Cold town, warm heart: Park City throws big bash during Winter Olympics

Tuesday, February 12th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PARK CITY, Utah (AP) _ 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 nearby at Utah Olympic Park. The city's Old Town is hosting the fun.

On Sunday, in a concessions tent, a Wasatch Brew Pub booth featured the model who graces the company's ads for St. Provo Girl Pilsner.

Ingrid Liepnicks signed posters showing her posing in a revealing beer-garden barmaid outfit and saying, ``I may be from Provo, but I'm no saint,'' a tongue-in-cheek reference to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Provo, the home of Brigham Young University, has a population that is about 90 percent Mormon. Mormons aren't supposed to drink alcohol.

A line, mostly composed of men drinking beer, stretched toward the door.

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 City'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 mining heritage, with entertainment ranging from dancing cowgirls to 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 City.

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.

The busiest spot in town is the Roots shop, selling clothing made by the official outfitter of the U.S. Olympic team. Sometimes, the queue of shoppers stretches out the door.

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 landed him in trouble with games organizers.

Polygamy, once practiced by the Mormons in Utah, is banned by the church and by state laws.