My friend Ron Palmer-Leger recently celebrated his 25th anniversary as a member of Deer Valley Resort Ski Patrol, at the resort’s annual “Years of Service” dinner for employees. He’s also a captain with the Park City Fire Department, as well as an accomplished cyclist and cross-country skier.
The Albuquerque, NM, native first visited Park City as a competitor in the 1989 USA Cycling Nationals, heading home just long enough to complete his EMT certification, so that he could return to Park City to find work as a ski patroller.
While he spent his first season working at Park West resort (where Canyons Village now operates), he found a home at Deer Valley for the 1990-91 ski season, and spent the next four years patrolling in the winter, and working summers with the United States Forest Service trail crew, building and maintaining hiking and biking trails, and fighting wildfires in Wasatch National Forest. “I loved the thrill and hard work that went along with fighting fires, which led to my interest in a career structural firefighting job,” Ron says. “It’s also where I met my wife, Lisa, who was a wilderness ranger. We fought many fires, together, and hit it off. But it was Lisa who asked me out because I was a little shy.”
He and Lisa have two children, Drew, 17, and Sydney,14, who share their parents’ love of the outdoors, of cycling and of both alpine and Nordic skiing. Both Palmer-Leger children are competitive mountain bike and cross-country ski athletes. In fact, I caught up with Ron just as he and his family returned from Cross Country Junior Nationals in Cable, WI, where both kids competed, and from which Syd brought home two medals. And, true to form, Ron and Lisa threw themselves into combating the elements in support of the event.
“The weather changed almost as soon as we got there, and the snow just went away,” Ron said. “So about 100 parents went into the woods, shoveled snow onto tarps and hauled it to the race course so it could be compacted and groomed. ”
I’ve long admired the ways in which Ron and Lisa teach their kids that there’s no obstacle—not even uncooperative weather!—that they can’t overcome. So, when it came time to chat with Ron about his Deer Valley anniversary, I knew we’d have lots to talk about—from the changes he’s seen at the resort in 25 years, to the way his family makes the most of every opportunity to get outside together, and the secret sauce of raising compassionate, kind kids in the world of competitive sports.
What are the changes you have seen at Deer Valley Resort since the 1990-91 season? What’s the same?
The overall size of the resort has gotten bigger, but it has not lost that intimate feel. The reason people come to ski at Deer Valley, aside from the amazing grooming, is that it’s not crowded, and lift lines are short. The terrain has become more diverse, and with the technology and advancement in skis, people have more options to ski different terrain. We are known for meticulous and impeccable grooming, but we have given people more glades and trees to ski.
What are aspects of your job at Deer Valley that the average guest wouldn’t know actually contributes to their Deer Valley experience?
We get up in the morning on the hill to do run checks, make sure aren’t any trees down, and that the grooming is impeccable. We’re not just there to help injured skiers.
What is the best part of your day as a member of Ski Patrol?
It depends on the weather. Some mornings, going out to Stein’s Way ski run first thing in the morning 8:30-8:45, you get to see the alpine glow. That’s pretty amazing. Or getting up on the hill with 2-3 feet of new snow, and grabbing some powder shots. That’s pretty cool. I am part time so I don’t get the opportunity to do it a lot like I used to.
What are some of your favorite family memories at Deer Valley Resort?
When Drew and Sydney were little, all they wanted to do was to ski down Ontario ski run, zooming up and around all the snow-making hydrants. Then we’d have to go inside for french fries, a slice of carrot cake, and hot cocoa. They always had that one run they had to do every single time. Sydney had to ski Last Chance and check out the bears. When they got bigger and better, it became a must to do X-Files. Now the last run of the day is hiking up to ski Ontario Bowl before heading home.
What are your favorite three runs at DV?
Ontario Bowl, X Files, Sadie’s Way. That’s a secret—Sadie’s Way. It’s off of Bird’s Eye, named after our dog that passed away a long time ago, I cut it 20 years ago. If you hit it right you might get three people that can ski it at the same time. It’s on skier’s left in Sunset Glades, just before the last pitch on Birdseye, where they usually put a slow sign. You take a hard left, and you have a shot down through the trees, it crosses Homeward Bound ski run and crosses onto Ontario ski run at the shop road.
What came first for your kids—Nordic skiing or alpine, or was it fairly simultaneous?
Simultaneous. Lisa and I were just avid cross country skiers, and then the kids showed an interest in wanting to compete, so they started to race with TUNA—The Utah Nordic Alliance, and progressed from that. Now, they ski with Park City Nordic Ski Club.
With your kids’ active, competitive Nordic careers, how do Deer Valley ski days factor into the schedule? Whenever it’s a good powder day and they don’t have to train, we’re on the slopes at Deer Valley. We used to ski most Saturdays and Sundays, but when they got competitive that went away. Now, we get out half a dozen days a year at the resort.
As parents, what benefits have you and Lisa seen from the family enjoying sports together? What benefits have you both seen that young athletes can gain from mixing up their training with other sports, on “off days”?
All of it kind of helps clear the head, having something else to do than focusing on competing constantly. The past few years we have had coaches say they need to make a choice between mountain biking and cross-country ski racing. We see things differently. It’s good for them to have a break, and a change in mindset. When they are doing each they love it, because they spend time away from it. They would get tired and burnt out if they only got to do one of the sports all year. We were driving home from Wisconsin, and Syd said, “Well, Nationals are over, so I want to get on my bike!” So, now we’re focused on what races they’ll want to do in the spring and summer.
What’s the secret to raising kids to have a balanced life, even in a competitive athletic setting? Communication. Just being open to their needs our needs, the schedule, balancing what we have to do with what they want to do and making sure they are having fun so it’s not a “job.” If they are not having fun we need to readjust or back off a little bit.
Your work is community oriented and your family is a community oriented family. How do you see your kids contributing to their community?
As big as Park City has become over the past few years, that kind of small town atmosphere that is still there, and that feeling of connection comes up all the time, whether my kids are doing community service projects, helping build trails, assisting with a local’s race. And it feels good when I bump into friends who tell me they saw one of the kids’ picture and race results in the paper, and say, “Nice job.”