Park City Is the Underrated American Ski Resort That Should Be on Your Radar
Park City Mountain and Deer Valley Resort are the world's most remarkable ski mountains in America's most underrated state.
March 20, 2023
I've always thought of Utah as just another landlocked American state — a puzzling enigma of deep conservatism and desert monuments. Little did I know that a recent visit to America's most underrated state would unearth a skiing and mountain community steeped in beauty, history and epicurean experiences that wouldn't feel out of place in Australia.
You'll find Park City — the ski town you've probably never heard of — a short 45-minute drive from Utah's capital. After leaving Salt Lake City International Airport, it's not long before the lights of the city's historic Main Street (as well as the headlights from the army of snowcat groomers on the hill) emerge on the horizon, as if glints of silver have been etched from the bowels of a mine shaft.
In fact, it was rare minerals like silver which first had people rushing to these mountains in the 1860s in the first place. At one point, there were more than 300 mines in the Park City area. But the industry's collapse catalysed its rebirth as a skiing and tourism destination, and thus was born the allure of some of the greatest snow on Earth.
In fact, the phrase: 'The Greatest Snow on Earth' was officially registered by the state in 1975. But geography and science help lay a solid claim to back this up. Giddy up, because this is America's most remarkable ski town.
What makes it the Greatest Snow on Earth?
Utah's geography to the mountains in the west makes it an arid state compared to its northern neighbours. The typically dry conditions, cool winters, and high altitudes (Park City's altitude is over 2,000 metres) allow the snow crystals that fall in the region to be thicker and more symmetrical in their structure; therefore, they accumulate fluffier powder.
What's it like skiing at Park City Mountain?
It's brisk at the top of the Super Condor Express chair lift (a balmy minus 24 degrees celsius), and while my face is frozen, I can't help but smile.
"That was awesome. Do we go again?" I ask our guide Halle from Park City Mountain Resort.
"Absolutely!" she replies, and within a few seconds, we're hurtling down Upper and Lower Boa for a second time. I'm not cold anymore because my legs are burning from another three-kilometre, nine-minute journey and nearly 550 metres of vertical descent.
The terrain at Park City Mountain Resort is enormous. Technically made up of two individual ski areas of, Park City Mountain and Canyons Mountain, which were merged by Vail Resorts in 2014 and subsequently were joined by a gondola in 2015.
With almost 3,000 hectares of terrain, there are 43 lifts, six terrain parks, and ski-in-ski-out access to Main Street. There are 330 named trails, but chatting to Halle (once a former Ski Patroller), that number is closer to 800 if you're in the know.
There is a required proximity between 'resort' and 'town' when it comes to North American ski destinations. And that distance is what defines the culture of the town itself. Park City manages the balance of both on and off mountain activities better than anyone. Whether you ski down to Mountain Village for brunch and espresso at The Bridge Cafe or, carve your way right to the bar at High West Saloon, the only ski-in-ski-out distillery in the U.S.
Where you also sleep matters. The new YOTELPAD Park City in Canyons Village is as Instagram-able, a hotel as they come. The reception and common spaces are filled with neon, and as the newest mid-range option on the mountain, it comes with all the expected mod-cons: spa, sauna, games room, and heated outdoor patio for afternoon Apres-ski. But the most significant novelty is the retractable Murphy beds in each room, which are a welcome addition on a luggage-heavy ski holiday.
What about Deer Valley, Park City's quieter cousin?
Like an expensive, out-of-reach necklace dangling just over a ridge is where you'll find the exclusive Deer Valley Resort (still technically within Park City.) It's one of only three resorts in the United States that does not permit snowboarders, often considered the riff-raff of the snow sports world.
Both old money and the nouveau riche choose Deer Valley over Park City Mountain, not just because the skiing is quieter (lift ticket sales are regularly capped) but because the on and off-mountain service is exceptional. Skiers at Deer Valley are referred to as "guests" and not "customers", plus there's complimentary overnight ski valet for your gear.
The Resort also offers a complimentary service with 25 luxury Cadillac Escalades. Don't be fooled; this is well and truly earned in your $500 daily lift pass.
As a snowboarder, I'm used to being looked down upon by skiers at most other U.S. mountains. But here, I have no choice but to don a pair of skis for the first time in 20 years and set off with Uros, my Slovenian personal guide, for the next 48 hours.
We ski together for hours through untracked Aspen tree runs. We wait only minutes in lineless lifts while ogling together from above at his favourite gated community. He points out to me the house where he was invited to a dinner with Steve Jobs and Al Gore after a day on the slopes.
On the deck at the prestigious Stein Eriksen Lodge, the final pieces of the Deer Valley puzzle are assembled once inside their temperature-controlled Alpen Globes. It's only 3 pm, but in the fading afternoon sun, Après-ski well and truly has begun, and I'm handed a wine list by the Lodge's Sommelier with a cost price of over $4,000,000.
Pioneers, distillers, hunters, snowboarders, paddlers, and mountain bikers. Like their world-class ski resorts, Utahns are in a class of their own. They're genuine outdoor people who personify a bygone and future America, and I'm happy to confirm them as the rightful custodians of the Greatest Snow on Earth®.
Images: Jeremy Drake, Park City Chamber/Convention & Visitors Bureau & Deer Valley Resort.
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