Life as a Patroller During World Cup

Thousands of ski fans flocked to Deer Valley Resort at the start of this month for the 2012 FIS World Cup. From Thursday, Feb. 2, through Saturday, Feb. 4, top skiers from around the world –including stars Hannah Kearney, Heather McPhie, Mikael Kingsbury and Dylan Ferguson – competed in freestyle moguls and aerials events. They launched themselves off bumps and jumps in a display of speed, agility, athleticism and daring that left virtually every viewer – from patrollers standing course-side to fans watching on TV at home – slack-jawed in amazement.

The World Cup represents a showcase for the resort’s Race Department, which along with the Snow Grooming, Snow Making, and Lift Operations departments, spent the week before the event constructing the courses and spectator areas. The crew was assisted by a legion of local volunteers who shaped each mogul and jump by hand. The result was stunning. In a few short days, they transformed the Champion and White Owl trails into challenging elite runs.

Champion, site of the 2002 Olympic freestyle mogul’s event and White Owl, home of the 2002 Olympic freestyle aerials proved a great venue once again. Both are located on Bald Eagle Mountain.

(Patrol manager Steve Graff, right, reviews the plan for World Cup before the start of the first session Thursday evening, as patroller Mark Chytka looks on.)

Patrol assisted with setup, hanging rope lines and baffle-fences along the sides of the course. Then, when warm-ups started Wednesday, and competition commenced Thursday, a team of patrollers took to the race hill to provide first aid for the athletes, coaches, and spectators, if needed.

Seventeen patrollers worked the event: 10 on-course, five in the spectator area, and two supervisors – one in the Bald Eagle patrol shack, the other roaming where needed.

“It’s a nice change of pace,” patroller Kate Atha said. “You’re not doing openers or 10-50s [radio-code for a skier wreck]. It’s a midseason refresher.”

Still, the World Cup days are long and cold. Patrollers working course-side typically stand outside for more than three hours at a time before rotating back to the patrol shack to warm up, eat, and rest. Once it was all over Saturday night, patrollers stayed past midnight, helping the race department, snow groomers, volunteers and others dismantle the course.

“It’s a good lesson in how to dress warm,” Atha said. “You’re not always moving, it’s not always sunny on Champion – or you’re working at night. So you’re wearing eight layers and mittens and heat packs, and you’re constantly eating.” Night events ran from about 7 or 8 p.m., depending on the day, to about 9:15 p.m., and temperatures dipped to 3 degrees Fahrenheit.

(Maitland Wiren and Kate Atha relax at the end of a long day Friday.)

The reward? The best seat in the house.

(The aerials course, lit-up for the finals Friday night.)

“You get to be right in the thick of the action,” patroller Hylton Early said. “When you’re right there working course-side and you see the athletes warming up and talking to their coaches, you get a much better understanding of the commitment and time the athletes put into it. You also get a much better sense of the size of the moguls, the speed the guys are going, how high they go off the jumps.”

The 10 patrollers who worked course-side were divided into pairs, which rotated roughly every 45 minutes through various stations on the courses. On Champion, the stations were located at the start gate, the first kicker, the second kicker, the finish, and the Bald Eagle patrol shack. On White Owl, patrollers stood watch at the jumps and below the landing area.

In addition to dealing with the cold, the work presented different challenges from a regular ski day, particularly on Champion: the runs proved especially slick, the moguls were enormous, and thousands of spectators were watching – not to mention the TV cameras.

“You got to be 100-percent solid with running sleds in bumps,” Atha said. “The course is hard enough for athletes to ski it. We’re responding to wrecks and skiing with sleds in those same bumps.”

(Patroller TJ Somers and Mark Chytka stand at the bottom of Champion during warmups on Wednesday.)

The three days of World Cup – four, if you include Wednesday’s practice session – provided an additional bonding experience for the patrollers working the event.

“You’re all putting in the sacrifice of the long hours and cold temperatures,” Early said. “It’s almost like pledging.”

Asked whether they plan to sign-up for World Cup next year, Early and Atha were unequivocal. “100 percent,” they said.

(The moguls and aerials courses Saturday night, as seen from overhead.)

The moguls and aerials events were broadcast on NBC on Saturday, Feb. 11. The dual moguls portion of the event were broadcast Saturday, Feb. 18, at 2:30 p.m. EST on NBC. For the results, as published on the official FIS website, click here.

 

A Note from Our President on President’s Day

To celebrate President’s Day and the height of the winter, we met up with Deer Valley Resort President, Bob Wheaton to get an update on this ski season.

What a year it has been! We’ve continued to invest each season in the resort’s snowmaking system, and this season the system was certainly put to the test! The team we have at the resort in every aspect of our operations is second to none and this becomes increasingly evident when Mother Nature sends us a curve ball. Prior to the welcomed storm cycle, I have certainly been enjoying the Deer Valley corduroy this year, while curving lines on Stein’s Way and Magnet.

I hope many were able to get out and experience our VISA Freestyle International World Cup event the first week of February. We added another evening event with moguls on Thursday. It is always a thrill to see the events under the lights. The event means a lot of extra work for staff but we are thrilled to host such an amazing group of athletes from around the world. Our partnerships with FIS (International Ski Federation) and with the US Ski Team are great for the resort.

The President’s Day holiday means March and spring skiing are right around the corner. In the Wasatch spring also brings its share of powder days. Whether its spring corn or fluff  I am looking forward to being on the mountain and enjoying the amazing efforts of the Deer Valley Team.

Hope to see you out there!

Bob Wheaton shares one of his favorite powder stashes:

Date Night—Park City Style.

Saturday night, with my little one well into his second dose of antibiotics, and the big one eager to hang with Claire-the-cool-babysitter, Ski Dad and I headed out for a double date with our friends Miriam and Josh.

(Seth filling out his own prescription)

As I laced up my Sorels, zipped my fleece, and made sure my pockets were stuffed with packets of hand-warmers, I started to giggle—partly with anticipation for a grown-up night out, and partly in appreciation of the difference between dressing for date night in New York City—skirt, heels, cute-but-not-necessarily-warm top—and date night in Park City. I shared this with our friends when we picked them up a few minutes later, and Miriam said, “I know—I’m not even wearing makeup! I didn’t see the point.”

The mood in the crowd was festive, excited and very social. We ran into tons of friends—and even made a few new ones. Here I am with my new pal Mike Hale—locals know him as the star of commercials for the Acura and Chevy dealerships he owns in Park City and in Salt Lake City. We know him as a newfound friend. He immediately struck up a conversation with us, introduced us to his son (also Mike) and, yep, talked skiing. (Ok, we talked a little bit about business—he was quick to tell me I don’t have to drive all the way to Salt Lake to get my car serviced, since his shop can work on any type of car. And that his team will also wash and vacuum the car after they work on it. Which, any mom will tell you, is enticement enough!)

 

Most impressively, Mike told us how much he’s enjoying his first season skiing—on his new knee. This, my friends, was a lot different than date night chatter in New York City. And, to boot, I got my breath taken away—multiple times—by the excitement of the dual moguls competitions.

Here’s why: People crash. They cross in and out of each other’s lines. Their bumps skiing goes awry—massively awry. And then, poof! They regain their line, their balance, their mojo, just in time for the second jump near the bottom of the course, and POW! They land these killer, killer tricks. Perfectly. And it happens again and again. My favorite moment in competition was watching two US Women—Heather McPhee and Hanna Kearney—go head-to-head in the finals. Astounding, inspiring. And I can’t wait until next year.

 

 

VISA Freestyle International including “behind the scenes…”

Since the beginning of the millennium, Deer Valley Resort has embraced freestyle skiing by hosting Freestyle World Cups, Olympics and World Championship events. This year was no exception and while the Utah resort bested itself once again, the top international freestyle athletes met at what is, without much debate, their favorite venue in the word.

With its mogul and aerial events, freestyle is one of the very few ski competitions that can be seen and enjoyed by the public from top to bottom, without solely relying upon a giant TV screen. Deer Valley’s venue is quite unique in the way it is shaped and configured and is designed to accommodate close to 7,000 cheering spectators. A number in that vicinity could have been counted on both the Friday and Saturday evenings that, by far, attracted the largest crowds.

I’m a bit partial to the mogul competition which is a true test in edge-to-edge quickness, rolling bumps that come at the competitors like a monster conveyor belt eager to swallow them, where there’s a need for electric knee-action interspersed with a couple of high powered jumps where athleticism, balance, sporting creativity and a lot of good luck combine to offering a breathtaking show. As a single event, moguls is plenty entertaining but in its dual format, the whole spectacle truly comes to life, builds up additional pressure, intensifies the excitement and let the athletes’ raw talent explode in full view of a cheering public.

The aerial competition on the other hand is like a high-speed elevator lift that boosts a skier high into the air, which materializes into seemingly unending airtime that can be used to execute all kinds of twisting and rotating maneuvers while the flight lasts and until it becomes time to land the skis securely and stylishly on a steep and short reception area. Each jump is another opportunity for the athlete to deeply concentrate; balance apprehension versus desire to excel and almost go for broke, hoping to better the last best jump!

Oh yes, while the world’s elite was delivering their perfect show, and the adults were riveted on their awesome performance, another “unofficial world cup” was being held just below the tent and the television house, right on the edge of the immense spectators platform, where the slope is steep. The 5 to 10 years old who are between 3 and 5 feet tall and might have been a bit too small to see everything World Cup, decided to hold their own snow-ball throwing contest and testing the low friction of their ski suits on Deer Valley’s famous great snow, and thinking they were champions in their own right!

Each evening has been marked with big crowds, loud cheers, and pressurized atmosphere with spectators and athletes in communion for pushing the envelope and chasing excellence. A wonderful way for our entire community of visitors, residents and visiting athletes from the world over to bond over a sport we all love!

If you missed the live action these three nights, these World Cup events hosted by Deer Valley Resort will be televised on NBC on February 11, 2012 at 1 pm. EST and on Versus February 11 and 18, 2012.

Here’s the Versus broadcasting Schedule (all times EST):

Freestyle Moguls 2/11/2012 2 pm.

Freestyle Aerials 2/11/2012 3 pm.

Freestyle Dual Moguls 2/18/2012 2:30 pm.

Mother-Son Night at World Cup

World Cup Fever hit hard in my house.

So did the regular fever, which turned out to be strep—but it only derailed our mad spectating skills for one night. More on that in a minute.

No sooner had Sundance ended, than my family was plotting out our strategy to be spectators at the VISA Freestyle International . We decided that the moguls on Thursday would be my mother-son night with Lance—in part to compensate for my all-day birthday ski date with Seth earlier in the week, while Lance was busy being a third grader. Said third-grader wasted no time telling his teacher that he’d be out late Thursday at the World Cup. Thankfully, Park City teachers get it—Lance said Ms. Thompson was really excited for him.

The buildup was immense—so when we got home from karate and I discovered that little brother had a fever, I saw Lance try to mask his disappointment at the prospect of missing out on our evening. Dad, of course, saw no reason for us to change our plans—all Seth needed was one parent in the house to take care of him. Mom and brother? Redundant.

So, we bundled up and off we went. I can safely say there was nothing the kid did not enjoy about the World Cup—from the walk through the parking lot to the chairlift ride with no skis, to the hike up the bottom of Little Stick. Seeing all the kids (and some adults) sliding on their bottoms off the runout on the bottom of Solid Muldoon was a hoot, too. And then…the holy grail:  We were lucky enough to be invited to the VIP Tent, so my soup-loving boy got to enjoy a second dinner of Tomato Basil Soup and unlimited cookies.

And this kid—he may be but a yellow belt in karate, but he’s got a black-belt in events. “Mom, it’s warm in the tent, and we’re bundled up—let’s take our soup outside and eat where it’s cooler,” he said, wisely. “Plus, we won’t miss a minute of competition!”

And, of course, the competition was amazing.

In the process, I think I found the phrase that will make my kids roll their eyes in that “Mom, you’re such a dork, you always say that!” way that teenagers acquire. It is…

“You know, if you were growing up in New York City, you would not get to do this!”

Admittedly, it’s kind of a preemptive strike against the kind of groaning I have anticipated as soon as my kids figure out that my old life as an Entertainment Editor in New York City involved premiere tickets to just about every major studio release, house seats to popular Broadway shows, and concert tickets with backstage access at lots and lots and lots of teenybopper concerts. I once said to Ski Dad that I wondered if, for all the effort we put into moving to Utah and creating a certain kind of life here, if our kids would “reward” us by lusting after city life, as a sort of karmic joke. (I was the originator of that particular bit—growing up in Vermont, I pined, pined I tell you, for life in the big city. Three cities and twelve years later, I was done.)

So, yes, I went ahead and made that statement, aloud, to Lance as we got ready to watch the women’s and men’s moguls’ competition on Thursday night. Shameless.

But something cool happened. Lance got the same look of awe on his face watching the competition as he got when I took him to see American Idol Live on Tour, or the first time he watched Star Wars. He was both completely absorbed in being entertained, and impressed with what it took to make this entertainment happen. And you know what? Even though mom’s job still have the kind of perks that get us into VIP tents, that wasn’t the thing that impressed him about the experience:

“Mom, look how good they are,” he said. “I’m thinking about how hard they all worked to get here. It’s a lot of work, isn’t it, Mom?”

For once, I just shut my mouth and let the experience speak for itself.

Thanks, Lance.

World Cup FEVER

I’ve got World Cup Fever. I’ll tell you that right now. Sundance has not even ended yet, and I’m already counting the minutes until the 2012 VISA Freestyle International. The party starts February 1 with a concert on Main Street, featuring Robert Randolph and the Family Band. I’m especially psyched because this year is the 10th anniversary of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, and the concert will also include a special anniversary celebration. If, like me, you were a volunteer during the games—or just an avid spectator, dressed head-to-toe in Roots garb, wear your 2002 gear to the party on Main Street; prizes will be awarded for creative Olympic spirit.

I will be there in my official SLOC blue vest, blue jacket and black Olympic fleece. My kids were born after the Games, so I am eager to share some of that excitement with them. Sure, they’ve seen photos of Mommy and Daddy volunteering, and heard the stories, but having them see some of the Olympic stuff in action will be really fun.

And, yes, I’m letting them stay up late to attend the concert…and some of the events on the snow later in the week. There’s nothing like watching a freestyle event under the lights, cheering for the “home team.” And so much the better when the home team lives and trains in our town! So—are you coming? What are you looking forward to attending during the World Cup competitions? Any suggestions for ways I can stand out in the crowd in my Olympic garb?