PARK CITY, Utah It may be the most elevated Shabbat service in the country, and not just because of the spirited singing.
Held in a rustic cabin in the woods off a ski slope at Deer Valley resort, the service is situated at about 8,800 feet above sea level, and its the nations and possibly the worlds only ski-in/ski-out Kabbalat Shabbat minyan.
Theres no way to get there by car or foot; worshipers must buy a lift ticket to Deer Valley ($120), make their way over to the four-person Sterling Express chairlift, ride to the top of Bald Mountain (elev. 9,400) and then ski down to Sunset Cabin.
Beginners beware: The steep trail leading to the cabin is designated intermediate blue.
There are a few other important things to know about whats billed locally as Ski Schule at Deer Valley. Its actually held before the Sabbath, at 3 p.m. on Friday afternoons.
Come on time, because the service starts promptly and lasts about 35 minutes; the lifts close at 4 p.m. Dress is definitely casual: Attendees come clad head-to-toe in ski gear, and theres a custom of clomping around in ski boots during the VShamru prayer.
And dont worry: There will be kiddush, though its a sweet Concord.
The ski shul is a longstanding tradition at Deer Valley, which is famous for its beautifully groomed runs, snowboard ban (one of only three such ski resorts in the US) and pampered customer service.
There is complimentary overnight ski storage, designated staffers to help visitors load their cars at days end and pillow-soft tissues at all 21 lifts.
Though the resort is spread across five peaks and has 2,000 acres of skiable terrain, Deer Valley has ubiquitous green-uniformed mountain hosts on hand who can help direct you to the ski shul.
Once youre on the right trail, the cabin is easy to spot: Theres an Israeli flag tacked to the log cabins slope-facing wall.
MOST OF the services participants tend to be visitors, not regulars. Some are Deer Valley fans who come back year after year (a few to vacation homes they own on the mountain), but many others are first-time visitors who learn about the worship service from notices posted around the mountain.
Quite a few years ago I saw a sign on the bulletin board at the chair lift about the service. Being interested in Jewish life, I of course dragged my family and thought it was fantastic, said Diane Krieger, a Miami resident who has been coming since the early 2000s, before she bought a vacation home in town.
I find it incredibly uplifting that Jews will choose, even at 8,000 feet, to gather together.
The service is led by Rabbi David Levinsky, spiritual leader at Park Citys Temple Har Shalom. A relative newcomer to Utah (Levinsky moved here last summer), the rabbi needed some serious practice before taking over the service making turns in the snow, that is, not reciting the prayers.
Levinsky, 48, describes the lessons he took as a crash course in skiing literally.
I had never skied till I came out here, said Levinsky, whose favored sport is skateboarding. Im a Jewish kid from the suburbs. I wasnt a big outdoors mountain guy.
But seven months into his new job, Levinsky who used to make a living as a rock musician, before getting Reform rabbinical ordination and then a doctorate in religion from Stanford University says he has started to change.
He skis two days a week now (usually for a couple of hours at a time, as many who live here do), and takes long walks with his dog in the foothills of the Wasatch mountain range.
For a rabbi in Park City, (elev. 7,000 feet), mountain activity is practically required.
One of the goals of Har Shalom is to find interesting ways to blend mountain living with Judaism, and ski shul is one of the ways to do it, Levinsky said.
The temple is nestled in the foothills of the Wasatch range. Sometimes we take our Judaism up the mountain.
The Friday afternoon minyan at Sunset Cabin is, for the most part, like many liberal Kabbalat Shabbat services. Its participatory, held in the round (or the scrum, when its crowded), and worshipers use customized laminated prayer booklets. The rabbis dvar Torah sermon usually runs about two to three minutes.
On a recent Friday, the rabbi altered the traditional line in the Amidah prayer for wind and rain to a petition for wind and snow. At the conclusion of the service, which drew about 30 people, skiers wished each other Shabbat Shalom and headed back outside, into what suddenly had turned into a serious snowstorm (prayer answered).
Levinsky was in a rush it was the closing weekend of Park Citys Sundance Film Festival, and the service was the first of three he would be leading that day but most of the worshipers took their time pulling on their goggles and strapping on their skis.
One woman stepped off the cabins wooden platform and immediately sank into snow up to her calf a reminder that in Utah the snow tends to fall in feet, not inches.
A moment later she had her skis on and was ready to go. Shabbat shalom! she called out, and disappeared down the mountain.