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Resorts' race with weather ends as the winter begins

Oddly enough, now that snow has fallen and most of the mountain is a shade of white, the crews at ski areas statewide can slump down in their chairs, let out a deep sigh and, for the first time all summer, doze off peacefully. They won the race.

Crews only have a summer to get a ski area ready for winter. Which may not seem so tough on the surface but represents a lot of long days under all that snow.In the case of Park City Mountain Resort, for example, it represents a $10 million investment in a mountain that has already consumed tens of millions, which is, in the winter, buried under many feet of snow.

In most cases it's a race against the weather. And, when the snow falls and the resort is ready to open, it means Mother Nature lost.

Take the old gondola at Park City. From the time skiers celebrated its last run in May, crews had to disconnect the 100-plus cars, wind up the six miles of old cable, remove the towers and disassemble the motors, gears, bull-wheel and rooms full of controls.

They then had to level ground for new platforms, pour tons of concrete and then fly by helicopter all the new towers for its two new high-speed detachable six-passenger lifts. They then had to string six more miles - three miles each - of cable and attach hundreds of 1,200-pound six-people chairs.

All this to get more people to the top of the mountain faster so they can ski their favorite run, then make it back for a second attempt before the thrill of the first one is lost to waiting.

Lets face it, today's skiers are a spoiled lot. Where once waiting was a sign of good skiing, it's now intolerable. Where once any ride up the mountain was appreciated, now if it's not fast and comfortable, it's unacceptable.

And, if runs aren't as flat as a table top and soft as cotton to ski on they ski off in search of runs, or resorts, where they are.

Which is why Park City purchased a dozen new groomers over the summer, which individually are more expensive than most homes.

And why it cut in five new runs for the Sno-Cats to groom. And why it gladed (ski talk for thinning the vegetation so skiers can enjoy the experience of turning through the trees without hitting one) 50 acres of new terrain. And why it buried several miles of pipe underground to bring manmade snowmaking to 25 acres that were heretofore under nature's care.

This means the resort can put snow down, if nature is unwilling, on 475 acres, which is more land than some small towns. And why it brought in engineers, skiers, architects, snowboarders and workmen to build a fun park, complete with half-pipe, jumps, bumps and gullies. Skiers today want fun, excitement and a variety of new challenges.

"There's always a big push at this time of year," says Charlie Lansche, communications/ marketing director for Park City. "About the time you get a little chill in the air there becomes a sense of urgency to get things done.

"At the beginning of summer you think you have all this time and suddenly it here. It seems like one day we're mountain biking and the next we're skiing. It's a nice feeling to have it all done and ready to open for skiers."

Skiers who are waiting and watching for the signal to ride the high-speed lifts to glass-smooth slopes to enjoy all that now - natural or manmade.