Snowbird • Jim Wedge is a religious skier, so it's fitting that he celebrates Easter with a sunrise service atop Snowbird Ski Resort's Hidden Peak.
"This is my wife's way of getting me to go to church," joked Wedge of what has become an annual ritual for him, his wife, Shelly, and their 16-year-old daughter, Rachel.
Fitting also was the Rev. Denise Elbert's short, nondenominational sermon underscoring the importance of family and community, which she said is more than blood relations but an affinity defined not by DNA or geographic borders, but by devotion to one another.
"God thought family was important. He believed that we needed to be in fellowship with one another," she said. "[Uniting] us here out on this mountaintop, I believe it is the splendor of the sunrise service and celebration of a resurrected savior."
Joining the Wedges at the break of dawn Sunday were hundreds of people, drawn by tradition, unseasonably warm weather and stunning vistas.
The temperature at 11,000 feet was near freezing but balmy by mountain standards. Early comers arrived by the tramload at dark, huddled around fire pits and sipped hot chocolate.
The sun's 7:11 a.m. appearance over the eastern horizon was met with a hearty cheer.
"It's symbolic, the sun coming up and shining his light upon us," said 47-year-old Karen Goodsell, of Cottonwood Heights. It was Goodsell's sixth Easter atop Hidden Peak.
Others, including 5-year-old Keenan Brady and his mom, Holly Holman, came hoping to start a new family tradition. "Last week was his first time at church, and this is his first sunrise service," said Holman.
Snowbird has been doing the sunrise service for nearly 40 years, sharing a practice of Christian communities around the globe. Borrowing from pagan rituals celebrating the arrival of spring, the service marks the end of a 40-day Lent period of fasting, prayer and penance, explained Elbert, associate pastor at New Pilgrim Baptist Church in Kearns. For Christians it marks the holiest day of the year.
"On a weekend over 2,000 years ago the greatest gift that God has ever given the world was crucified on a mountaintop called Calvary," said Elbert. "With his resurrection he made us a universal family."
Reflecting on "family's divine design," Elbert explained how in pain and near death, Jesus spoke of family.
In attendance was his mother and beloved disciple John. "He turned to John and said, 'Behold thy mother.' And he turned to his mother and said, 'Behold, thy son,' " said Elbert.
"It's easy to create family, it's as easy as A, B and C," but it takes work, she said, explaining that it requires being in attendance, or showing up for one another, having common beliefs and staying close. "Love is what makes us a family."