Saturday, February 20, 2010

Park City Stars

I know some get a kick when they can identify a place with some celebrity connection.

So, just a week after the Sundance Film Festival I was half expecting to see some star power lingering on for some l’apres ski around Park City, Utah maybe even a Robert Redford sighting. Fingers were crossed.

Now, if you say Team USA members in bobsled, luge, and skeleton have star power (and that they do) then yes, I managed to hang with the best.

But the day didn’t start that way. The streets were visibly bare; it was mid-morning. I swore I saw some tumbleweed roll past the Egyptian Theater which only a few days earlier was rife with cine-fans marching in their stilettos.

Instead all attention was focusing on the Utah Olympic Park in Park City. Team USA had descended on the snow peaked Wasatch Mountains ready for some last minute training.

We drove to the bobsled/luge/skeleton track (theirs cost an estimated US$25- million while ours, the Whistler Sliding Centre cost $105 million).

“Come on over here. I want you to meet our champions,” motioned a flaming red headed Carl Roepke, himself a seven-time US national champion who will be the official Olympics announcer for all the slider competitions (luge, skeleton and bobsled).

“The only choreographed part is winning the medal stuff. Everything else is me,” he says hitting his heart and adding before he goes live to millions of viewers he’ll visit the track.

“I breathe it all in and will walk up the track to really feel it,” he said describing the moment he’ll arrive at Whistler’s now all too infamous sliding center in which Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died in a tragic training accident.

Then there was Bill Schuffenhauer, prepping his bobsled called Sea Biscuit. The 2002 Olympic silver-medal winner in the four-man bobsleigh helped the US. end the 46-year medal drought was now gently polishing the razor sharp race runners. “It’s going to be a good time,” he revealed about the upcoming Winter Olympics.

Ask me if I was becoming a spy? I couldn’t believe how accessible the national teams were. There they were sans handlers with no red tape. No police brigade. There I was standing next to the world champion skeleton daredevil darling Noelle Pikus-Pace with her blond locks streaked in blue and red. “I grew up in a family of eight and have five brothers,” said Noelle, the youngest in the brood. What do you say to someone who careens 90 mph down the icy track, face first?

World champion bobsled winner and US gold Olympic hopeful Steven Holcomb was feeling no anxiety when I mentioned the fastest sliding track on earth. “I’m ready to win,” said the Park City native confidently.

Still wishing to add more star sighting experiences, I figured you might as well go straight to the source and find out from some of the venues who hosted some of the stars during Sundance.

Why was Park City so popular among the glitterati? Was there some star dust in these sugar-coated mountains? Was it something about the 7,000 foot elevation? True, it’s the stomping ground of the Sundance Kid himself. I heard Mr. Redford, as the locals like to address him, drives himself to the events in his Prius. There’s no pretense.

Jesus my Mexican-American chauffer (I know I said there’s no pretense but really there isn’t…just a lot of money) says Bill Murray flew charter and stayed at a friend’s lodge with a private ski run located next to the opulent The Canyons Resort which interestingly was recently purchased by Talisker, a Toronto real estate company.

Toronto expat and Park City resident Robin Rankin who now heads the Kimball Art Center laughs when the film festival’s mentioned. “Oh yeah, I managed to attend a screening and when I turned around I couldn’t believe Bill Gates was sitting behind me just there with the rest of us.”

Considered the town’s cultural hub, the Kimball Art Center transformed into the Sundance House and was the scene for “The Celebration of Music in Film” a seminar with guest speakers Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt. But somehow the two were having such a good time, the evening morphed into a free acoustic set. “Lyle was awesome,” beamed Robin.

Back at my own lodgings, the Sky Lodge, which sits adjacent to Redford’s restaurant Zoom, ace sales guy, Bill Ekblad, toured us through the star smitten penthouse and raved about the week’s VIP parties and celebrity interviews staged there. Singer Bono from U2 is known to have also stayed on another occasion. When he arrived, it’s reported 17 pallets arrived with him for his short three-day stay. “He loves skiing,” said one insider.

Now that gives “packing light” new meaning.

The thing I found about Park City is it doesn’t matter when you visit. The hospitality is genuine. Myles Rademan, a member of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Organizing Committee who helped mastermind the success of that Olympics said it best.

“We put the party back in the Olympics. We didn’t wait for others to plan it for us. We did it ourselves. We organized a whole lot of things as a municipality to promote ourselves as the fun place to gather. We had a story. We had a theme. And people were drawn to that.”

Turns out the evening I had dinner with Myles, he says our own Olympic organizers were still calling him a week before for advice.

Call it star power.

photo credit: Stephen Smith/

No comments:

Post a Comment