Summit Stories

Living the ski bum dream means different things to different people.

By Kristen Gould Case, Melissa Fields, and Matt Lindon January 1, 2015 Published in the Winter/Spring 2015 issue of Park City Magazine

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The Ski Bum John Haney

“Hey, John!” I shout to the first guy in the gondola line on the final day of the ski season at Canyons last April. “How many days did you ski this year?” A permanently tanned curmudgeon with squinty blue eyes, a wild haircut, and a gray beard extending down to his chest turns slowly to face the crowd behind him. The infamous 68-year-old John Haney is 147 pounds of pure modern mountain man, and with almost 40 years of skiing the Wasatch Back under his belt, the quintessential definition of a Park City local. “All of them,” he quips. 

Haney lives in a small miner’s shack in Swede Alley, insulated with bike parts and old skis. Up before dawn and on the first bus out of Old Town, he arrives at Canyons sometimes an hour before the lifts open. Dressed in an old Deer Valley ski coat and pants held together with duct tape and waterproofed with bacon grease, Haney positions himself at the front of the gondola line, every day.  Haney links turns effortlessly, spooning as efficiently in the backcountry as he does on the groomers. He can often be seen skiing the first line under the lift, shouting to his yuppie friends on the chair, “Get a job, you trust-funders!”   

A frugal minimalist, Haney lives on $300 a month and eschews fancy skis, bikes, cars, and women (“They cost too much”), although in a vulnerable moment he confided that he “would have any woman in Park City that would have him.” When told it takes money to make money, he shoots back, “And it takes money to lose money.” Haney eats raw sweet potatoes on the lifts for lunch because “they are gouging with the price of carrots.” Equally generous, he rented a rebuilt aluminum bike with Campagnolo components to an exchange student for the whole summer for just $25 and a T-shirt in return, when the bike shops in town were asking $500 to $1,000.

Haney rides his bikes everywhere year round for both economy and exercise. Legend has it that he once rode his bike down to Salt Lake, completed the Snowbird Hill Climb bike race in less than an hour, and then hitched a ride home. To celebrate his 60th birthday, he entered the National Road Bike Championship race held in Deer Valley and won his age group easily, lapping many riders in the field.

As a quiet Park City icon, Haney is an example of the bygone days when ski bums moved here to wash dishes and load chairlifts, all for the privilege of living and playing in our sleepy little town, serving as a constant reminder of what makes this town great and how we should all want to live: simple, focused, honest,
and happy. —ML

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The Advisor Polly Samuels McLean

A  born-and-bred Brooklyn, New Yorker, Polly Samuels McLean lived in cities all her life until she attended law school at Cornell. “I’d never lived in a place so rural, and I just loved it. I told myself that after I practiced in the city for a few years I would move to the mountains.” After four years in the Manhattan DA’s office, she did just that, moving to Utah in 2000. “I remember biking up Spiro at the time and feeling like I’d gone really far, only to realize that I wasn’t even a quarter of the way up!” Samuels McLean worked for a judge, the court of appeals, and the attorney general’s office in Salt Lake City before accepting her current position as Park City Assistant City Attorney in 2005. 

Land-use cases make up the biggest portion of her job, making Samuels McLean a fixture at planning commission, board of adjustments, and historic preservation meetings. “The great thing about the job,” she says, “is it’s so diverse. The city is involved in everything that’s going on, so I get to be involved, too. I love the day-to-day interaction with my fantastic fellow staffers, trying to find solutions, and then seeing them implemented—like annexing Round Valley. To be part of the process and then get to use Round Valley for recreating myself is so satisfying.”  

Samuels McLean met her husband Andrew McLean at a trailhead in 2001. He’s an internationally renowned ski alpinist, and Samuels McLean is no athletic slouch, either. Aside from rock climbing, hiking, and mountain biking, she’s an avid randonee ski racer, where you “skin up to the top of the mountain, and then ski down, usually repeating that four or five times.” And though she’s shy about revealing it, Samuels McLean once held the female record for skiing the most vertical (about 23,000 feet) in a 24-hour period at an event at Colorado’s Sunlight Mountain (a feat she accomplished while pregnant).

Recreating was obviously a big part of Samuels McLean’s life when she met her husband, and it remains so now with daughters Mira (7) and Stella (5), though in a slightly different way. “Left to my own devices, I would backcountry ski all day, but appreciating Park City with kids is a whole new way to enjoy town,” she says. “All of a sudden you’re excited about the Miner’s Day Parade because the kids are on a float, or you’re skiing Deer Valley on Saturday because they are in ski school.”

McLean says that appreciating where she lives has been one of the biggest perks of motherhood. “I try to live simply and not tax the world too much. With kids all of a sudden you’re talking about Mother Earth, and you’re realizing that you want the places that you appreciate so much to still be around for them to experience,” she says. “And Park City is a great place to do that.  I’m always amazed at the community here and how people really go out of their way to help each other. I’ve benefited from that a lot, and I hope to propagate that as well.” —KGC 

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The Leader Bob Wheaton

Bob Wheaton, Deer Valley Resort president and general manager, was no stranger to Utah when he and his wife, Marion—both ski instructors—moved here from Michigan in the late 1970s. After wrapping up the season at Mt. Holly (a ski resort between Flint and Pontiac), the two would head west, skiing as many days as their legs and the weather would allow. When they decided to leave north Detroit behind for good, the two landed jobs as ski instructors at Park City Ski Area (the precursor to Park City Mountain Resort). “Marion and I hoped I’d be a ski school director out here someday,” Wheaton says with a grin. “That never happened, but I think things turned out OK anyway.”

Not long after Wheaton and his wife moved to Park City, an investment group headed by Edgar Stern and Roger Penske announced plans to develop a luxury ski area where the mom-and-pop Snow Park ski resort had been. Wheaton decided to give the new resort a try and was hired as an instructor for Deer Valley Resort’s inaugural 1981−’82 winter season. But, even before that first snowflake fell, Wheaton was asked instead to head up the resort’s building maintenance department. “I have an engineering degree,” he says, “and back at Mt. Holly, once the lessons were out on the hill for the day, I’d often return to the lodge to fix the refrigerator or heating system or start up a lift.” This can-do attitude apparently impressed his new bosses. By way of the maintenance shop and mountain manager positions, Wheaton was named general manager in 1986 and then president in 1997.

The achievements and accolades Deer Valley has enjoyed under Wheaton’s watch are well documented, but inquire about his family, and where his priorities lie is crystal clear. His son, Cody, 31, is a graduate of the University of Utah ROTC program, served as a US Army Ranger, and is currently studying to be a helicopter pilot. His daughter, Emily, 27, studied jazz at The New School and is serving with the US Air Force Band of the Pacific and Asia. And Marion, once a nurse, now focuses full time on raising Tennessee Walking Horses at their home in Woodland.

Deer Valley’s next chapter, ownership of Solitude Mountain Resort, was an acquisition Wheaton spearheaded. “I’d been looking at resorts all over the West for the past 15 years,” he explains. “Fortunately, Deer Valley is in a position that when the opportunity came up, we had the ability to act quickly.” Plans for the Big Cottonwood Canyon resort include maintaining its well-established brand and exposing its mostly Salt Lake City clientele to the “Deer Valley Difference.” The management transfer from Solitude’s previous owners—the DeSeelhorst Family—will occur in May 2015. In the meantime, Wheaton plans, characteristically, to listen and learn. “We’ll use this season to sit on the shoulders of the folks at Solitude,” he says, “and invite them to do the same here.”

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