Shhh…! As a long-time Colorado resident, I hesitated a bit writing this. An avid skier, I’d never before skied anywhere but my own state. But, as a travel writer, I must divulge the truth. On a recent trip to Park City, Utah I discovered that skiing there is an absolute delight. Just 35 minutes driving (really!) from the Salt Lake City Airport, I found the same light powder snow, that brilliant blue sky and a historic, beautifully maintained town that surprised me every day with its stellar restaurants, posh hotels and inns, friendly faces and a somewhat quirky, rather charming appeal. I’ll never stop loving skiing in my own state, but if you haven’t experienced Park City, you need to, trust me.
Park City was named “Best Town Ever 2013” by Outside magazine, and it’s no wonder. After all, this destination offers such incredibly easy access to a major airport and cosmopolitan urban area while providing a marvelous escape and an incredible variety of things to do, to see, and to experience. After my too-short four day trip, I want to return soon.
This once-dilapidated mining town underwent a renaissance during the last 50 years or so, becoming home to three world-class ski areas, more than 100 lodging properties (ranging from private homes, to condos, to B&Bs, to some of the most sumptuous inns and hotels imaginable,) a dizzying list of top-flight, highly acclaimed restaurants, a delightfully restored historic main street, as well as an excellent state-of-the-art museum, shops, and bistros. Perhaps most notably, Park City was chosen as the venue for the Sundance Film Festival (largest independent cinema festival in the U.S., founded in 1978 by Robert Redford). More recently, Salt Lake City hosted the XIX Olympic Winter Games and the VIII Paralympic Winter Games in 2002 and Park City was the venue for 14 events. It now sports the bobsled run, (yes, go ahead and just do it. Only $200, reservations required, for the biggest rush of your life) or try the ziplines used originally for the K120 Nordic ski jumps. You can also visit the Alf Engen Ski Museum, Eccles Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games Museum, and the new adventure courses offered at the park, or just take a guided tour.
Our main goal was to ski — and we did, all three areas, even though we were in the middle of a rare, brutal cold snap that was felt all over the west in early December. We felt like royalty (and loved it) getting our rental ski equipment from Skis on the Run, which sent an attendant to our room to set us up and then picked it all up when we departed.
Bundling up like Michelin men, we ventured forth onto the well-groomed and beautifully laid-out runs of individually owned and operated Deer Valley Resort (no snowboarding allowed,) Canyons Resort (third largest ski resort in the U.S.) and Park City Mountain Resort (celebrating its 50th anniversary in the 2013/2014 season.) Each has its own personality and features with spectacular scenery. We wanted to try them all, but after three vigorous half days at each, the cold got to us. We decided to try snowshoeing, where we would work up more body heat.
Under a cobalt blue sky, with sparkling diamonds of snow all around, we went on a blissfully peaceful snowshoe trek on Flagstaff Mountain with Tyler, our guide from All Seasons Adventures, and we did actually warm up. Just moments from our accommodations in Deer Valley Resort, the aspen trees were dense and surrounded us, but the views below of Park City were splendid. Tyler brought spanking new snowshoes, snacks, water, and a wealth of knowledge about the area — well worth it, in my mind, to have a guide.
Non-winter visitors love the acclaimed mountain biking, hiking, alpine coaster, alpine slide, ziplines, outdoor concerts, festivals, and wildlife viewing that Park City is famed for. For winter visitors like me, it’s all about the snow sports. There are few places like this where one can visit three world-class areas within about 10 minutes of each other, with a combined 9,326 acres, 426 runs, bowls and parks, and 58 lifts. All three Park City resorts (Deer Valley Resort, Canyon Resort, and Park City Mountain Resort) were voted for the second year in a row in the top 10 Ski Resorts in North America by SKI Magazine’s 2013 Reader Survey.
Utah has an erroneous reputation of being a “dry” state — it’s definitely not. While a large portion of its population belongs to the Mormon faith and does not consume alcohol, others can partake as they choose. Specific Utah rules are that anyone of age can now order alcohol at restaurants (but must order food as well), liquor stores are all state run, and bars operate as in any other state.
Whether you thirst for a cold beer or hanker after some hearty grub after skiing, take your last run from Park City Mountain Resort and ski down Quittin’ Time, the aptly named run that takes you straight to the many pubs and cafes on Main Street. Main Street is a truly charming area of historic storefronts and buildings dating from the town’s mining heritage — with nary a chain store or fast-food joint to spoil the view. Check out the various Bill White restaurants in the area, or just do as we did and head to Wahso, with its delectable Asian Fusion cuisine and adorable private booths. We ate in one supposedly frequented by Sting. Café Terigo on Main Street is a find as well, with a fabulous and famous grilled salmon filet and avocado salad topped with crisp baby onion rings and honey mustard. Yum!
Locals know the best time to find the slopes and lift lines empty is during Sundance Film Festival, held each January, attracting thousands of Hollywood A-listers. It is daunting to find any type of accommodations (or restaurant tables) during Sundance, so book ahead or plan on traveling from neighboring towns. Celebrating independent filmmakers, the Sundance Film Festival team reviews thousands of independent films from all over the world. Be sure to check the website if you want to buy tickets for a film — and be sure to book way in advance if you plan to visit Park City during Sundance.
After an exhilarating day of skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, hiking, or simply soaking in the Jacuzzi, why not end it as I did, with a sumptuous dinner of wiener schnitzel, accompanied by spaetzle, choucroute, and brown butter followed by aah, yes, Bavarian apple strudel covered in Gluhwein syrup, local honey, and walnut ice cream at the Goldener Hirsch Inn. You couldn’t do better in Austria!
For more information about Park City, Utah, visit visitparkcity.com.