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Winters Past

Looking back on a time when Park City was just a little, funky, wonderful place.



We arrived at the threshold of our new town and new life by accident. Standing at the bottom of Main Street one late autumn afternoon in 1973, we saw an old mining town smattered with 100-year-old buildings. The imposing facade of the Claimjumper Hotel cast a long shadow across the narrow street rising straight uphill. Mountains covered with flickering gold aspen trees and stately pines hugged the tiny town. We listened to the sound of the wind rustling dry leaves nearby. The sky was as blue as a lapis stone and the ski area was walking distance from the spot where we stood. We felt lucky and excited. Turning toward each other simultaneously we said, “This is it!” Park City became home for me, my college sweetheart and our future spouses for the next three decades.

We found an old miner’s house to live in at 605 Woodside Ave. It was perched precariously near the crest of a hill and overlooked Main Street. We didn’t own much, being recent college grads, and we hadn’t brought much with us from Michigan. Having traveled halfway across the country in my boyfriend’s small van, there wasn’t much room for more than a trunk full of personal belongings, a few pots and pans, my dog Gypsy and our skis. We furnished our new home with objects we discovered in old sheds and the attic. There was a mission-style oak rocking chair, a Victorian clock that didn’t work but looked good and a sturdy wooden library table. Some colorful beanbag chairs were purchased at Kmart at the mouth of Parleys Canyon and I found a pine dresser at the swap meet on Redwood Road. We were settled in before winter.

There was a set of steep, wooden stairs that connected our neighborhood at the top of Woodside to the community and activities on Main Street below. The steps were crooked and had holes with weeds poking through them, so we had to tread carefully on our daily descents into town. There were a host of characters on Main Street that spiced up our lives. The tinkling jingle bell above the door at Art Durante’s announced your arrival into the musty atmosphere of his hardware store. There were shelves lined with baby food jars of nuts and bolts, and the slanted plank floorboards coupled with the leaning walls sometimes made me dizzy. If you were one of his favorite patrons you were affectionately greeted with, “What do you want, you bum?” or “Get out of here, meathead.”

Friends with nicknames like Steakhouse, The Void, Waterbed and B-O-B owned or operated the saloons, the newspaper, restaurants and stores. They provided us with household essentials, tools and entertainment. Living in the isolation of our desolate mining town made us feel protected from the war raging in Vietnam. Secure in our friendships and tucked away in the narrow canyon straddled by towering mountains, our lives were influenced more by local weather conditions than worldwide political conditions.

The first winter, we were wrapped like a cocoon in deep snow. Back then the city did not remove it and truck it out of town. It was simply plowed to the sides of our constricted mountain roads. The snow accumulated steadily over the winter and produced lofty snow banks that lined the streets and formed white tunnels. Snow piled on our roof and needed to be shoveled off because we feared the rickety old rafters might collapse under the weight of it. In spite of the inconvenience caused by its volume, we reveled in the depths of the snow.

One of the best features of our house on Woodside was the partially cleared ski run named “Quittin’ Time” that ended in our backyard. Very few people skied it because it didn’t lead back to a chairlift. We used it as our private exit from the resort. To reach the hidden trailhead, we secretly skied through groves of aspens and around some sagebrush. We followed a line of rusting steel tram towers that once carried buckets of ore off the mountain, to the cut trail that was never groomed. Sparkling ice crystals spraying cold, fresh powder into our faces was the grand finale of the day.

Skiing became our life for as long as we could afford it. We discovered the weightless bliss of Utah’s desert dry snow and got good at skiing the steep, back bowls. We hiked for the best snow on Rossignal Haute Routes with Ramer bindings. Learning the terrain of the mountains this way, we became adept at gliding through thick glades of evergreens and stands of aspen trees. We skied in the moonlight. We skied with our dogs leaping like porpoises down the mountain behind us through a sea of white feathers, our tracks leaving our imprint on the world.

Every Christmas Eve, Father Pat Carley conducted midnight mass. My friend Connie and I had a holiday tradition. She arrived on my doorstep around 11 p.m., her face bright and smiling in the alpine night air. Wrapped in wool scarves and warm winter coats, we shared a Yuletide walk up to Saint Mary’s Catholic Church at the top of Park Avenue. Snowflakes fell silently, drifting past the soft glow of old streetlights.

The snow under our feet muffled harsh sounds and cushioned our world. On our way up the mountain, we passed little homes, the eves draped in fresh snow. Glancing through frost-laden windows into warmly lit rooms, we recognized friends who lived in these old houses with the gingerbread trim. We spoke in a whisper about holiday plans and activities. We shared our reverence for the mountains and the day. As we walked peacefully on snow packed streets in the mountains of Park City, tiny wet snowflakes kissed our wind burned cheeks.