Lights, and party, back for Deer Valley World Cup

For past two years, crowds were limited, night events nonexistent because of COVID-19, but they return as resort celebrates its 25th year of hosting international ski events.

Park City • The freaks come out at night, even at Deer Valley Resort.

The Park City ski area has a reputation for being the most prim and proper of all of Utah’s resorts. For the past two years, the FIS Freestyle World Cup events held at the resort have followed suit. Competition all took place in broad daylight and with sparse crowds due to low snowpack and COVID-19 restrictions.

This year, though, the lights are back and so are the fervent, and real and faux fur-clad, fans.

“We’re just here to support the fun people who are competing out here,” said Matt Jimenez, 33, one of a crew of five friends who drove up from Salt Lake City to watch Friday’s aerials competition. They tailgated in the parking lot while wrapped in colorful ultra-fluffy, animal-print coats.

“How often do you get an opportunity to watch something like this?” said Hillary Dunks, 29.

They weren’t the only ones in a festive mood. Aerials competitors who reached the finals could hear the clamor of cowbells and the roar of at least 5,000 fans — especially after men’s winner Dmytro Kotovskyi of Ukraine landed the most difficult jump in the sport, the “Hurricane,” a twisting marvel invented by former Park City resident Jeret “Speedy” Peterson. Another 2,000 were estimated to have watched Thursday night’s moguls finals.

(Julie Jag/The Salt Lake Tribune) Fur-clad friends Matt Jimenez, Hillary Dunks, Shane Jimenez, Erin Jimenez and Hugo Foucher tailgate in the Deer Valley Resort parking lot prior to the FIS Freestyle World Cup aerials competition on Friday, Feb. 3, 2023. The Champion moguls course is in the background behind them. World Cup action will continue Saturday with men's and women's dual slalom.

Competitors have also been relishing the opportunity to have their moment under the stadium lights — whether it’s their first time or their 15th.

Jaelin Kauf has had plenty of opportunity to ski under the lights. She has skied 15 World Cup moguls competitions at Deer Valley and came away with a win in 2018.

Over that span, her family and friends from Alta, Wyoming, have perfected the art of creating a hullabaloo. They bring American flags and cowbells and without fail a Costco-sized supply of giant cardboard Js. On Thursday, they rooted her to a second-place finish behind Jakara Anthony of Australia. They finished in the same order at the 2022 Olympics.

“The crowd here is just such a different energy than we see anywhere else,” Kauf said. “When you’re standing in the starting gate and dropping into the course, you can feel the excitement and the energy of the crowd. And honestly, whether you’re competing on the course or standing down in the crowd, you can feel it. It’s just such an exciting, just moving energy, and it’s a really special thing as an athlete to be a part of and feel when you’re skiing.”

Cole McDonald can’t wait to “get that full Deer Valley experience.” He grew up in Park City and can tell stories of sneaking into the trees paralleling the moguls course as a kid to get a better view of the action during the nighttime finals.

Jaelin Kauf of the United States, right, is congratulated after her second place finish in the women's moguls World Cup race Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023, in Park City, Utah. (AP Photo/Jeff Swinger)

McDonald finally got his chance to compete on the vaunted Champions course last year, but it was in broad daylight with just a handful of people in the crowd. The event served as the final 2022 Olympic qualifier that year and, with Omicron surging, the site was basically put on lockdown. Not enough snow had fallen to allow for the installation of the lights that year anyway.

The event still went pretty well for McDonald considering he placed high enough to punch his ticket to Beijing. Still, until this week, a night run at Deer Valley remained elusive.

“To finally get that full Deer Valley experience under those lights is going to be super amazing,” McDonald said following Wednesday’s practice rounds. “I’m just really, really happy to be able to finally ski under these lights. It’s a lifelong dream of mine.”

Skiing Deer Valley at night might be the dream. Winning, though, would be the pinnacle.

“Some people refer to this event as a Super Bowl of skiing or the Ski Bowl …,” he said “It’s definitely one of the biggest events of the year and winning a title here or just getting on the podium I think is just as valuable as winning the Olympics if not more to me.”

McDonald achieved that goal of skiing under the lights Thursday when he reached the final in the individual moguls where he finished 13th. He, fellow Park City native Nick Page and the rest of the Americans mogul skiers will have another shot Saturday in the dual moguls, which will be a new event for the 2026 Olympics in Italy. That event is expected to draw the largest crowd of the three nights.

The question remains, though, will any of them have a rainbow-colored fur coat like Dunks?

Who cares, she said, “We’re here to party!”