Five minutes from downtown Park City, in a ranch home that stands alone in snowy pastures, the DeWald family starts every day in a way that makes it impossible for them to forget they're not in Los Angeles anymore. As dawn tinges the Wasatch peaks, Max-the family's pet pig-goes for his morning run, first barging out of the master bedroom, then squealing at the top of his lungs as he charges up and down the hallway of the house, hooves clattering on the entryway tiles as he spins his 250-pound body around and heads back down for another pass. The three house cats scatter. The two teenage sons and two Labrador retrievers yawn and go back to sleep. But Max's antics can't be ignored for long. Soon Mark and Leslie DeWald are warming up in the outdoor hot tub and watching early morning spread over the wintry Utah landscape before firing up the SUVs, turning on the cell phones and heading off to work. Unless it's a weekend. Then they don ski patrol uniforms and head to Park City Mountain Resort.
Ten years ago, the DeWalds were established Southern Californians. Mark developed and sold commercial real estate. Leslie was president of the California division of an international aircraft insurance company. They lived in a quiet Los Angeles suburb, enduring smog and hefty, traffic-clogged commutes. Like other longtime Angelenos who'd watched their land of plenty become a roiling, crowded cosmopolis, the DeWalds sometimes talked of leaving, but their two young sons, Steele and Barrett, were third-generation Californians and the family's roots ran deep.
Then came the L.A. riots of 1992. "We got through that and we said, 'This isn't sanity. This is just nuts. This is not where we want to raise our family,'" Leslie recalls. Their challenge was to find a place where they could pursue their careers (which meant being close to an international airport, since Leslie travels frequently), yet raise their boys in a safe, clean, healthy environment. They found their solution in Park City.
Nestled in a small north-south canyon along the eastern slope of the Wasatch Mountains, Park City is both old-fashioned and accommodating. The town itself is only two miles long and thick with buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places (64 to be exact).
Yet it sits an easy 36-mile drive from Salt Lake City's International Airport and even nearer to urban amenities like department stores and major hospitals, NBA basketball and light opera. Just beyond Park City proper lies a broad valley known as Snyderville Basin, an unincorporated region containing Utah Olympic Park, a commercial district called Kimball Junction and the former ranchland that holds the DeWald's five-acre spread. And of course there's stellar Utah skiing. Three ski resorts-Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort and The Canyons-encircle the town itself and seven others lie within a 90-minute drive.
When the DeWalds moved to Park City in 1993, they were on the leading edge of a new boom: A record 10,956 Californians relocated to Utah that year alone. "We moved at the right time," Leslie says, noting they would not have been able to afford their 4,200-square-foot home if they had moved even one year later. "Right after we got here, the market turned," concurs Mark. In 1993, the population of Park City proper was 5,484, plus approximately 3,500 in Snyderville Basin; the average cost of a single-family home was $228,930. A decade later, the basin's year-round resident population is 17,000 and you'd pay $514,932 for the same Park City home.
The region's new growth and Salt Lake City's proximity worked to Mark DeWald's career advantage. He hired on with CB Commercial in downtown Salt Lake, then started his own firm, Max Global, which is now based in Park City. "You can do developments or sell real state anywhere in the country," he says, making radical change sound easy. "You just have to take a couple of years and learn the market."
Leie brought her firm to Utah, opening an office of Aviation Insurance Services in downtown Park City. Salt Lake's proximity enabled her to find qualified staff.
Professional offices were far harder to acquire. "We ended up in a 600-square-foot space on top of a sushi restaurant on Main Street. We'd get all the smells," she remembers. When the Prospector business district was developed, DeWald's firm was the first tenant. "When I step into my office it is no different than it was in L.A.," she says now. "It's business as usual and pretty intense. But I only have to drive five minutes to work and I can be at all my kids' school and sports functions."
Steele, 16, and Barrett, 14, attend Park City's Winter Sports School, a college prep academy that holds classes April through November to accommodate the competition and training schedules of its athletes. Barrett doesn't mind the hefty homework load in summer: In winter, he skis every day, training five days per week. At the Junior Olympics last season, he had a top-10 finish in slalom and top-15 in both super G and GS. "Mark and I go to every single race," says Leslie. "We have to work because we have to pay for it, but other than that all we do is ski and go to races and participate in all the fundraising for the ski team. In winter our life is skiing." Except when they're attending golf tournaments, that is. Steele, a plus-one golfer now sponsored by TaylorMade, recently stopped ski racing to focus on golf.
"We're not dealing with issues that a lot of teenagers and their parents face," notes Leslie.
"They're happy, healthy, well-adjusted kids." Both parents-excited to be ski patrolling now that their boys are nearly grown-could say the same thing about themselves. Mark says they're "a lot more carefree" since relocating to Park City.
If the DeWalds' story sounds too good to be true, the fact is that this ski-loving family made well-orchestrated choices that have played out beautifully-thanks in no small part to friendly Park City itself.
As for Max the pig, well he just squeals and runs around, happy as a big pig in a very cool family could be.
PARK CITY TOWN FACTS
MEDIAN AGE 31
MEDIAN INCOME $33,737
HOUSEHOLD INCOME median: $46,755; from $50,000 to $100,000, 16 percent; more than $300,000, 12 percent
JOBS FROM TOURISM 60 percent
EDUCATION 3,961 students K-12; 45 percent of residents have college degrees
NEAREST TOWN OF SIZE Salt Lake City, population 180,924, 24 miles away (plus another 600,000 in greater Salt Lake County)
MOUNTAIN FACTS Park City Mountain Resort: base elevation: 6,900 feet; vertical rise: 3,100 feet; skiable acres: 3,300; average snowfall: 350 inches; terrain: 18 percent beginner, 44 percent intermediate, 38 percent expert. Deer Valley and The Canyons, also in Park City, add another 5,250 skiable acres to the local mix. Other ski areas within a 90-minute drive: Brighton, Solitude, Alta, Snowbird, Snowbasin, Powder Mountain and Sundance.
FAMILY-STYLE SUCCESS More than one-third of Park City's households have children, and despite the high price of real estate today, Park City remains a great environment for active families. Citywide bus service is free. The public school district's students enjoy a 19:1 student/teacher ratio. Local restaurants number more than 100-all of which are smoke-free. In summer, the town has more than 150 miles of hiking and biking trails, and the surrounding area boasts more than 90 mountain lakes. Culture is abundant: Every January, the Sundance Film Festival attracts the best of independent cinema to town, and summer brings outdoor concerts-more than 40 each year.
BUSINESS CLIMATE 22 percent of Park City's residents are executives and 14.5 percent are professionals, but upwardly mobile careerists will do well to bring their businesses with them. With Park City's building boom slowing, The Canyons' owner American Skiing Company reeling and 60 percent of all Park City jobs coming from the tourist sector, high-return careers are in short supply. Future job growth, however, is projected to burgeon at a whopping 50.9 percent. ilding boom slowing, The Canyons' owner American Skiing Company reeling and 60 percent of all Park City jobs coming from the tourist sector, high-return careers are in short supply. Future job growth, however, is projected to burgeon at a whopping 50.9 percent.