PARK CITY, Utah — This town knows how to host a party.
Long before the Olympics, this mountain ski village east of Salt Lake City was one of the few places in Utah with name recognition. Three ski resorts and the Sundance Film Festival bring thousands of visitors every winter and concertgoers and arts festival patrons in the summer.
Now, for its biggest party ever, Park City has unleashed all its practiced hospitality. Area resorts are hosting snowboarding, slalom and moguls events, with ski jumping close by at Utah Olympic Park. The city’s Old Town is hosting the fun.
Park City is hipper, richer, smaller and cooler than its valley neighbors. With the state’s smallest percentage of Mormon residents, the former mining town has never followed Salt Lake’s conservative lead.
Park City boomed in the 19th century — with many more saloons and brothels than churches — after silver was discovered in the hills, but it was a ghost town by the 1950s. It was revived in the 1960s when the city’s biggest mining company realized snow could be more lucrative than silver and opened a resort.
Now, it’s one of the nation’s swankiest winter destinations. Average house prices are twice those in the rest of the state, and it’s probably the only place in Utah where Gucci bags and men in full-length fur coats don’t merit a second look.
During the Olympics, Park City is capitalizing on its history, with entertainment ranging from dancing cowgirls to Budweiser horses trotting along historic Main Street. Sponsors hand out goodies and drinkers occasionally sneak beer out onto the street — a sight unknown in Salt Lake.
Tight security is still evident; officers clad in yellow parkas roam everywhere.
Tammy Smith, a police dispatcher from California here to work for the games, was in town to enjoy a day off with several colleagues. She said Park City residents and city officials have been enthusiastic.
“They’ve made law enforcement feel very welcome. The people here are very gracious,” she said. “Everybody comes up and thanks them for being here.”
Despite the scope of this party, most residents seem to be taking it in stride. There are crowds, but no bigger than for any other festival here. Perhaps because of the cold or the economy, the place hasn’t been overrun with hordes of visitors.
Even this bastion of wealth shows signs of penny-pinching. Shops selling expensive wares are relatively quiet. Inexpensive eateries are packed, while upscale restaurants whose meals normally cost upward of $50 are selling pizza and pasta on the street for $6.
“People, when they find out it’s a set menu at a certain price, would rather buy from street vendors,” said Ryan Wells, a manager at the hip Chimayo restaurant on Main Street.
A Wasatch Brew Pub booth on Main Street featured the model who graces the company’s ads for St. Provo Girl Pilsner. Ingrid Liepnicks signed posters showing her in a revealing beer-garden barmaid outfit and saying, “I may be from Provo, but I’m no saint.” It was a tongue-in-cheek reference to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are supposed to forswear alcohol.
A line of men drinking beer stretched toward the door.
The busiest spot in town was the Roots shop, selling clothing made by the official outfitter of the U.S. Olympic team. There was a line out the door on Sunday.
Up the street, Salt Lake City resident Mike Christy was trying to sell T-shirts reading “Polygamy is better than monotony.” He said his other T-shirt idea, five linked wedding rings with the slogan “Utah Polygamy Association: Proud supporter of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games” would have gotten him in trouble with games organizers.
“I heard the state of Utah was going to be distancing itself from polygamy during the games,” Christy said. “I thought to myself, maybe someone less noble could get in on that and make a dime.”