 p.m., riding last chair to the the top of Carpenter Express and we get one run. By the time we get to the bottom it’s kind of dark. It’s a hard-core dedicated group of 12-15 of us, that have been skiing together for six-eight years.

4. Has the team ever participated in competitions? Here’s a little bit of quick history: in the mid-80s Deer Valley had a nationally-ranked synchro team, and the Deer Valley team were the world champions in 1995. After a while, the team disbanded and Andy Lane started it up again about five years after that.

5. You put on a great show for the guests—what makes it pleasurable for you? I love that we are all working to help each other get better—that is the great thing about synchro, even as an instructor, you are constantly working to improve your skills and it’s about the discipline, about skiing in line and on time and turning to someone else’s cadence.  vidually beautiful, we have gone through PSIA certification together, and synchro became a part of our training, part of our commitment to each other and the resort

6. What’s the mood like during the event? It’s very festive—at Deer Valley, the night before New Year’s Eve is all about the retro ski clothes—probably because you don’t want to ruin good ski clothes, since you are carrying torches that throw off embers. But you see these great, “sexy” 80’s one-piece ski outfits—which are the original synchro team uniforms. Visually, it’s very pretty, we are in headlamps, carrying torches coming down Big Stick and Wide West. . The the night before new year’s – suynchro demo component to it along with the torchlight. It’s not a competitive team anymore.

7. When and how will we get the best view?
It starts at 6 p.m. and we encourage guests to come at 5:45 p.m. People typically line the plaza at Snow Park and the staging area for ski school. There is hot chocolate, hot cider and the mascots are there. It’s very festive. The perfect way to do it is to plan to dine at Seafood Buffet, so that you can check out the show at the same time.

8. What is the secret to good synchronized skiing?
You have to be able to do the simple really well—and when it happens it looks really good. What you look for is everybody in synchronicity: are they in line, do they have the same shape of turn, how closely they are skiing? We want to provide a team performance, it might be opposite synch, in two parallel lines, skiing in opposite directions, everyone is in cadence. We do different size turns, different shapes, and it all gets back to just the fundamentals of skiing, all the things we teach people, the foundations of good skiing—good turn shapes, moving down the hill, using turn shape to control our speed.

9. You’re an author, an executive and a former candidate for the US House of Representatives, a mother, a wife (in no particular order!)—did skiing play a role in your ability to balance all of those roles at various times? Can you see any lessons you learned during and after your campaign that have parallels on the ski hill?
Being a writer—bringing a book to publication, writing is a solitary act. In terms of my book, thousands of hours of interviews and editing, and 19 manuscript drafts, and it takes a team to publish it. Similarly, while there is only one name on the ballot, it takes a team to make a campaign viable. Skiing is like that—it’s an individual sport, but you’re moving in relation to others. And the act of skiing—moving our bodies, maintaining dynamic balance, you need to be in balance over varying terrain, how we balance and how we stand on our skis, we want to always be moving forward and in the direction of our turn, down the hill, forward and across the skis. My campaign slogan was, “Not left. Not right. Forward.” It applies to a lot of sports, especially skiing, and for me it was a key point in how we think about our political system and we are so quick to make an assumption on how someone votes or legislates—no one is really moving forward and that’s a big issue in our political movement.

Also, another parallel between politics, writing and skiing: sometimes less is more. Really good writing is simple. Thomas Jefferson said, “Never use two words when one will do.” And sometimes we get so bogged down, so focused on technique, that we don’t just ski, we have to let it go.

10. Did Deer Valley play a role in your campaign at all?
My campaign manager is a ski patroller at Deer Valley—and , despite having met and had lunch together in the cafeteria, it was politics that brought us together. He had run campaigns on the east coast, but we bonded over the fact that we share the love of the mountain. There were a number of colleagues from all departments at Deer Valley that were part of the campaign as volunteers, making phone calls.

11. How did your experience as a teacher at Deer Valley Ski School prep you for life as a candidate? During the campaign I found myself relating moments on that trail to moments on the ski trail—There are always obstacles. In skiing we call them moguls, and you need to be able to be flexible to adapt to the terrain. No two ski lessons are ever the same, even with the same client. That’s the cool thing about teaching skiing,—to help someone, to understand how different people learn— you have to be adaptable and flexible in all these situations. In the campaign you want to stay on your message and how you are trying to interact with voters and you may take a different line, you need coaching, good peripheral vision….and you need to be an active listener in both environments, you need to understand what those people’s goals are—you have to be a good observer.

Look for Donna and the rest of the DV Synchronized Ski Team at Snow Park Lodge, starting at 6 p.m. on December 30, 2012.

Click here to check out the Deer Valley Synchro Team in action last season!

December 25 Tradition

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (the much-fabled East Coast), Jeff and I had a December 25 tradition—spending the day at the movies and dining on Chinese food.  It was, to this Jewish family, nearly sacred. Our Park City tradition involves a full ski day at Deer Valley, including breakfast. I couldn’t wait.

However, I was so excited to get to breakfast that I left the house without my typical double-check of the contents of everyone’s ski bags. (I blame Betty the Bichon Frisee, who camped out on the ski bags as if to dare us to leave the house.  Still, I was so distracted by the threat of her wrath that I blame her for what happened next.)

I know that my husband is an adult, and can check to see if his gloves are in the bag—but I’ve made this my domain, and I dropped the ball. We discovered this as we unloaded the bags at the resort, so he doubled back to Jeremy Ranch for the gloves, while I went in with the kids to order breakfast.

We have a few folks we count on seeing—including The Perkins family. (If I tried to explain the many ways this family matters to ours, we’d be here all day, and I wouldn’t get to type a single word about the skiing.) Suffice it to say, they are dear, dear friends, and we look forward to standing in line at the breakfast grill with them every year.  This year, we noticed that we’re not the only folks who know that Deer Valley has the best breakfast menu in town. The giveaway that it wasn’t a skier’s-only affair: A little girl in a red taffeta party dress and Mary Janes, her mom in cute jeans and high-heeled leather boots.

“That little girl is definitely not skiing,” quipped Lance.
“But she looks so cute, it doesn’t matter,” I countered.

Cold Eggs Benedict (Jeff’s—I ordered anyway, not sure if he’d be back in time to do it himself) could not ruin our day. The kids dug into their breakfast choices—Belgian Waffle for Lance, Froot Loops for Seth (they are a near-delicacy in our house, so rare is the appearance of sugary cereal in our cupboards.), and, eventually, so did Jeffrey.

What followed: hours of bluebird day skiing, running into more good friends in the lift lines, and a chance encounter with Ruby the Raccoon. Seth challenged her to a race, but her human companion suggested they simply take a run together. I should add that I’d been trying to get Seth to follow my turns all day, to middling effect—but for Ruby? The kid made perfectly carved parallel turns. Go figure.

All day, the kids (and we) had been anxiously keeping tabs (via text and flight tracker software) on our friends’ progress from Miami. Finally, just before last chair, they appeared—suited up and ready to ski. What followed was more laughter than one could hope for in a single ski run, as we reacquainted the Florida kids (two of whom spent their earliest years in Park City) with the sport. (And a special shout-out to Lisa Palmer-Leger for capturing these priceless memories with her camera.)

Celebrity Skifest and Deer Valley Memories

I say it a lot: Nobody has a better life than I do. I don’t say it boastfully—I’m just so thoroughly appreciative that I get to do work that I love while indulging in the Park City lifestyle 24/7. Entertainment journalists aren’t exactly a dime a dozen in the mountains, to be sure. (In fact, I had a conversation on this topic on the chairlift en route to Celebrity Skifest—with a fellow Vermont expat who lives in LA, and, it turns out, works at a PR agency with which I do a lot of business….the world is never smaller than on the chairlift at Deer Valley.)

Sure, once upon a time, I took a limo to the Emmys, but nothing beats taking a chairlift and a quick run down Silver Link to get myself to an event. Long live Celebrity Skifest.

Watching the race is always a blast, and I could hardly contain my glee as the snowfall intensified. Still, I had work to do. Again, in that once upon a time, I sat in the backstage press room asking actors about which designers they wore, and how surprised they were to win their award. But on this day, I was chatting up actors about our shared love for skiing at Deer Valley. I captured our shared “snow-eating grins” as well as some of their favorite Deer Valley ski memories:

“The people at Deer Valley are great,” Cheryl Hines told me. “Every guest gets treated like royalty—and I’m certainly not royalty!” Her trademark smile was in full evidence as she described the feeling she gets on a great powder day. “it’s a clear day and you stand on the top of the mountain and you can see everything,” the Suburgatory star explained. “There’s no feeling like it.”

The next thing I knew, I turned around and found myself face-to-face with Rosie Perez. I reminded her that we’d worked together when I’d been an editor at Glamour and Self Magazines, and we had a chance to catch up. “I’m not skiing,” she told me. “But I am so taken with what Bobby Kennedy is doing with the Waterkeeper Alliance, holding corporations accountable.” And, to be sure, she was a powerful one-woman cheering squad.

Julia Ormond was so taken with the action on the hill, I hated to interrupt her—but we wound up chatting about the beauty of pulling oneself out of the comfort zone. “Honestly, I hate the idea of putting myself out there as a skier—I’m not used to powder, and I’m not that confident, but for something as good and compelling as the Waterkeeper Alliance, I’ll do it,” she said.  “For a good cause, you have to get over yourself. It’s important.”

Moments later, we were chatting about the beauty of the falling snow, and I fell into a conversation with Rob Morrow—someone I look forward to seeing every year, because, like me, he’s unabashed about his love for skiing at Deer Valley—and I’m always thrilled to note that he shares that with his wife and daughter.

Rob told me that he was temporarily converted to a “trees and powder skier” by his friend and fellow actor, Tim Daly, on one fine powder day last year. “He took me to some places I’d never been—and would never have gone on my own,” Rob told me. “Suddenly, I’m a snob for powder and trees.”

A moment later, Rob confessed to me that he’s so taken with the beauty and the people at Deer Valley that he and his wife have a long-held fantasy of “finding a year to just move here.” I didn’t hesitate to tell him that he’d have no regrets.

Car Wash = Snowy Opening Day

Skiers are a superstitious lot. At least this skier is. To wit: On Friday, December 7, I heard a hint that the snow was coming. You know, the snow that we, the skier faithful knew would come, but, nonetheless was elusive enough to make us impatient.

But I’m just the right amount of superstitious and faithful to take action, just to be sure. So, I washed my car—at the fancy car wash, which sells a five-dollar upgrade that allows you to come back once a day for two days, in case of a storm. But I knew I’d be too busy skiing on fresh powder to return/knew that buying it would tempt the snow gods to withhold, so I didn’t upgrade. Just the $12 wash for me, thank you. And then, the snow came.

You’re welcome.

With all that fresh stuff flying out of the sky, I eschewed our usual Opening Day Breakfast at Snow Park Lodge—too time consuming. I grabbed a protein bar, and tapped my foot impatiently as my kids ate their toaster waffles and my husband ate his cereal. I realized, in that moment, that if I want to get on the hill early on opening day, I have to make a game of it: “I have an idea, guys: Who wants to try to make first chair with me next year on opening day?” I asked. Lance started to explain to me, in perfectly articulated 9 year-old logic, the sixteen ways that it would be logistically impossible, that ski patrol gets first chair, and what if someone is in the next lane in the lift-line corral at the same time as us? Seth, 5, saw the opportunity to please: “Mommy, I’m in!!” I began to fantasize about getting up at 6, being in the car by 7, and tucking into breakfast in Snow Park before the slopes opened. I’m certain it looks better in my mind’s eye than it will when we attempt it. Regardless, Jeff busted me out of the reverie: It was time to dress and load.  Annnd….we were off.

Even the drive to the mountain was exciting—the roads, which had been completely clear the night before, had switched, overnight, to snow-covered loveliness.  “See? I washed the car!!” I gloated to my husband. “I did it! It worked!”

Once we arrived, it felt like the first day of school, or summer camp. All the familiar faces, the giddy mood that permeated every corner of the resort. The ski valets, usually speedy to offer help, were giving their best impression of the ‘lightning round’. I hadn’t even gotten out of the car and someone was unloading the gear. 

We assembled ourselves and headed for our ritual first run on Wide West—the kids’ request. I was about to protest, and then I realized something. I turned to Jeff and said, “I’ll be so sad when they don’t want to make Wide West their first run of the season anymore,” I said. He nodded with a certain solemn understanding. And that, friends, was the only solemn moment of the day. We were, in a word, unstoppable. We did runs on the Racecourse. Runs on Candyland. And then, after I left them to go visit Celebrity Skifest, they did lap after lap. Jeff reported later that they literally inhaled their pasta, and that he had presided over several races at the mini-course on the hill—even providing the sound-effect countdown beeps. Meanwhile, I was at a race of my own, as a spectator, watching the Celebrity Skifest race. (Stay tuned for my Skifest report.)

I wrapped up my day by skiing from the Skifest tent to Homestake, where I arrived with a giant grin on my face. The grin was so large, a fellow skier asked me what I was so happy about. “What’s not to be happy about? Opening day in the snow…The SNOW!” I shared a chair with a Sharpshooter photographer named Tiger. He’s a local, so we bonded over the thrill of being rewarded for our patience with snow on opening day. (I told him about the car wash, and he thanked me. Locals get it.)

I headed down Success and wondered where the kids and Jeff were at that moment—and then, as I finished my run, I had my answer. I spotted them hauling their gear to ski-check, and called out: “Wooo hoooo!” I was rewarded with three happy grins. “We couldn’t have planned that,” Jeff said. “It’s perfect.”

He’s right. But just to be sure, I think I’ll go wash my car.

Winter Menu Tasting

Pre-Season Training

I’ve been doubling up on workouts at the gym—not really to get my ski legs on, because we all know the only real way to do that is to ski. For me, these workouts are insurance—that I can eat lunch with impunity. (And by “impunity” I mean taking a no-holds-barred approach to toppings on my Turkey Chili.) I make no secret of the fact that I ski for lunch—and that I’m ever-grateful that Deer Valley turns ski cuisine into high art. But, friends, I think they have outdone themselves.

A few weeks ago, I had the great good fortune to attend a sneak preview menu tasting for the Deer Valley restaurants. The first surprise (and there were many) was that the restaurant in Snow Park Lodge underwent a significant remodel in the off-season. Most noticeably, the beverage stations—once located at center stage in the middle of the buffet lines—have been relocated to a wall, skier’s left as you enter the buffet area. It’s easy to use during the ski day, and easy to hide behind a curtain when the restaurant is transformed, four evenings a week, to the Seafood Buffet.

At center stage is an expansive Natural Buffet station, which will double as a raw-bar/chef’s station for the Seafood Buffet. Oh, and speaking of bars—there is a beautiful new bar just to the right of the stairs to the second level of dining. By day, it’s a full-service espresso bar, where you can order your caffeine fix in any number of combinations. By night, at Seafood Buffet, it’s there for the graceful service of cocktails. Naturally, I I started my evening here,  with a glass of Reederer Estate, Brut, sparkling wine from Anderson Valley, California, poured by Mariposa manager Scott Myers.

Chefs from each restaurant at Deer Valley, presented the new menu items they’d spent the summer perfecting. (I know, I know, I have a very rough job.) I tried everything—and now I will present your restaurant-by-restaurant guide to the best-bet bites.

Seafood Buffet

If you haven’t tried this restaurant, this is your year. Two standout dishes were added to the menu, one as a “bite,” the other as an entrée.

The bite: Seared Wagyu Beef on a duck-fried Yukon gold potato chip with bacon and caramelized onion jam. Abandon all hope of stopping at just one. There is something about the duck fat in this dish that makes the rest of the ingredients pop.

Garithes me Domato Kai Feta. It would have never occurred to me to prepare shrimp with Feta cheese. Which is why I am not a chef. The broth is light—lemon, chives and fennel. The heirloom cherry tomatoes (from Copper Moose Farm and from farms in Wyoming) are cooked just enough to enhance their natural sweetness. The feta provides a tart measure that plays against the sweetness of the tomatoes and the shrimp.

Royal Street Café

The full-service restaurant in Silver Lake Lodge is one of my favorite stops. From the cocktails to the menu that’s so delightfully varied that it almost demands we order in concert so no dish goes untasted. If you must choose, take a break from your usual edamame appetizer and bite into the Tomatillo and Jalapeno crusted Calamari Frito. I had to try several, as I was trying to decide whether I preferred dipping them in the poblano aioli or the red chili cocktail dipping sauce. Jury’s still out. I’ll have to go to RSC post-haste for further research.

Known for inventive sandwiches, Royal Street won’t disappoint meat lovers—aside from the fact that they have to choose between three new and delicious sandwiches:  the Maple Bacon BBQ Bison Burger (the bacon is cured and smoked in-house, the bison is ground fresh, daily) the House-smoked Pulled-Pork sandwich, and the Bulgogi and Bao Bun. This Korean-seasoned beef cheek is probably my favorite—plenty of heat, with an undertone of sweetness. And you can order it in a lettuce wrap, too.

Deer Valley Grocery Café

Sous Chef Adam has been at the Grocery Café for just a few months, but he’s already upped the ante on the menu, by adding some excellent après ski options. Roasted Pepper Fondito, Salmon Rillette and Smoked Tomato Blue Crab Dip. Here’s a tip—try them all, and ask the team at the café to heat a few take-home entrees for you while you enjoy appetizers on the deck. You won’t be sorry.

Fireside Dining

For a restaurant that cooks all of its food directly from the hearths in the dining rooms, you would not expect fish. But Chef Shane Symes presented a Juniper Berry Crusted Walleye with a house-made thyme ricotta cheese, balsamic pearls and a lemon-whey sauce that I might have happily enjoyed as a dessert if it didn’t pair so nicely with the fish.


I’ll find any excuse to dine at Mariposa—but I’ve often found it hard to choose between dishes, then over-ordering and then feeling that I’ve overindulged by meal’s end. In fact, once, we took our friends Florida Keys Girl and Guy to dinner there, and Keys Girl found herself so stuffed that she retreated to an empty booth to lie down. Well, I’m happy to report that we can sample the menu with impunity, as Executive Chef Clark Norris and Sous Chef Tim Carpenter have transformed the entire menu into small-plate style—you can still order entrée-sized portions, if you wish, but choosing a variety of bites is encouraged. Don’t miss the Niman Ranch Beef Short Rib with Pontack Sauce and chevre mashed potatoes. The hidden gem of the dish was the fried smoked shallot—which had been smoked on oak from Chef Norris’s property. And since you asked, I’ll tell you about Pontack sauce: It’s an English elderberry sauce with a slightly sharp sweetness that plays beautifully against the beef. Executive Chef Norris harvests the berries off the slopes of Deer Valley. I defy you to find a more local dish.

At this point the meal, having enjoyed more than a bite of everything—plus some lovely paired wines—I learned a delightful new phrase: Cheese Course Slider. Seriously.

Executive Pastry Chef Letty Flatt, and Snow Park Pastry Chef Debby Swenerton  did not disappoint, serving up the Brown Butter Pineapple Upside Down Cake with coconut-lime mascarpone cream. You’ll find this dessert at Seafood Buffet—and you’ll taste the influence of Swenerton’s Hawaiian vacations.

Believe it or not, we had more dessert: Chai gianduja ice cream, hibiscus sorbet and carmelized pear ice cream from Pastry Chef Steve Harty at The Mariposa.

I left the tasting confident in two things: I won’t have any shortage of amazing dining options this winter—and I’m going to have to ski harder for lunch.  Bon Appetit!

Being Thankful

As Thanksgiving came—and went—Jeff and I found ourselves reflecting upon how grateful we are to have lucked into a life in Utah.  Our move to Park City in 2001 was hardly premeditated. To be sure, it wasn’t altogether a well-thought-out decision. Honestly, being in Park City on vacation just felt right, and the idea of living here made sense to us in ways that we thought made sense. This was, of course in the B.K. Era—Before Kids—but we had a hunch it would be a great place to have a family.

That hunch paid off—and every year, as the ski season begins, I find myself reflecting on the ways I never realized my life would change for the better as a result of raising my family in Utah. Skiing with my family at Deer Valley is one of my very favorite things to be thankful for.

  1. From the moment my kids put on skis, they felt proud and impressed at their ability to engage in sport. As long as we made falling fun, they had a blast. As long as we let them eat cookies as big as their heads, they felt motivated to keep going. And when motivation flags, there is always a stash of sugar in my pocket to give it a boost.
  2. Watching them go from fearing a run to mastering it is a feeling that compares to watching them learn to walk.  Mind you, with every passing year, as their skills improve, I find myself trying to do the mental calculus about how long it will take before they are better than I am. And then I sign up for more lessons—for me. Which brings me to….
  3. Pushing myself is the best example. The only thing that made me happier than actually skiing X-Files last year was telling my kids that I did something that had previously scared me, and then….LOVED it.
  4. Deer Valley is serious about their family-friendly vibe. When my younger son was a baby, we’d come to the hill every weekend to watch big brother ski. Jeff and I often took turns hanging with the little guy playing sugar packet hockey, and working our way down Success with the big guy. But before we could do that, I had to run the gauntlet of logistics between the skier drop-off curb and the window seat in the Snow Park restaurant. There was a stroller, a giant diaper bag, containing supplies that would last other humans a full week, but will last a baby about an hour. There was the big guy’s gear. And, of course, the big guy himself, whose short, preschooler legs made the distance from curb to table seem insurmountable. Except that we had the good sense to arrive after the initial morning skier rush—and a team of ski valets and greeters would descend upon us to carry extra gear, push the stroller, open doors and joke with Lance to make the long walk fun.
  5. There are no strangers on the ski hill—my kids are comfortable chatting up other folks on the lift line, or on chair-lift rides. And I tell them it’s OK to gloat when they tell visitors we live here. After all, why shouldn’t they be aware that living here is nothing to take for granted.
  6. My life really is your vacation. My friend Miriam wrote about this last year, when I took my son skiing for my birthday . We don’t ski every day of the week—there is work, and the laundry monster must be fed, the refrigerator must be restocked. But the ability to drop everything and head to the hill at a moment’s notice—even if you don’t get to do it that often—is always there. It’s reassuring, even, to know that you could go take a run at any moment.
  7. Meeting up with friends almost always involves some sort of great winter activity—like skate skiing, snowshoeing  or five runs at Deer Valley before lunch. I layered up one recent morning and met a friend for snowshoeing—it was our workout in between dropping off our kids at school and getting rolling with our workdays. Seriously. And, no, I did not care that it was cold out. Back in my New York life, the only thing the snow ever did was ruin my shoes.

Skiing with my family is more fun that I ever could have dared to hope. I loved skiing as a kid—and I’m thrilled to see my kids enjoy it. I’m eager for this new season because my younger son is now 5, and that’s kind of a sweet-spot age for skiing. He’s been at it long enough that he knows the basics, is eager to conquer more terrain, and has enough stamina to explore the mountain a little.

Ski Prep- Top 6

In our house, fall isn’t really one season, but two: “Almost Ski Season” and “Ski Season.” We spend the Almost Ski Season getting our ski bags sorted out, and generally getting our heads in the game. Here, the top six ways my family and I prepare for the ski season:

1. Just a bit more summer….

I know, I know, it’s like skier blasphemy—we spend half the year fantasizing about recreating that perfect run from the previous ski season, so why in the name of Hidden Treasure would I need more summer? Well, there is something about summer that just reinforces my longing for winter. I’ve had my fill of warm weather, and I’m ready to stash my flip-flops, and slide into my sheepskin boots. Or my cute high-heeled boots. Or the fun magenta lace-ups. When you live in snow country, your boot wardrobe is diverse.  Also, historically, when we travel to a warm climate in autumn, the snow gods hear us and dump snow. So…we spent the kids’ fall break soaking up the sunshine in Florida, giving our flip flops one last big outing, and then—Boom! We came home to a solid October 26 storm. You’re welcome.

2. The October Storm 

This year’s flake-fest happened exactly one day later than last year’s. Both served as opportunities to dig out the winter gear, figure out what fits, needs replacing, We pulled out jackets, pants, helmets, and boots. We determined everyone needed new jackets, Mom and Dad needed new pants, too, and the boys had plenty of pants to keep them warm on the hill and the school playground during the week. (This is key—the kids here actually wear their bib pants at school all day, to save the hassle of suiting up repeatedly for snow play.)

3. Comic Relief
The Saturday after the big storm coincided with the Saturday before Halloween—and Seth had a birthday party to attend where my friend Belinda revealed her heretofore hidden (to me) face-painting skills. We went straight from there to shop for soft goods—and brought our own entertainment committee. Seth walked into Jans and Cole Sport announcing,

“I am a ZOMMMMMBIE!” and kept us giggling through what is otherwise an extremely tedious process (shopping with kids, that is.) Jackets accomplished, except for mom, but I snuck my new duds into the gear shopping day. What? What’s that?….

4. A second day of shopping.

There’s no way to get all the gear in one day when you have kids—shopping-averse kids, at that. So, we set out to make the rounds to upsize their equipment. Lance is in an annual rental program at Utah Ski and Golf, for which we paid an up-front fee before his first season, and all we have to do is show up in the fall with the previous year’s gear, and he gets fitted into his new size at no additional charge. 

While we were there, we bought him a new orange helmet to match his new blue and orange coat, plus ski gloves for Seth.  Next stop: Surefoot, where. Seth is enrolled in a trade-up program, so that each time he outgrows a pair of boots, we trade in and get half of what we paid for them back in credit toward the new pair. Then we headed to Jans to enroll him into the ski program—which works similarly: you purchase the gear at full price, then receive 40 percent back toward the purchase of a new pair when the first pair is outgrown, and so on. And you know you’ve done your job indoctrinating the kids into the “play inside in your gear” habit when you find your son skiing around Jans.

5. Candy. Lots and lots of Halloween Candy.  If you know me at all, you know I never ski without bribes—I mean rewards.  In our house, we know that Halloween Candy isn’t going to get gobbled up in the first week of November. I like that the holiday falls conveniently close to the start of ski season, because those mini Milky Ways and Twizzlers tuck nicely into the pockets of my jacket and pants. Don’t forget to hit me up for a sweet treat when you see me on the hill!

6. Brunch at Deer Valley Grocery Café. Duh. I mean, if you’re planning to ski for lunch a few times a week, you might as well get in practice. I ignored the siren call of the French Toast (I know, I know) and ordered oatmeal with tons of fresh and dried fruit. It can’t hurt to at least start pre-season training in “healthy” mode, right?

Taking the Stairs

One of our favorite family traditions involves climbing a flight of stairs. Not just any flight of stairs, mind you, but the stairs that lead to the Season Pass office just above the Lift Tickets windows at Snow Park.

Nobody—and I mean nobody is in a bad mood in the season pass office before the resort opens. The very fact of being here in November means we will be ready to ski the second the lifts are running on December 8. (Trust me, a couple of years ago, I delayed picking up my pass until opening weekend—and I had to work very hard to fight the case of the grumpies that came over me as I realized my ski day would be slightly truncated because I had to wait in a line to get my pass.).

This year, as always, we were greeted by friendly Deer Valley employees. Sue and Debbie made sure the entire family had perfect photos on our passes (and made appropriate oohing-and-ahhing noises over the cuteness of my kids’ grins. And, as a bonus, we got to share the tradition with some dear friends, who have made the leap from part-time residents to full-time Parkites. There may or may not have been some grumpy moments leading up to this one—and those moments may or may not have involved any of the five children in our two families. (Our kids don’t typically run around in full ski gear,  but we went ski clothes shopping before picking up our passes. In case the photo below had you confused. And probably contributed to their moods). But any minor mood issues were fast resolved by the cold hard plastic in our hands, signifying the imminent season.

Outside, the kids played with the snow, we took a few pictures, and reveled in the fun of the moment. Then, when my pal Jack and I could not help resist its siren call a moment longer, we turned to the trail map, to try to pre-select our first runs of the season. (And, by the way, I’m not telling…you’ll just have to find us out there…).

What’s your favorite pre-season tradition?

‘Dust in the Wind’

Actually, there wasn’t any wind the night Kansas played with the Utah Symphony. There was, however, perfect, custom-ordered Park City weather. Yes, it had rained off-and-on all day, but the late afternoon cloud-cover, with just a hint of sun peeking through, provided lovely light (and very low UV index) for the first half of the evening.

Taking in the sunset while some classic ‘70s and ‘80s tunes rolled over the hills felt like the icing on the cake of luck. (Just wait, “Cake of Luck” is going to sweep the interwebs. You’re welcome.)

Add to that a Deer Valley gourmet picnic basket, and it was, in fact, a turn-key, perfect date night. (I’ll leave out the part where Jeff had an unfortunate mishap with our crummy beach chairs—now crummy beach chair garbage—that left his fingers pinched.)

I had the odd discovery that Kansas formed its band the year I was born—and I wasn’t entirely sure how I was supposed to feel about that. Does that make me old? Them? Frankly, I didn’t want to think that hard. I did, of course, feel grateful for the well-researched Program the Utah Symphony publishes. I’ve always enjoyed the band’s hits—and wasn’t so familiar with the rest of their catalog. But, in truth, it didn’t matter. They played their hearts out for us—and the Symphony’s “warm up” set list was delightful, playful and, yes, gorgeously performed. (Indeed, Star Trek was involved. And, no, I did not wish to be beamed anywhere.)

You know how dedicated skiers are fond of saying, “There’s no such thing as a bad day on the mountain?” I think that should be extended to evenings, too. Yes, I’ve sat through a rainy night at the Symphony in the Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater—but I’ve never once regretted it. Did I mention the perfect weather? And, I felt just guilty enough that I saved the beautiful desserts to take home for the boys.

Summer Adventure Camp

We have had an incredibly busy schedule—keeping up with our kids’ schedules this summer. Park City is an embarrassment of riches in many areas, and kids’ summer camps are no exception.

Lance attended two separate weeks of camp at the Utah Olympic Park (UOP)—he tried what amounted to about a kajillion sports, including ski jumping into the Splash Pool, and—wait for it—luge. Gulp.

Also on the Menu O’ Fun this summer: skateboard camp, karate camps, and the delightfully injury-risk-free tie-dye camp and art camp. And, of course, they made time in their hectic schedules of fun, fun and more fun, to attend a couple of days at Deer Valley’s Summer Adventure Camp.

This is not to say the summer has been without challenges. At UOP, Lance had to face his fears before jumping into the pool—and we had to do some fleet-footed parenting work to get him to even try. But he did—and whether he ever takes up freestyle skiing in earnest is of no consequence. What he learned from the process of learning was invaluable.

Deer Valley Summer Adventure Camp was a great learning experience, too. For one thing, the kids got to go to the Utah Museum of Natural History on a field trip. It’s a beautifully designed facility, and every exhibit has interactive elements for visitors of all ages. The next day was “Silly Sloppy Science,” which found the kids using recycled material to build boats, making glop, and lots of other silly, science-y things.

And while there were lots of obvious learning experiences to be had in those days, we all learned a few nice life lessons in the balance. For instance, because the first day the kids attended camp was a field-trip day, there was a lot of hustle-and-bustle, and not a lot of get-to-know-you time. It was something I hadn’t considered when I signed them up—and something I’ll take into account in the future. Both boys greeted me with relief when I picked them up, and spent much of the evening telling us why they had not had fun at camp. Both asked if they had to go the next day.

“Yes,” I told them. “You are going to give this camp a second chance. You’ve never had a bad day at Deer Valley, and everyone’s entitled to a bad day.”

When we arrived at camp, the counselors seemed genuinely happy to see my boys, which was reassuring. Still, I took the opportunity to share the kids’ reports from the previous day. My goal was to give constructive feedback, and offer context that might be helpful to the counselors. It appeared to be received that way. Still, I mentioned it to the desk staff on my way out. Impressively, the woman I spoke with asked specific questions about what the kids hadn’t liked, what I’d found disappointing—and took notes. They also told me they appreciated my honest, constructive feedback. This thrilled me. My measure of good service isn’t a trouble-free experience, but how the team handles the situation once it’s been brought to light. By the time I left, I felt confident the kids would have a better day. The proof was in the pudding—we showed up early and had to bribe them away from the fabulous time they were having. Thank goodness for the frozen yogurt at Deer Valley, Etc.