April Fools’ Day is next Wednesday, are you ready for some clowning around?
“In the rest of the country, April First is the day to make other people look foolish,” the Park City Lodestar (now Park City Magazine) reminded its readers in a 1982 article. “But in Park City,” it continued, “people make fools of themselves.” And they did so by donning costumes and taking over the slopes.
It was called Clown Day and traditionally it coincided with April Fools’ Day. Apparently, no one can quite remember who started it, but Greg Ash, Terry “Tutu” Jannott, Jim Carr, Tim “Razor” Sharp, Joe “Porky” Onn, and James “Steakhouse” Grinsell are the pioneers who made it big. The idea, which came to fruition in the 1970s, was as simple as this: dress like a crazy clown and go skiing. Because the resorts didn’t have a rule stating people in costumes couldn’t get on lifts, participants got away with it. But Park City’s clowns tended to add in an extra step as well: drink as much alcohol as possible. And that’s when things got complicated.
For years, the tradition continued and grew. For several years, it was even used as an opportunity to fundraise for the Park City ski team. As the Lodestar wrote, it wasn’t just locals who participated in the festivities. People began to come from elsewhere specifically to join in. In fact, when the Park City Resort/Park City Ski Area (now Park City Mountain Resort) tried changing the date so that the celebration would fall on a weekend instead of a weekday (local schools were having a terrible time maintaining attendance on Clown Day due to “clown flu”), it received letters of complaint from visitors whose holiday plans wouldn’t work with unpredictability.
But in the mid-1980s, Park City Ski Area was making a strong push to “cool down” Clown Day. In 1985, the Park Record reported on a new rule at the resort, an addition that became known as the “clown clause.” Those holding season passes or coupons would not be allowed to ski in costume on April 1st. The idea, according to Ed Bowers, communications director at the time for Park City Ski, was “to control the rowdy aspect of the costumed event.” Although the resort didn’t prohibit celebrations entirely at first, even hosting its own party in the parking lot, their cool down didn’t seem to work in the end. The resorts continued to crack down on costumed and intoxicated skiing, and by the end of the decade, Clown Day had been banned entirely.
The tradition went underground after the ban, but by 2008, it was seeing a public resurgence. Though still not officially sanctioned, and far more low-key now than it once was, Parkites and visitors will likely be jovially making fools of themselves next week.
Tahoe Daily Tribune, April 26, 2006
Lodestar, Winter 1982, p.76-79
Park Record, March 25, 2014
KPCW, “Park City Stories,” 2014