Park City: BARK City

Ilona Kauremszky
Special to mycompass
Jan. 2011

PARK CITY, Utah There are critters up in them thar Wasatch hills!

Cocooned in a heated chairlift, the first of its kind in America, Douglas firs and sky-high aspens swooshed beneath us. All eyes were peeled for pesky deer and elk in this ski bastion of Park City Utah.

The gondola ride at The Canyons Resort was supposed to help give us the lay of the land. After all I was told living the high life at 7,000 feet meant animal sightings were as common as ruddy-cheeked skiers.

But it was a lively pack of tail-wagging dogs wildly woofing that was my first encounter. Sniffing and scratching, this rowdy bunch dove into the powdered snow. A sweater appeared and a ski pole thrust upward, no doubt relics of a recent accident I thought. The sight looked like a crash scene.

“Hey up in Canada, we work on these missions all the time,” I hear a burly guy muster to his troops. What’s this about Canada? I inched closer to listen.

Turns out I got caught in the middle of a simulated rescue being staged at The Canyons Resort and the lead guy was a retired RCMP officer Gord Burns who’s been making a yearly pilgrimage to this part of Utah since 1984 all in the name of rescue and dog training.

The dog whisperer of avalanche rescues, Burns who hails from Fernie B.C. is one of the founders of CARDA (The Canadian Rescue Dog Association). His career spans back to the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics. “I worked with bomb dogs back then,” he says describing the eight year stint prior to his dog rescue days.

Now he’s instructing resorts around Park City (affectionately dubbed “Bark City” by the locals for their doggie penchant) on the ins and outs of live rescues. “This is a great example of the cooperation of the resorts. They made the facility here so we can come together and have everything we need at hand to maximize the training program with our pups. So every resort that supports their dog rescue program has to be commended,” he explains about the 12-dogs on-site ready to be whisked off in helicopters later that afternoon to Wasatch backcountry, all part of a mission created by the WDR (Wasatch Dog Rescue).

We came down to get away from Canada for some post Sundance fun but discovered Canada seemed always nearby. Park City’s been attracting Canucks lately not only in tourism arrivals (the Park City Chamber of Commerce reports a 38 percent revenue increase by local properties last winter) but the no-nonsense ski resort town about a 30-minute drive from Salt Lake City has encountered Canadian investors too.

The biggest is Talisker. The Toronto-based real estate development company purchased The Canyons for reportedly US$123-million in 2008 and has added an exclusive eatery on Main Street called Talisker on Main, as well as the Waldorf Astoria Park City; and to boot, has multi-million-dollar developments in Deer Valley and the Tuhaye golf course.

One Park City insider says Canadians love the quirky sensibilities, prefer the fun edginess over stuffy Vail Colorado and enjoy the laid-back charm of this blue city in a state of red. Parkites traditionally vote democrat while Utah’s generally billed as Republican.

Expat Robin Marrouche has been in Park City for 10 years and heads up the city’s Kimball Art Center, the city’s only visual arts centre that fosters emerging talent around this Olympic medal hotbed.

“I came for a friend’s wedding, was her bridesmaid and when I arrived I fell in love with this place,” recalls the former Torontonian, adding one of her favourite surprises of Park City was Halloween.

“All the dogs parade in full costumes up and down Main Street every year. Shows you how much the locals love their dogs eh,” she laughs about the annual seasonal pooch fest.

Under Marrouche’s watch, the non-descript venue located in a former gas station has evolved into a cultural magnet with plenty of parties and workshops that she says has spiked attendance, making the Kimball Art Center one of the to-be-seen-in places.

Her track record helps. In Toronto, as an events planner she orchestrated heavy weights like Henry Kissinger, Nelson Mandela and Bobby Kennedy Junior. “It was a fun time,” says Marrouche about her stint with Speakers Forum.

In her off-hours, the firecracker executive director gathers a random group of beer drinkers, a Canadian contingent of fellow expats she aptly calls the Canadian Club, a group Marrouche founded a couple of years ago. “Now we can celebrate our traditions like Grey Cup parties, Canada Day, and the NHL play-offs all together,” she explains about the burgeoning 45-person group.

Meanwhile on Main Street, buildings resembling an old western film set now cater to ski shops, sushi restos, boho boutiques and the old city hall which is the newly renovated Park City Museum. Museum docent, David Gorrell, a retired American Airlines pilot, smirks when I tell him I’m from Toronto. “I used to fly there all the time,” he reminisces and adds, “You know Park City’s biggest mine was the Ontario Mine. One of the companies who worked on it last was Canadian. You probably heard of Noranda.”

Ontario Mine was the mother lode of silver. Back in the mid-1800s George Hearst (the daddy of publishing tycoon William Randolph) bought the mine for $30,000. A vibrant industry till the fifties, Gorrell says Park City’s foray into the ski business really happened by accident when the old mining hills turned into ski runs all part of what he describes as a huge revitalization plan. “This city was turning into a ghost town. It was President Kennedy’s important federal loan deal in the sixties that saved the day,” he says.

Just on the outskirts of town by the hockey arena, there’s a huge gathering of mostly locals ready to watch a dog sled race that started eight days earlier in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. A local recommended the race because a Canadian from Fort Nelson B.C. was in it.

A pretty informal affair like the Parkites themselves, just before the big race, I spotted a red maple leaf toting kennel truck in the parking lot. Lo’ and behold there was Blayne “Bud” Streeper busy gathering his eight-dog team.

“Hey Buddy. I hear you’re from Canada. What are you doing here?” With a toothy-grin that seemed to span from coast to coast, he replied, “I’m going to show the Americans how to win eh.”

With a gosh-golly gee attitude Streeper joined the pack of serious-looking mushers. Donning only fancy-free farmer overalls and Kodiak boots the multiple world champion quietly stood back from his contenders who were all sporting slick high tech outerwear and the latest coolster sunglasses, the kind you’d see in the Olympics. Yet somehow I believed in Buddy. Streeper is the only musher in the sport’s history to win the five majors – Laconia, The Pas, Anchorage, Fairbanks and Yellowknife.

That night over drinks with some local Parkites, the talk turned to the dog sled race. Buddy Streeper was right. The Canuck from B.C. won the big race.


photos: Stephen Smith

If you go:

Neat Trivia: The International Pedigree Stage Stop Sled Dog Race has been called the Superbowl of Mushing. Six Canadians with returning champion Streeper are scheduled to mush this year.
Wyomings Stage Stop

Dates: January 28-February 5, 2011 in Park City, Utah

This year’s Sundance Film Festival has three Canadian entries.
Sundance Film Festival Dates: January 20-30, 2011

Getting There:

There are no direct flights from YYZ to Salt Lake City but Air Canada among other carriers offer daily service.

Where to Stay:

The hipsters hang at the decadent Sky Lodge off Main Street.

For fireplace chats and Tyrolean beauty, the triple A, five diamond Stein Eriksen captures the magic of Deer Valley.


Park City has “Ski free-stay free” limited offers available during March 27, 2011 – April 10, 2011. Certain restrictions apply.

Each week Park City Chamber members update the Hot Deals section on Park City Info
Be on the slopes in the afternoon with Park City’s Quick START (Ski today and ride today) program.
Free public transit.
Free fun at the dog sled race

For more travel information visit the Park City Chamber Bureau at Park City Info

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