When Speed’s Put Out To Pasture…Where the Pastures are Powder
Gold Medal Lifestyles for Park City’s Retired Olympic Skiers
CONTACT: Alan Rosenberg – 541-778-8949
Summary: They didn’t all medal in the Olympics, but these three skiing speedsters—Sean Smith, Heidi Voelker and Shannon Bahrke—are enjoying the runs of their lives in satisfying second careers. Perhaps their very presence in Park City is making a subtle point in Salt Lake City’s bid to host the 2026 Winter games.
PARK CITY, Utah— It’s not “competition beast mode” any more for retired Olympic freestyle skier and mogul king Sean Smith. But it doesn’t mean he’s slowed all the way down.
“When I’m doing bump clinics, I still have to do the jumps so the kids think I’m cool,” says the 41-year-old father, who has cobbled together a satisfying post-Olympic career, landing in the winner’s circle as a four-season outfitter for Promontory, an 11-square-mile luxury vacation home community within full view of the site of the 2002 Olympics, where Smith did commentary for NBC Sports.
For work, if you call it that—and Smith doesn’t—the freestyler’s lifestyle mirrors the one he had as a kid growing up in these mountains: “I go out with members on mountain bikes; I get to ride the river, wakeboard, fly-fish on some of the best rivers in the country, snowshoe, hike.” And, oh yeah, he skis too, more than 100 days a season.
“That’s pretty much the job description at Promontory. My job is based entirely on fun. I get to play for a living,” says Smith, a member of the U.S. Freestyle ski team for ten years and an Olympian at the 1994 games in Lillehammer, Norway. And, when the call comes from NBC or ESPN, he has the flexibility to exercise his sunburst smile, natural winning charm and a great gift of gab. (And the members of the club, who have become an extended family, get to shine in his reflected glory and the inside stories he shares.)
As a Park City post-Olympic presence Smith is hardly alone, with similar success stories shared by retired racers Heidi Voelker, 40, and Shannon Bahrke, both of whom serve as ski ambassadors for the Deer Valley Ski Resort and the St. Regis Hotel, respectively.
The personality-plus Smith says he’s as comfortable—and as fearless—teaching a youngster one-on-one how to smooth out “the bumps” on the mogul runs as he is firing up an audience of 10,000, which he did working slope-side for the 2010 Vancouver games on the payroll of NBC.
There’s a fringe benefit of working/playing so intimately with members of the Promontory Club, says Smith. “I’m always being invited to their homes for dinner. To the kids, I’m not the outfitter, I’m Uncle Sean. It is the perfect job for me. With club members I can truly be myself.
“For instance, I’m not formal with anybody. It wouldn’t be me to address someone as, say, Mr. Johnson. What I’m more apt to say before a ski day is, ‘Hey Bro, let’s go shred the mountain.’ I’m just a mountain guy at heart and they appreciate that.”
His biggest challenge, Smith says, is keeping himself in check on the area’s glorious and world-renowned “powder days.” Most of the time, conscious of his responsibilities as a father, he skis with a modicum of restraint. “But when there’s powder, I ski as hard as ever.”
He’s cognizant that his continued celebrity as a sports commentator—he’s also had an ongoing gig with the televised Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge. Holding both Olympic and media passes at the winter games, his unique access makes him even more valuable to his employer.
“When I was in Vancouver,” says Smith, “I blogged the whole time, sending pictures back home and sharing all the fun to the members of Promontory.”
“If I knew that I could be doing this, I would have retired a lot earlier,” says Heidi Voelker, who has been working as an ambassador for skiing for the Deer Valley Resort for 16 seasons, signing on only weeks after she retired from the sport in 1997.
“Not only can I do what I want to do and participate in a sport that been my life,” says Voelker, “I get to work with the premier ski resort in the country and live in a town that’s pretty special.”
Though she’s a full-time employee, her summer duties are hardly onerous. And Park City locals and visitors are apt to pass her—or be passed by her—on her bicycle along the back roads, where she does 24- to 48-mile loops. “I need to bike off all the fondue I eat all winter long.”
Though in her 40s, with a husband of 18 years and two sons, Voelker says she’s still pretty fast on skis, pulling out all the stops, when need be, and particularly when challenged by her brothers. “They still think they can beat me; I have to put them in their place,” she says with a smile.
“I enjoy the sport more than I did when I was competing,” says Voelker. “And I’m actually a better skier than I was on the ski team.” That revelation may sound surprising, she knows, but considering her day job on the slopes, it shouldn’t be surprising.
“On the ski team, I was just doing gates day in and day out on the same closed racing course on the same terrain. Here I get to ski the whole mountain and in all sorts of conditions every day. That really has made me a better skier.”
Like Sean Smith, Voelker has an outgoing nature, so she’s predisposed to enjoying her role. “I pinch myself all the time that I have this job.
“You forget to have fun at that level of competition,” says Voelker. “It’s your way of making a living. When you lose a race, it feels like it does for a businessman losing a client. It feels like you just wasted the day.”
As skilled as she was, Voelker, a slalom skier, was shut out in three Olympic Games (Calgary, 1988, Albertville, 1992 and Lillehammer, in 1994), and, on the World Cup circuit for eight years, she had one podium finish, in a giant slalom.
About her record, Voelker has no regrets. “Maybe winning races just wasn’t in my cards. I was certainly not one of the most decorated skiers. But look at what I have now.”
It is, she says, “a gold medal job.”
A 2004 Olympic Silver Medalist, Shannon Bahrke says she was “burnt out” by the time she quit ski racing following a devastating knee injury in 2008. But if you listen to her talk about the work she’s been doing since retirement, she never stopped competing. She just changed sports.
Recently, not long after she opened an outlet in Park City to sell the Silver Bean brand coffee she and her husband hand-roast in Salt Lake, Shannon issued a challenge to Starbucks, which has three shops in town.
“They have no idea who they’re messing with,” she says with a smile.
The self-described “crazy pink-haired girl down the street” who pours her competitive spirit into every cup of java has been proving herself as astute in business as she is fast on her skis. Not only did she sign up last year as the ski ambassador for Park City’s luxurious St. Regis Hotel, the hotel sweetened the deal by agreeing to serve her product.
“It’s a job I didn’t imagine I’d like as much as I do,” she says. “I have a chance to ski with the guests and share my passion for skiing.” She’s enjoyed it so much that she continued skiing into her sixth month of pregnancy when her “pants were hardly fitting.” (She’s having a girl.)
When Bahrke left the racing circuit, she assumed she had turned her back on the sport as well. But “on the first amazing powder day” of her first season in retirement, Bahrke saw the mountain photos her friends posted on Facebook and “panicked.”
“I realized that I didn’t have a ski pass and I didn’t even own a pair of skis,” she says. “At that moment, I realized how important skiing was to me, how just being on the mountain completes her soul.”
In not much longer than it takes her to fly down a run, Bahrke acquired new equipment, re-signing with former sponsors including Rossignol outerwear, I-Sport and Bolle.
Skiing, she discovered, was even more fun now that she was skiing only for herself.
“It felt more right than anything I’d done before,” she says. “I’m still a rippin’ skier, but I remember standing at the top of the mountain, looking down and thinking, ‘Nobody is going to judge me. It makes no difference if I fall all the way to the bottom. This is all for me.’”
These days, when she gets the competitive urge, she takes a shift at the coffee shop, puts on her barista hat and makes what she says is the “best latte in town.”
- Sean Smith, outfitter, Promontory Club: 435.659.1695 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Heidi Volcker: 435.513.3321 (mobile)
- Shannon Bahrke: 864.469.7488 (mobile)
- Alan Rosenberg, Spiker Communications is a writer with a background with the Boston Globe.
Promontory Club is a Private Luxury Development located in the beautiful mountains of Park City, Utah. Surrounded by world class skiing and outdoor summer activities, Promontory is the perfect place for your family to make their second home. For more information about Promontory visit us at: www.promontoryclub.com or call a member of our sales team and visit us! Find out what More Club More Country really means!
Promontory: 888-458-6600 (toll free) 435-333-4600.