Park City, Utah – not just a pretty face

By | Category: Travel destinations

tour-of-utahShhh….! As a long-time Colorado resident, I hesitated writing this. An avid skier, I’d never before skied anywhere but in my own state. But, as a travel writer, I must divulge the truth.  On a recent trip to Park City, 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 the US magazine, Outside , 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 marvellous 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 fifty years or so, becoming home to three world-class ski areas, over 100 lodging properties (ranging from private homes to condos to B&B’s 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 zip-lines used  originally for the  K120 Nordic ski jumps. You can also visit the Alf Engen Ski Museum and Eccles Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games Museum and the new adventure courses offered at the park, or just take a guided tour.

even bikes take the lifts!

even bikes take the lifts!

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 in the U.S.) and Park City Mountain Resort (celebrating its 50th anniversary in the 2013/14 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.

mountain biking at Park City

mountain biking above Park City

Non-winter visitors love the acclaimed mountain biking, hiking, alpine coaster, alpine slide, zip-lines, outdoor concerts and 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 ten minutes of each other, with a combined 9,326 acre , 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. In fact, I was taken aback by the rather irreverent label on my Devastator Double Bock  beer bottle, made by Wasatch Brewery and Brew Pub in Park City (the first brew pub in Utah, founded in 1989,) depicting a ram busting through the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. The brewery’s other beers include such “provocative” names as Polygamy Porter, Evolution Amber Ale and 1st Amendment Lager.  Obviously, not EVERYone in Utah a teetotaler.   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, 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 neighbouring 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.

Where to stay is a dilemma in Park City, with a remarkable bevy of world-class options, but I can’t say enough about the Goldener Hirsch Inn. Floating into the sumptuously soft cloud-like feather bed at the Inn was one of the highlights of our trip – the bed was so divine that my husband and I spent a good bit of time trying to figure out what made it so marvellous. Was it the Frette linens, the unbelievably light, yet-so-warm down comforter, or the oodles of fluffy down pillows? The 20-room, exquisitely furnished and decorated Inn is a joy – and in fact recently won the “Best Ski Boutique Hotel” in the 2013 World Ski Awards. An authentic replica of its namesake in Salzburg, Austria, this intimate property, replete with antiques, hand painted walls and carvings somehow avoids being a “faux” copy  –  rather, it is a delightful little step into a cosy Austrian oasis, just steps from Deer Valley’s mid-mountain Silver Lake Village. Kelley Davidson, the genteel and genial  manager, runs the inn like clockwork, with an impeccable staff attired in swank black and white Norwegian ski sweaters rushing to take your skis to the storage room or to help pull off the ski boots (we needed two men to get mine off!) or to light the fireplace in your room. Each afternoon, complimentary warm cookies and hot cocoa beckon guests. Each morning, a small, but just right, fruit and pastry buffet join the three choices of hot breakfast included in the stay.

Originally built as a schoolhouse in 1889, Washington School House is now a chic, 12-suite boutique hotel.  With 16-foot ceilings, gorgeous antiques, a cool ski bar and located just steps from the town lift to Park City Mountain Resort.

Stein Eriksen Lodge, Utah’s only Forbes Five Star Hotel and Spa, is de-luxe and pampering, with 180 guest rooms, including 68 suites and 145 stone fireplaces. Don’t miss its magnificent Skiers’ Buffet at lunchtime daily and be sure to indulge in a treatment in its glorious 23,000-foot Forbes Five-Star spa, then relax in the outdoor Jacuzzi while viewing the skiers on the mountain.

Guardsman Pass without the snow - but what an autumn destination

Guardsman Pass without the snow – but what an autumn destination

After an exhilarating day of skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, hiking, or simply soaking in the jaccuzzi, 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. You couldn’t do better in Austria!

Images © Park City Chamber/Convention & Visitors Bureau

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