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Everyday hero: Provo resident has spent 61 years maintaining Mount Timpanogos ski areas

Since before Sundance Mountain Resort was established in 1969, back when the ski area was known as Timp Haven Ski Resort, Jerry Hill has been maintaining the slopes of Mount Timpanogos.

“There’s no real typical day,” said Jerry Hill of his jack-of-all-trades skillset and varied work assignments at Sundance Mountain Resort, where he now stands as the director of mountain operations.

Hill unassumingly began cultivating his love for snow sports and the mountains at the age of 14, when he and his father helped out S. Paul Stewart and his family, who were family friends of the Hills and owned Timp Haven Ski Resort.

“My dad came up to help him on Saturdays to run the lifts, and so he brought me up too,” said Hill. “Then pretty soon I borrowed a pair of skis and thought, boy, I’ve got to do this again next week, and just fell in love with it.”

Hill then went to work shoveling snow at the resort, and gradually accrued more seasonal duties as he worked on the weekends while going to school. “There were no snowcats or anything back then,” said Hill. “We started out with a couple of little snowmobiles that we maintained and progressed into the snowcat world in the early 1960s.”

In August 1968, famed actor Robert Redford purchased the entirety of Timp Haven, and in 1969, the slopes reopened as Sundance Mountain Resort. Redford asked Hill if he could stay on year round, and he did.

Hill, then 25 years old, began doing more technical maintenance work, “right off the bat,” he said. “I not only ran the lifts, but had to take care of them too. I would start in the early fall with them and help do the maintenance on getting them ready for the winter,” explained Hill. “We were also in charge of the parking lot, the lodges, and keeping all the lodges’ equipment running.”

According to Hill, in those early days of Sundance, how the mountain was maintained and how people recreated on it was vastly different than how it is today.

“Skiing was a lot different than you guys know today,” said Hill. “There were no groomed runs back then. Long, straight skinny skis and no groomers. I don’t think anybody can ski it nowadays like that.”

Hill explained that the lack of groomed runs was because much of today’s modern grooming equipment hadn’t been invented yet. According to Hill, snowcats were primarily for transporting goods and people up and down the mountain at first, and slowly began developing maintenance capabilities.

“We did start dragging a drag behind snowcats for grooming. No blades on it or anything, we just progressed from there. We went from small ones, to bigger ones with blades, to these monsters that we have now,” said Hill. He remarked that basic machines back then would cost roughly $10,000, and that today, high-tech, sophisticated equipment can cost as much as $500,000 per machine.

Jerry explained that he picked up all of his maintenance know-how working on the mountain, with some helpful guidance. “We do go to seminars, classes on different things in the spring,” said Hill. “All departments got some real good training programs out there for your guys through the National Ski Area Association.”

In the early 1970s, expanding operations and new programs called for more specialized departments and more employees. Jerry estimated that back in the early days of Sundance, the whole resort had at most 100 employees. Today, he estimates that mountain operations, which takes care of the natural and mechanical needs of the mountain and only accounts for a portion of the workforce, has at least 200 employees.

For Jerry, no two days at work are exactly the same, and that’s how he likes it.

“Myself and my maintenance crew, the first thing we do is we look at any notes left from any breakdowns with the snowcats, and that’s our first priority to get those maintenance problems fixed,” said Hill. “Any broken snowmobiles, or if there’s any major problems on the lifts, we all jump right in with those guys and help them.”

Once Sundance Mountain Resort closes, three or four snowcat operators begin grooming the mountainside to tidy up runs in preparation for the next day’s visitors. “Depending on the night, they can usually clean the mountain up pretty good in an eight-hour shift,” said Hill. “With heavy snowfalls, they’ll still be here when we get here in the morning.”

Jerry has spent many a long night in the past grooming the slopes around Mount Timpanogos, and today he holds a more managerial role, but still spends plenty of time working out and about at the resort.

He usually starts his day at 7:30 a.m., but can come in as early as 5 a.m. on a day with heavy snowfall, and heads home around 4:30 p.m. What he does during his shift largely depends on what needs attention, which is nearly always unpredictable and changes throughout the day. “It’s just a matter of keeping the wheels running,” said Hill.

Today with more lifts, more visitors, and more machines with more technology than the early days of the ski area, Jerry is thankful for his hard-working crew. “Especially now I’ve got all these good guys under me helping me on this, and it takes a big load off of me,” said Jerry of his varied work duties. “I couldn’t even come close to doing what I used to do by myself. We’ve expanded; everything’s expanded.”

When there’s no specific tasks to take care of, Jerry sometimes patrols the mountain to check up on lifts and runs.

“I can’t run a mountain sitting down in the shop, or my head in a snowcat,” said Hill. “Up there, he can see what the ramps look like, what the lift operators are doing, where we need a little extra grooming, where it’s over groomed, and so on.”

If everything checks out on his patrol around the mountain, and there’s nothing else to be done for the moment, Jerry takes some laps on his skis.

“Out of probably a 120-day ski season, I ski 90 days probably,” said Hill. “I try to make a point to get out every day. Sometimes it’s just to ride each lift and ski a few runs, and other days when the snow’s a little better, I take a few extra runs,” he said with a laugh. “It definitely keeps you in shape, but I think it also keeps you mentally in shape. I think it gives you a mental adjustment, to get out and ski.”

Of all the things Jerry does at work, he explained that the scenery, freedom and good company of his co-workers are what make him happiest at Sundance.

“Being up here on the mountain is probably my favorite thing, but also the interactions with my co-workers and the freedom,” said Hill. “Unless something’s on fire, I’m pretty free to be my own boss and go the directions I need to go. The views never get old. There are always great views, and then there’s the great, great views when the sunlight is just right, and the evening light too. I’m pretty lucky that way,” said Hill.

After 61 years of maintaining the mountainside, Hill has countless memories to look back upon.

The area is where he fostered his love of skiing and the outdoors, where he’s made his living his entire life, and also where he met his wife, who thoughtfully stuck with Jerry through 56 years of marriage when snowstorms would trap him at the resort for a few days at a time, or when skiing a potent powder day made him a little late getting home.

These days when he’s not working, Jerry likes to hike, fish, backpack and camp with his wife, three children and five grandchildren.

Throughout his life Jerry, has kept his passion for his work and life alive and foresees no retirement in sight. “Because of the variety of my job and my interest I have in it, it hasn’t been bad at all,” said Hill. “I’m good for another 60 years.”

Anxiety and unpredictability cloud Iowa caucus finish

DES MOINES, Iowa — On the eve of the Iowa caucuses, Democratic presidential candidates hustled across the state on Sunday trying to fire up voters and make one last appeal to those struggling to make a final decision about their choice in the crowded field.

Campaigns and voters acknowledged a palpable sense of unpredictability and anxiety as Democrats begin choosing which candidate to send on to a November face-off with President Donald Trump.

The Democratic race is unusually large and jumbled heading into today’s caucus, with four candidates locked in a fight for victory in Iowa and others still in position to pull off surprisingly strong finishes. Many voters say they’re still weighing which White House hopeful they’ll support.

“This is going to go right down to the last second,” said Symone Sanders, a senior adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden campaign.

Polls show Biden in a tight race in Iowa with Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, as well as former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang are also competing aggressively in the state.

Democrats’ deep disdain for Trump has already put many in the party on edge about the decision before them. And a series of external forces have also heightened the sense of unpredictability in Iowa, including Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate, which marooned Warren, Sanders and Klobuchar in Washington for much of the past week.

Many campaigns were looking to a final weekend poll to provide some measure of clarity. But late Saturday night, CNN and the Des Moines Register opted not to release the survey because of worries the results may have been compromised.

New caucus rules have also left the campaigns working in overdrive to set expectations. For the first time, the Iowa Democratic Party will release three sets of results: who voters align with at the start of the night; who they pick after voters supporting nonviable candidates get to make a second choice; and the number of state delegate equivalents each candidate gets.

The new rules were mandated by the Democratic National Committee as part of a package of changes sought by Sanders following his loss to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primaries. The revisions were designed to make the caucus system more transparent and to make sure that even the lowest-performing candidates get credit for all the votes they receive. But party officials in Iowa and at the DNC have privately expressed concerns that multiple campaigns will spin the results in their favor, potentially creating chaos on caucus night.

The Associated Press will declare a winner in Iowa based on the number of state delegates each candidate wins. The AP will also report all three results.

Despite the late-stage turbulence and confusion, the candidates spent Sunday making bold pronouncements. Speaking to several hundred supporters in Cedar Rapids, Sanders declared “we are the campaign of energy and excitement” and said “we are in a position to win tomorrow night.”

Warren, who is also rallying progressive voters, pressed her supporters to “fight back” if they ever lose hope.

Meanwhile, the 38-year-old Buttigieg talked up his newcomer status, telling a rally in Coralville that when Democrats have won the White House in the past, “we have done with it someone who is new in national politics.” But Biden, emphasizing his decades of Washington experience, told voters there’s no time for “on-the-job training.”

Biden’s campaign appeared to be trying to lower Iowa expectations, cautioning against reading too much into today’s results. Biden is hoping to sustain enough enthusiasm and money coming out of Iowa to make it to more diverse states where he hopes to draw strong support from black voters. His campaign is particularly focused on South Carolina, the fourth state on the primary schedule.

“We view Iowa as the beginning, not the end,” Symone Sanders said at a Bloomberg News breakfast. “It would be a gross mistake on the part of reporters, voters or anyone else to view whatever happens on Monday — we think it’s going to be close, but view whatever happens — as the end and not give credence and space for New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.”

Sanders, Warren and Klobuchar fanned out across the state, trying to make up ground after missing most of the last two weeks of campaigning due to the Senate impeachment trial.

In a conference room in Cedar Rapids, Klobuchar appealed to caucusgoers by asking them to think about the voters who won’t be caucusing — moderate Republicans, voters who swung from Barack Obama to Trump and voters who stayed home in 2016.

“They’re watching all of this right now,” Klobuchar said. “We have people who want to come with us. And we need a candidate who is going to bring them with us instead of shutting them out.”

Klobuchar retold her joke about slowly winning over former Cedar Rapids Mayor Kay Halloran, who once told Klobuchar that she was “78 percent with you.”

“We don’t have time for that!” Klobuchar said. “She got to 100 percent and so can you.”

But many voters, too, are still making last-minute moves. According to a Monmouth University poll in Iowa in late January, 45% of all likely Democratic caucus-goers named a first choice but said they were open to the possibility of supporting another candidate, and another 5% did not indicate a first choice.

Indeed, talking to Iowa Democrats can be dizzying. Many can quickly run through what they like — and what worries them — about the candidates in rapid fire, talking themselves in and out of their choices in a matter of minutes.

“There are just so many candidates,” said John Kauffman, a 38-year-old who works in marketing in Marion.

(print only) Weather alert: 24-hour winter storm expected to begin Sunday night

Brace yourselves: The unusually mild winter weather is coming to an end.

On Sunday, the National Weather Service released a winter storm warning for much of Utah in effect from 10 p.m. Sunday to 10 p.m. today.

Heavy snowfall is predicted over the 24-hour period, with snow accumulations of 4 to 8 inches across the state and up to 12 inches on the benches.

Winds are also expected to reach 50 mph in some areas.

Morning and evening commuters are expected to experience difficulty traveling with hazardous conditions involving blowing snow and poor visibility.

Naturally, drivers are asked to stay off the roads during stormy weather if possible. If travel is necessary, drive with caution, plan for extra travel time, and keep a flashlight, food and water in your vehicle in case of an emergency.

Due to the weather warning, on Sunday evening, Alpine School District issued a school closure advisory for today. The advisory said the schools would reach out to parents by 5:30 this morning to let parents know whether school is canceled.

The National Weather Service predicts the winter storm will affect several areas in the state, including Cache Valley, Northern and Southern Wasatch Fronts, Great Salt Lake area and mountain areas.

Senator proposes changing how Utah selects judges; gets push-back from Lt. Gov., State Bar

SALT LAKE CITY — A proposed change to the state Constitution would completely alter the way that Utah selects judges.

The resolution has also caused quite a stir on social media, pitting the state senator who proposed the legislation against Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, a candidate for governor.

Under Senate Joint Resolution 8, proposed by Sen. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton, judges would run in nonpartisan elections every four years. They would also be able to raise funds for election campaigns. Currently, judges are selected by the Governor’s Office from a pool of candidates and are confirmed by the state Senate.

Once confirmed, judges have retention elections every six years unless they are on the Utah Supreme Court; those justices have retention elections every 10 years.

Because the legislation would involve altering the state Constitution, the bill would have to pass both the House and Senate with a two-thirds majority and would then have to be approved by voters.

Days after the legislation was made public, Cox posted his opinion of the idea on Twitter, saying, “It would be impossible for me to overstate what a terrible idea this is.”

McCay later responded to the tweet, saying, “So ... the voice of the people is bad for Utah? I’m confused.” In another tweet, he described the retention elections currently in place as a “joke,” and he went on to say that “making a claim that (a retention election) respects the ‘voice of the people’ is also a joke.”

McCay did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

Twitter aside, the proposed legislation has drawn push-back from state groups. In a statement released Wednesday, the Utah State Bar gave its support for the current system of selecting judges, saying it is the best way to create an independent judiciary.

“This system allows the governor to choose from a pool of highly qualified lawyers who go through an intensive review process, followed by Senate confirmation,” the statement read. “The current system of judicial selection has served Utah well in creating a highly respected judicial system for Utah’s residents.”

The State Bar also pointed out that other states have “experienced a multitude of unintended consequences” when operating under the system McCay is proposing to employ.

Some of those unintended consequences were outlined in a 2017 publication from the American Bar Association, which cited studies suggesting judges nearing reelection were more likely to impose longer sentences.

Included in the ABA report was a quote from former California Supreme Court Justice Otto Kaus, who said that ruling on controversial cases as a judge facing an election is like “finding a crocodile in your bathtub when you go in to shave in the morning. You know it’s there, and you try not to think about it, but it’s hard to think about much else while you’re shaving.”

As of Friday evening, McCay’s SJR 8 was introduced to the Senate Rules Committee, but has yet to be put to a vote.