Park City has small-town charm, great skiing and Aussie-style flat whites
My ski instructor, Alex Fleet, says “Just be confident”. We’re standing at the top of Ninety-nine 90 (named for its elevation at 9990m), on a ridge overlooking a bowl filled with double black diamond runs set to warm my legs. “Don’t forget to breathe,” says Fleet as he drops off into the white magic below.
Welcome to Park City Mountain Resort, Utah – the largest ski resort in the US. A former western mining town, Park City is known for its annual starstudded Sundance Film Festival but it has an impressive list of other accolades. It held the 2002 Winter Olympics and is on the bucket-list of die-hard skiers and snowboarders for its famed Utah powder. But probably the best-selling point of skiing in Park City is its access. It’s a 35-minute drive from Salt Lake City and, after a longhaul flight from Australia, the shorthaul up to the mountains is a relief.
One of the most exciting parts of visiting a new destination is seeing it out of the plane window for the first time. Flying into Salt Lake City is, in one word, spectacular. The golden colours of the desert below suddenly meet the majestic snow-capped mountains surrounding the city and Mormon Salt Lake Temple. BUT BACK TO THE WHITE STUFF …
When Vail Resorts bought Park City in 2014 they combined the two ski areas – Park City Mountain Resort and its neighbour Canyons – investing more than $US50 million ($A66 million) into the hill to make it the biggest resort in the US, with nearly 30sq km of skiable terrain.
What it hasn’t lost, however, is its small-town charm, with its rich mining history preciously preserved. Silver was first discovered in the area in 1869 and it became one of the richest silver-mining operations in the country. Ski runs named Quicksilver, PayDay, Widowmaker and Prospector are an ode to its heritage. Abandoned mining buildings still dot the mountain and you’ll ski past the original town safe where the city’s fortunes were once kept. You can learn more on a free guided mountain history tour.
I spend the next four days ripping around the two mountains, now linked by the new Quiksilver Gondola, that offer two very different experiences. At Canyons you’ll ski past multimillion dollar homes of the rich and famous, including Will Smith’s humble abode, and over and under bridges, and if tree runs are your thing, you’ll find some awesome glade skiing.
Park City Mountain is more about the long wide groomers but the upper parts of the hill have multiple bowls and gladed areas for advanced skiers. McConkey’s Bowl – named after local skiing legend Jim McConkey, the father of the late big-mountain hero Shane McConkey – soon becomes a favourite, raising my heart rate and eventually my love of bumps.
For four days my ski instructor, Fleet, has been building up my skills for a run he says is “like no other” – Canis Lupis.
Tucked away between trees on the far side of Canyons, it’s a chute with little space to practise my turns and I find myself ducking trees and navigating rollers because once you’re inside there’s no getting out. But nothing beats the sense of elation of shooting out the other end and the satisfaction to still be on two skis. “Shall we do it again?” he asks.
THE AUSSIE CONNECTION
There’s no denying it, Australia’s obsession with coffee is defining our holidays.
So when some Aussie Park City skiing regulars realised the American brew wasn’t going to cut it, they brought the good stuff themselves to the slopes. There are now three Australian-owned cafes in Park City where lines out of the doors speak volumes for their caffeineinfused reputation.
Campos Coffee, at the base of Park City Mountain, opened in December last year with flat whites, Vegemite jaffles and the oh-so-Aussie smashed avocado. Or try Harvest for more “real” coffee and a seriously good Buddha bowl. And then there’s Five5eeds owned by another Australian couple who even flew their head chef back to their home town of Melbourne for inspiration – the hot cakes are almost too beautiful to eat.
YOU’LL SKI PAST THE ORIGINAL TOWN SAFE WHERE THE CITY’S FORTUNES WERE ONCE KEPT
I’ll admit it, I was sceptical about our evening planned in a Viking Yurt, at the top of Park City Mountain, but it turns out to be a highly entertaining affair. An open-air sleigh takes guests up the hill above the twinkling lights of Park City below. Rugged up with blankets, beanies and mittens you’ll arrive at the yurt to be greeted with a glass of hot Norwegian glogg followed by a six-course Nordic meal .
If staying at ground level is more your thing head to the High West Distillery at Blue Sky Ranch. The building itself is worth a visit with spectacular views over the Uinta Mountains. I’m not actually a whiskey drinker, but when a flight of High West’s best whiskey is presented with a charcuterie board worthy of Instagram posts – I am converted.
The historic Main St is where you’ll find all the action – start with apres at No Name Saloon & Grill. Surrounded by fairylights and ski paraphernalia, it’s casual and cosy and has typical western charm.
You’ll find yourself striking up a conversation with fellow fresh track chasers in no time.
Note: You’ll need to take your passport out for ID, international drivers licences are not accepted. Dine at Robert Redford’s Zoom – get the mac’n’cheese. And stroll the shops including Sock City, which is literally heaven for your feet.
THE WRITER WAS A GUEST OF VAIL RESORTS.
Views of Utah’s famous powder await.