Park City, Utah, hosts midwinter delights with plenty of open space.
If you’ve never skied Park City, the big thing to know is … it’s big. Park City Mountain ski resort, that is, as opposed to the walkable historic downtown. There are more than 330 trails on 7,300 acres serviced by 43 lifts. Big like that.
This season, the size translates into plenty of space for physical distancing. As part of the Vail Resorts consortium, Park City Mountain has instituted safety precautions, including an easy-to-use reservation system to help manage capacity. On chairlifts and gondolas, only related parties will be seated together (or two singles on opposite sides of a four-person lift).
Photographer and two-time Olympic skier Guillermo Avila Paz, who first moved to Park City in 1976 and has skied all over the world, notes, “Utah gets the best-quality snow in the world because it is a high-elevation desert, so the water content of the snow is very low; it’s very dry snow.” Another aspect of the area’s climate is that the temperatures are ideal. “Jackson Hole is way too cold to go skiing,” Avila Paz says with a laugh, while adding that farther south, “it’s too warm and the snow is heavy.” Park City is baby bear, just right.
Since Park City is a 35-minute drive from the Salt Lake City airport, it’s possible to ski the same day you arrive. The variety of runs include some easy slopes mid-mountain, which means beginners can enjoy great views and won’t be stuck at the bottom of the hill all day.
Tombstone BBQ restaurant, located slope-side, underwent a recent transformation with outdoor dining space for you to enjoy its pulled pork sandwiches, Tater Tots and the like. A new lift called Over and Out was installed near the BBQ spot and can take you back down to the Canyons Village.
The ski resort and the old town — a former mining camp — have their act together in several ways. You can ski directly to Main Street from the mountain via a run called Quit ’N Time, then take the Town Lift back up the hill for more skiing. There’s also a free city bus that services the area.
The historic downtown has one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants. On Park Avenue, High West Distillery’s saloon not only serves cocktails and spirits like the American Prairie Bourbon and Double Rye, but also offers hearty dishes like pozole, chicken schnitzel and New York strip steaks.
High-end European knitwear company We Norwegians chose Park City for its flagship U.S.retail space. It makes merino woolen goods, including T-shirts (great for layering) so soft and nonscratchy they’re often mistaken for cotton.
There are over 25 art galleries on Main Street, open evenings so people can browse after a day of skiing. On Sundays, the street is closed to cars. Gallery Stroll is held the last Friday of each month year-round (check parkcitygalleryassociation.com for the latest updates). The Meyer Gallery showcases local photography, oil paintings and sculpture from both established museum artists and emerging ones. It was founded in 1965 by the parents of current owner Susan Meyer, a Park City native who has memories of a quainter time.
“When I was as small as 5 years old,” she recalls, “there were sets of staircases up and down the hillside leading down to Main Street. My mom would send me down to buy a loaf of bread. You’d sign your name on a piece of paper and have a tab. The grocery, the hardware store, a place you’d go to pay a bill, were all on Main Street.”
A 15-minute drive away, the Utah Olympic Park, built for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, houses a museum, as well as an activity center. You can get your adrenalin running by taking a bob-sled ride, reaching speeds of up to 70 miles per hour.
Of course, January is normally the time when Park City is abuzz with festivities surrounding the annual Sundance Film Festival. This year there will be very few events in Park City, with the majority of the programming happening online.
An option for ski-in/ski-out lodging is the Grand Summit Hotel, whose suites include kitchens and fireplaces. A gap period between the last room occupant and the next one is now being enforced as part of the hotel’s COVID protocols, which also include contactless checkout and individually wrapped food options for breakfast and lunch, and for room service.
Grand Summit chef Zeke Wray’s prior work includes a stint at the former San Francisco restaurant Jardiniere. Among his innovations at the hotel’s First Tracks Cafe is a menu of sit-down but quick-serve meals called Hot Laps, designed for those who are taking a ski break and don’t want to wait long for food but who want something a step up from traditional fast food. As for the name, Wray explains, “We refer to ‘hot laps’ like: You go down a hill, get back on the lift and go back up — as fast as you can. We took that philosophy to food.” The turkey and wild rice casserole is a standout, comforting on a snowy day.
From your suite balcony on one side of the Grand Summit you can watch the Canyons Cabriolet, an open-air gondola less than 200 feet away, transporting adventurers into the resort village. It’s fun to observe the procession: an adventuresome family in one cabin, perhaps, then a solo skier or snowboarder in the next, followed by a young couple kitted out with the latest gear. Those gondola cabins, everyone in their pod, are an apt metaphor for the safe, happy, outdoorsy getaway to be had this season in Park City.