Introduction to Park City
Vail Resorts is the Goliath of the ski industry, without a doubt. Last week, they announced a deal to buy the long independent Whistler Blackcomb, and their Epic Pass will get you on the hill at resorts in Colorado, Utah, California, Michigan, and even Japan and Australia. Vail acquired Park City Mountain in 2014 and have since gotten to work connecting Park City with the adjacent Canyons Resort to create the largest ski area in North America.
Complete with lift access from Park City to Canyons via the new Quicksilver Gondola, skiers and riders now have access to 7,300 hundred acres under one lift ticket. Perhaps the best thing about Park City and Utah, in general, is the proximity of Salt Lake City to the ski resorts. Driving from downtown Salt Lake to Park City takes less than 45 minutes.
My crew crashed in Holladay, a suburb of Salt Lake, and hit the road each morning shortly after 8. Being a Denver native accustomed to dealing with the I-70 mess, every time I come to Utah on a riding trip I cringe with jealousy.
You’d be hard-pressed to ski the whole area in one day. I wouldn’t recommend even trying. We spent separate days on each hill. This allowed us to focus on diving deeper into the terrain on each side because despite being neighbors now joined as one, Park City Mountain and Canyons have a very different feel to them.
Canyons is spread out, covering nine peaks and offering the ability to make wide, looping turns through gorgeous tree runs, finding yourself at the base of a different lift each time. The mountains are dotted with bridges to ski under and wind fences lining the trails. I was surprised at how easy it is to get around the expansive area.
Traversing is kept to a minimum. The overall flow of the mountain is superb. From the lively base area, you’ll take the Red Pine Gondola up and as you reach the top of the lift the wide expanses of the terrain will come into view. The majority of the wide swath of the Canyons side is not viewable from the base area. I found the Canyons side to be extremely enjoyable because of the mellow vibe and wide open spaces.
Park City, on the other hand, is incredibly compact considering the amount of challenging terrain. The first run of the day we took the Crescent Express up and did a couple warm up runs near the base, but spent most of the day up on Jupiter Peak riding bowls and chutes. The Town Lift departs from
Whether you’re coming from Salt Lake or somewhere to the east, take I-80 to Kimball Junction and head south. The drive from Salt Lake is quick, even coming from the airport will take only 45 minutes.
Once you’re in Park City, you shouldn’t need to use the car until you leave. Park City itself offers lift service from in town via the Town Lift, so it is totally possible to have a ski in, ski out experience without having to own a million dollar on-mountain home.
Public bus service is available from Salt Lake to Park City- allow an hour and a half each way for this unless you’re taking a direct shuttle. Figure out the scheduling here. The Rideshare section on Craigslist can typically hook you up with a ride, or check out this rideshare program.
In Park City, get around via the eco-friendly bus system (which, as an added bonus, is free). They hit the bars, restaurants, hotels, and lifts.
Where to ride
Park City Mountain has a killer terrain park setup and much of it including the super pipe is right near the base.
There’s also Neff Land off the Eaglet lift- designed to look like you’re cruising through Candy Land, this is one of the most unique terrain parks in the country. Definitely worth checking out if park riding is your thing.
I like a good park lap or two but I’m more of a powder hound myself, so I spent most of the day on Park City Mountain lapping Jupiter Peak and Jupiter Bowl.
There is some incredible hike-to terrain off McConkey’s Express towards the Jupiter Peak summit. Jupiter Bowl is incredible and right off the lift. Head to skiers left and find a cirque that leads around to Pinecone Ridge.
Pinecone Ridge has some of the most challenging runs on the hill. We did a few runs off the Jupiter Lift and several off McConkey’s- both P and O-zone are great wide open runs and McConkey’s Bowl itself has the additional challenge of being near the lift.
Like I said before, I found the Canyons side to be much more mellow. The runs are long- my legs were feeling it as we approached the tenth run of the day. We headed out the backcountry gates (proper gear in town, of course- always carry a beacon, shovel, and probe when through an access gate) off the Ninety-Nine Express and had the best run of the season off skier’s right of the peak.
In-bounds, Red Pine Bowl, and the chutes coming out of it are incredible. Steep and quick, there isn’t much margin for error but staying on your feet isn’t hard to do as long as the line is scoped out before dropping in. We did a few runs off Super Condor Express.
I particularly liked the Condor Woods- medium packed trees that are steep and full of powder. They lead to a nice traverse back to the lift on Lower Boa but with some speed making it to the lift without skating is easy.
While at Canyons, be sure to check out the winding Blue-rated cruiser runs on skier’s right of the Tombstone Express lift. I felt like I was in that Nintendo 64 game 1080 Snowboarding, riding under bridges turning across little rollers with banking turns and stunning views of the valley.
Where to eat and drink
Red Tail Grill- The base area at Canyons is a hotbed of activity, especially on weekends. Live music and a thriving après-ski culture make this a fun area to grab a drink after a long day, and Red Tail Grill is the place to be. They’ve got a great patio overlooking the ‘beach’ and local beer on tap.
LookOut Cabin- off the mid-load of Orange Bubble Express, LookOut Cabin has a full bar and serves food that is a step up from typical ski resort cafeteria grub. Plus, they have wait staff. Nice way to relax mid-day and have a couple drinks and a sandwich.
The Shack- The best part about The Shack is that in addition to drinks and eats, there is the added bonus of watching people wreck themselves in the 3 Kings Terrain Park. Plus, it’s near the base so everyone can make it there.
High West Distillery & Saloon – I know that a lot of us backpacker types don’t have much money. But if you’re going to splurge in Park City, do it here. High West has gourmet, handmade food to pair with their awesome whiskeys or vodka, and it’s all served in an old saloon setting. If you’re like me and you like to get your drink on après-style and then pass out early to hit the next day’s powder, there is no better spot in Park City to do that than High West.
Davanza’s – for cheap pizza, burgers, tacos, and even more worldly varieties, Davanza’s has it covered.
Wasatch Brew Pub – Utah is pulling it together in the craft beer category. I’ve visited Wasatch a couple times now and their food is delicious, pairing perfectly with their cold beer. This place gets crowded, so send the lackluster who sat at the lodge all day down there early to get a table.
Where to Party
The Star Bar – From what I hear, this place used to be booze-free, but Utah is finally coming to grips with the benefits of selling alcohol to and taxing it. The Star Bar will quench your dancing needs while boozing you up enough to keep warm on the walk back to the hotel.
The Good Times Bar at Cisero’s – Beneath the restaurant is a rocking bar with live music and a good mix of tourists and locals.
Lindzhee O’Michaels – great cocktail menu, live music and DJs, and potentially the rowdiest crowd in town. If you’re looking to hook up, this is the place to hang out.
Where to Stay
Park City Hostel – Crash with like-minded ski bums and hang out with locals that will show you the best places to check out in town. A bed starts at about $30 per night, definitely the cheapest option in town.
Heber City – 20 minutes south of Park City, Heber City has many hotel options that are significantly cheaper than what can be found in town. Park City’s hotels are expensive, so this is a good way to save some extra bucks for lift tickets.
Salt Lake City – Same goes here- it’s about 40 minutes away and offers big city amenities.
Park City leans left on the political spectrum, a rarity in Utah and the culture in town is much more laid back than what can be found in many parts of the state. That said, police in Utah are notoriously tough- I have a few friends from my college days in Durango (not far from Utah) that got pulled over in Utah and now have a permanent stain on their record.
The moral here is to keep your shit together because no one wants to come home from a ski trip with a felony.
Park City has a great vibe and is a fun place to party, but it’s still Utah.