You’ve heard it said many times: “No two snowflakes are alike.” It’s the same with ski resorts. Some are large, some are small, some are friendly, others impersonal. Some push the limits of the best skiers while others make them yawn. But like the humble snowflakes on which they depend, each resort has its own personality.
Park City, Utah, is where Wild West meets Hollywood glamour. Arguably America’s single best ski destination, Park City—home to the United States Ski Team—is blessed with lots of “Utah powder”: deep, dry, fluffy, and chokingly smile-worthy. In fact, Utahns are so proud of their white stuff, it’s written on state licence plates: Greatest Snow on Earth. The combination of quantity and quality of the snow, the infrequency of wind to pack it down, and the consistency with which it falls guarantees epic powder.
A brief, 35-minute drive from Salt Lake City International Airport puts you deep in ski country. (Although perhaps first associated with the Mormon Church by many, it is something of a myth that the city is strictly conformed by its religious majority in terms of alcohol availability.) Park City is home to three resorts: Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR), Canyons, and Deer Valley Resort, but this winter debuts a “new” super-mountain. After a $50-million (U.S.) infrastructure project, PCMR and Canyons are now connected via a high-speed, eight-seater gondola (from the base of Silverlode lift at PCMR to the Flatiron lift at Canyons), creating a single, snow-covered behemoth, merged under the single name Park City, spanning more than 7,300 acres of skiable terrain—the largest ski area in the United States. Canyons is already huge, with an amazing array of black and double-black terrain for even the highest-level experts, while PCMR boasts nine open bowls (powder hounds love Jupiter Bowl and a ski down McConkey’s will earn serious bragging rights). Between the two, there is skiing and riding for every conceivable ability, from rank beginner to extreme, across nearly 300 trails, 17 peaks, 14 bowls, and 41 lifts. It is always an enjoyable feeling when you’re sitting on what you believe to be the farthest lift from the base, but then you spot another one even farther away. The near-seven-metre half-pipe in Park City is still there—for most of us to stare at while the more courageous drop in.
The immaculate slopes of upmarket Deer Valley are nearby, separated from Park City’s by nothing more than a boundary fence. If a ski resort ever epitomized white-glove service, it’s Deer Valley. Its founder, the late Edgar Stern, opened the resort in 1981 to provide a ski experience rich in all aspects. To avoid overcrowding on the slopes, sales of lift tickets are limited to 7,500 a day. Snowboarders? They’re not allowed. Stein Eriksen, the legendary 1952 Olympic gold and silver medalist from Norway, is (still) the director of skiing, and his image—sailing down the slopes on skis and in perfect form, not a hair out of place—personifies Deer Valley. Add Deer Valley to Park City and there are 9,326 acres on offer. Deer Valley has, perhaps, done almost too good a job of solidifying its stylish reputation, and in recent years has worked to roughen up its image a bit. Where many resorts are adding intermediate terrain to appeal to a wider audience, Deer Valley is trying to do the same by adding more expert terrain.
Park City, Utah was once a mining town and picturesque rusty remnants of what once was can be spotted on the slopes. When the silver business tanked, the resort economy was born, and in the early 1960s mine cars were transformed into “skier subways”—subterranean transport shuttling skiers; the last operable shaft closed in 1969 as skiers favoured a faster gondola. (One of these cars is still on view at the Park City Museum.)
As the city is home to Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival, this is the place where film enthusiasts and fur-trimmed celebrities descend each January. Main Street, with its brightly painted storefronts, is the historic heart; despite what one might think of Utah, it is lined with bars and restaurants. And after a day on the slopes, the coolest thing is to ski right into town to High West Distillery & Saloon, where classic cocktails are made from a small-batch rye whisky that goes down really well.
Whether the dialogue in your head while on the slopes goes something like: “I should lean back a little; no, forward—make more turns; no, less. Point skis downhill. No sharp turns. Go straight. Too fast. Stop. Oh my god, I’ve fallen”; or you take to the mountain on big-board powder skis and glide down from the highest peak effortlessly—no matter. Park City, Utah, is just the place for you.
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