Was it really 12 years ago that Utah threw its biggest party ever, the 2002 Olympic Winter Games? It’s hard to believe it’s been so long, but what’s even harder to grasp is where the Games will be played this winter. Sochi, Russia, may as well be the North Pole, in terms of accessibility, at least to sports fans in the western hemisphere.
Thankfully, the spirit of the Games remains alive and well right here in Park City, obviating the need to search for reindeer for hire. Competitions and clinics pack the calendar all winter long (most of them are free), and any Tom, Dick, or Harry can ski, ride, and fly off the multiple well-maintained venues in and around town. But rather than simply pointing out the venues and comps, here we let you in on a slice of Park City’s Olympic sports culture: how to play the more obscure sports, how to translate the lingo, and a few Parkites to watch in Sochi. It’s our guide to walking, talking, and living some of the Olympic sports played and practiced right here in our own Winter Olympics mecca.
Alpine: Where It All Begins
Park City’s first alpine World Cup ski race was held in March 1985 at Park City Mountain Resort (parkcitymountain.com). But the event that sowed the seeds of Park City’s later Olympic glory is America’s Opening, the North American World Cup season opener held at PCMR every November for 16 years leading up to the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. Though the alpine World Cup circuit no longer makes a stop at PCMR, the resort remains a very active ski-racing venue. This winter the University of Utah hosts the men’s and women’s NCAA Skiing Championships at the resort’s Olympic venue, Eagle Race Arena, March 5 and 7, 2014. And both locals and visitors can get their Tommy Moe on at PCMR’s Town Race Series, held on four Wednesdays from 4 to 6 p.m. beginning in January.
The Sundance Kid
Name Steven Nyman
Olympics Attended 2002, 2006, 2010
On the Podium Won the Saslong Classic World Cup race in Val Gardena, Italy, in 2006 and 2012; took second and third place at Birds of Prey World Cup Race, Beaver Creek, Colorado, in 2007 and 2008, respectively; and won the US Championships in 2003 and 2005.
While growing up in Alpine Loop Canyon near Sundance Resort, Steven Nyman had little exposure to television, limited to a sparse VHS library that included a recording of the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics and Greg Stump’s Blizzard of Aahhh’s. “I would watch those tapes over and over again,” he says. “That’s when I first started to dream about being a ski racer.”
Nyman began racing for Sundance at age 8 and migrated to the Park City Ski Team to compete against the “big boys” when he was 16. He was named to the US Ski Team as a slalom racer soon after, but then switched to downhill in 2005. “Slalom can be amazing if you’re skiing well, and horrible if you’re not. Downhill is fun no matter what,” Nyman says. Now, though at 31 he’s one of the oldest USSA team members, with two World Cup downhill wins under his belt Nyman not only is among the favorites to win gold in Sochi but is out to make history. “An American man has never won the overall World Cup title in downhill, but I plan to do it,” Nyman says.
Freestyle: Bump & Twist
Aerials and moguls are known as the most exhibitionist Winter Olympics events for good reason. Aerialists fling themselves 50 feet or more off a huge jump made of snow, performing a series of flips and twists in flight before landing on a steep slope. Mogul skiers charge through a field of Volkswagen-size bumps, perform an aerial trick off one or two jumps midrun, and then race through more bumps to the finish. Watch the best in the world beat themselves up at Deer Valley’s (deervalley.com) annual Visa Freestyle International Ski World Cup January 9–11, 2014, a qualifying event for the US Aerials and Moguls 2014 Olympic teams. The freestyle frenzy kicks off on Wednesday, January 8, with a free concert and fireworks on Main Street.
Name Emily Cook
Olympics Attended 2006, 2010
On the Podium Took second in World Cup overall standings in 2013 and fifth in 2006 and 2011; has garnered nine career World Cup competition podiums; and won the US National Championships in 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2013.
Sochi is Olympics number three for Emily Cook, the gymnast–turned–acro skier–turned–aerialist who’s called Park City home since 2000. Though her 15-year career on the US Ski Team has been riddled with injuries, the 34-year-old appears to be peaking just at the right moment. Last season she won the World Cup final and achieved second place in the overall World Cup rankings, putting her in a strong position as she sets her sights on Sochi. Cook attributes her readiness in large part to living and training in Park City. “Park City’s [USSA] Center for Excellence and the Utah Olympic Park are the best training centers in the world,” Cook says. “And Park City is just an incredible place to live.” One of Cook’s off-snow passions is the Speedy Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to understanding mental illness named in memory of her former teammate and Olympic aerialist, Jeret “Speedy” Peterson. Cook wears Peterson’s belt on her USSA uniform whenever she competes.
Nordic Combined: Fly & Glide
As the name implies, Nordic combined is an event merging two classic Olympic sports: ski jumping and Nordic or cross-country skiing.
The sport requires athletes to have enough muscle mass to be powerful Nordic skiers and be lithe enough to be apt flyers at the same time. The FIS Nordic combined Continental Cup goes off at Soldier Hollow (soldierhollow.com) and the Utah Olympic Park (utaholympiclegacy.com), December 17–19. Soldier Hollow also hosts the US Cross Country Championships January 4, 5, 8, and 10 and the NCAA Nordic Championships, March 6 and 8.
But Park City’s most anticipated pre-Sochi event will surely be the Nordic combined and ski jumping teams’ Olympic trials on December 28 and 29 at Utah Olympic Park. Spectators not only will get to glimpse the US’s Nordic combined Olympic team, but will also witness history when the first-ever US women’s ski jumping team is named. (All five ladies on the Visa Women’s Ski Jumping Team hail from Park City and will be competing for four spots on the Sochi team. Turn to page 100 for a glimpse at Abby Hughes, Alissa Johnson, and Jessica Jerome, models for this issue’s “Top Flight” ski fashion feature.)
The Feel-Good Story
Name Bryan Fletcher
Olympics Attended none
On the Podium Took bronze at the 2013 World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy; bagged four top-10 finishes on the 2013 World Cup circuit; and is the fifth American ever to win the the Oslo, Norway Holmenkollen World Cup (2012)
Bryan Fletcher’s story is pretty incredible:diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 3, he underwent chemotherapy for seven years, and survived a stroke before the cancer finally went into remission. What’s more is that Fletcher is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet whose athletic success is being realized the old-fashioned way: through dedication and lots of hard work.
“Ski jumping was my escape during that time—it was the fun thing I got to do between hospital stays,” says Fletcher, who many Nordic fans believe is among the next generation of great Nordic combined competitors.
In 2013, Fletcher helped capture the USA’s first full-team Nordic combined World Ski Championships medal in Val di Fiemme, Italy, and achieved four top-10 finishes on the World Cup to end the season at 21st in the World Cup standings, the second-highest finish for the US behind brother and teammate Taylor Fletcher.
One way to pick Fletcher out of the crowd during the Sochi Opening Ceremonies may be his StacheTat. “I’m not superstitious, but every time I’ve been on the podium, I’ve had a mustache,” Fletcher says, “including the World Championships in Italy when I wore an American flag temporary-tattoo mustache.”
Snowboarding: the Game Changer
Having evolved from skateboarding on ramps and in mall parking lots to sliding on snowy slopes, snowboarding is widely viewed as a sport, unlike the Games’ largely European-rooted program, born and bred in America. The sport was first contested as part of the Olympics in Nagano, Japan, in 1998; riders from around the world duked it out in Park City Mountain Resort’s Eagle Race Arena in 2002. Snowboarding slopestyle (a.k.a. boardercross) makes its Olympic debut in Sochi, alongside the established halfpipe and parallel giant slalom competitions. PCMR hosts the Visa US Grand Prix finale January 17 and 18.
Name Sage Kotsenburg
Olympics Attended none
On the Podium Ranked 10th in the World Cup overall standings in 2013; took second place at the X Games competition in Aspen, Colorado, in 2012, and in Tignes, France, in 2010; and won the Dew Tour overall championship in 2011
As he was growing up shredding Park City Mountain Resort’s runs, parks, and pipe, native Parkite Sage Kotsenburg claims he never dreamed about going pro or competing in the Olympics. His record, however, would indicate otherwise. He competed in the US Open at age 12 and was on the podium on the 2009 Dew Tour at 16. The word “whirlwind” best describes his career since then: he’s regularly bagged podiums at X Games, Dew Tour, and US Grand Prix events since 2010, and he capped off the 2012 season with an invite to the prestigious Red Bull Supernatural event.
In Sochi, Kotsenburg will be breaking new ground on a number of levels. It will be the first time his signature event, snowboarding slopestyle, is a competitive event at the Games and, because last year’s snowboarding World Cup was canceled due to lack of snow, the first time he’s ridden in Russia.
Freeskiing: Sochi Goes New-School
Building on the Gen Y appeal achieved with the addition of skicross to the Olympic Winter Games in 2010, freeskiing halfpipe and slopestyle events make their Olympic debut as part of the 2014 Sochi program. Where skicross is based on speed—competitors ski through a parklike terrain course, with the first to the finish line deemed winner—freeskiers are judged on amplitude, execution, line (the path chosen through the course), difficulty, landings, and course utilization. The final event to determine the Sochi-bound US Olympic freeskiing team will be at Park City Mountain Resort on January 19.
Afterbang: When, after landing a trick, the skier nonchalantly absorbs the impact and proceeds to ski away in a reclined position, appearing to have exerted little effort regardless of trick difficulty
“Can you tell me how to get to Chad’s Gap?”: A phrase used by newschool skiers to identify each other on or off the ski hill (Chad’s Gap is a 120-foot backcountry gap near Alta Ski Area.)
Cool story, Hansel: A way to let another skier know you don’t care about what he or she has to say
Spin-to-win: A common complaint among freeskiers when a competition is won by simply performing more difficult tricks, with less emphasis on style or perfection
Steeze: A hybrid of style and ease used to describe a skier’s style or trick in a positive way
Curling: Have Broom, Will Bonspiel
Competitive camaraderie describes the essence of curling, one of the Winter Olympics’ oldest and arguably most curious sports. “Curling is one of the only sports I know of where it’s OK to congratulate the other team for making a good shot,” says Park City Curling Club President Greg Basrack.
Founded in 2006 by Basrack’s Canadian wife, Debbie, the Park City Curling Club (parkcitycurlingclub.com) hosts Learn to Curl clinics every fall and two leagues in the winter at the Park City Ice Arena. “Curling is a sport for all ages and athletic abilities,” Debbie says. “My goal is to introduce curling to anyone interested in playing.”
Two teams of four players slide 42-pound stones made from granite harvested only in Scotland down a sheet of ice 130 feet long by 15 feet wide. The stones are delivered toward the center of a 12-foot-diameter target painted just below the surface of the ice, similar to an archery target, called the house. Players vigorously sweep, or brush, the ice in front of the rock to keep it moving. Stones traveling down the ice have a tendency to curve or “curl,” hence the name. Sixteen stones are played in all for each “end,” after which teams score one point for each rock closer to the center of the house than any of the other team’s. Because the Park City Ice Arena is not dedicated curling ice, play there is known as arena curling.
To the Losers Go the Spoils
In Canada and Scotland, where bars are located within most curling facilities, a post-curling cocktail is as much a part of the game as brooms and stones. This tradition is known as “stacking the brooms” or “broom stacking,” and winners typically pay the losing team’s tab. Due to lots of competing interests for ice time at the Park City Ice Arena, Park City Curling Club leagues are typically relegated to the last time slot of the day, 8 to 10 p.m., after which it might be too late to start carousing, making broom stacking less frequent among Park City Curling Club members. But when hardier club members do decide to burn the midnight oil and indulge in a little broom stacking, they typically head to O’Shucks in Quarry Village (8178 Gorgoza Pines Rd, 435.658.1144).
Bobsled: A Second Chance
Unlike in many Olympic sports, for which practice from before grade school is typically a competitive requirement, many bobsledders come to the sport after enjoying active collegiate careers in track and field or football. High-profile examples include Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones, who hopes to bobsled her way to her first Olympic medal at Sochi.
Closer to home is US Bobsledding Development Team coach Valerie Fleming. Though she was a decorated track-and-field competitor throughout college, when it became apparent that throwing the javelin would not get her to the Olympics, she turned to bobsledding. “I went to the Olympics in 2006, where I won a silver medal at age 30,” Fleming says. For one last glimpse of the Americans before they take off for Russia, check out the US Bobsled and Skeleton Intercontinental Cup at Utah Olympic Park, January 7–12.
Brakeman: The last person to enter the sled at the start and the person responsible for stopping the sled at the end of the run
Bumpers or Bunks: Fins located on the front and back of the sled, used by crew members to get quickly into the bobsled
Cornering: Ability of a bobsled crew to maintain a high rate of speed in a curve and not crash
Driver: The very front person in the bobsled, who is the first person to jump into the bobsled at the start and steers the bobsled down the course
Kreisel: A corner with an arc of 270 degrees or more
Runner gauge: A tool that is used by bobsled race officials to measure the thickness of a bobsled’s runners. If a sled’s runners are too thin, it is disqualified
Sanding: One of the critical steps taken to prepare a sled for a run. Each member on a four-person bobsled team is responsible for sanding one runner
Sliding: How bobsledders refer to what they do