Park City and the Olympics

We were drawn to Park City because of it is home to the Sundance Film Festival.

High above Salt Lake City, it was once a mining town, with narrow, steep streets and lovely mountain views. Now, its prosperity comes from skiing and tourism, and judging by the boutiques along the main street, many tourists are affluent film buffs or producers.

We had lunch in the No Name Saloon, which turned out to be the place for town regulars, and reminded us of the Doubleday Café, if it were liberated from baseball and bedecked with eccentric memorabilia, complete with an ancient motorcycle and a battered chair lift, hanging from the brick (yes, brickwork, arched between rusted steel beams) ceiling.

We browsed the shops and found a visitors’ hole-in-the-wall where we got maps to the lifts and nearby winter sports complex, built for the 2002 Olympics. On the drive through mountains and prairie, and new developments of condos with the usual accompanying retail complexes, we saw two distant ski jumps curling up from steep slopes, and then the large sculptural signs for the Olympics.

We went into the visitors’ center, filled with costumes, medals, and some of the giant puppets from the opening ceremonies. A tour was due to start shortly, so we joined it and went up to the bobsled runs, got to learn lots about bobsledding, skeleton, and luge, from two knowledgeable and enthusiastic young women who’d been local high school go-fers during the Olympics. We got to stand in the starting gate of the largest ski jumps, look out at the spectacular mountain view, and then down, down the narrow ramp that would offer the lift of a lifetime and one chance for a medal.

When we returned to the center, we watched people making practice jumps from three lower, year-round jumps, which have white plastic bristles that simulate snow surface, and a large swimming pool at the bottom.

As each skier began the descent, dense air bubbles would froth up from the bottom of the pool to break the surface tension for a safer landing. Coaches in adjacent towers would call out comments and observations to the emerging, ski-attached swimmers. We were told that the water was very cold, but the sun was warm, and none of the jumpers seemed to mind.  Each one wore a helmet and standard ski-boots, which, by the end of the day got completely water-logged. At the far end of the pool, thick padding surrounded several trampolines, where athletes could practice somersaults, twists, and other moves needed for free-style ski jumping. There are only two such facilities in the States. The other is in Lake Placid, NY.

Camps and days are offered to anyone who wants to try jumping, and there’s an Olympic training school here as well, where athletes attend regular school in the summer and then train full-time when the snows begin.

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