We love our New England ski mountains. You can hop in a car and head north and get there. But it’s a different experience in the West with more consistent snow and just plain bigness.
One of the most accessible western resorts is Park City, Utah, in the Wastach Mountains above Salt Lake City.
JetBlue flies direct from Boston to Salt Lake City in about five hours, less on the return flight. Once you arrive, you basically take two turns from the airport, and you’re there. At Park City, the frequent free shuttle bus runs early morning to late at night with reliable frequency, great for families with varying schedules.
Another plus: With only 7,000 feet of elevation at the base, the altitude is easier for easterners to handle than some higher western ski resorts.
About bigness: You have two mega resorts right next to each other, and it’s a nice combination offering everything you could want in a resort region. Park City Mountain Resort is more for families. It has lots of intermediate groomed slopes plus lots of challenge.
Deer Valley is more upscale, doesn’t take snowboarders, and pampers its guests. It attracts lots of older people but also has one of the best children’s ski schools in the country.
Let’s start with Park City Mountain Resort. Here alone, the choices for skiing are mind-boggling. In 2016, Park City’s owner, Vail Ski Resorts, joined the Canyons ski resort and Park City via the Quicksilver Gondola on Pine Cone Ridge. The result was a ski area of 7,300 acres with 41 lifts and 324 runs, the largest ski area in the United States. That’s six miles across as the crow flies.
When we arrived, Park City had just had a foot of fresh powder, which is typical. Average annual snowfall is 355 inches. Two-feet of powder left by a storm is normal, with an average snow depth of 4 feet. The snow the Wasatch Range catches as precipitation moves in from the West Coast is light and fluffy—perfect powder.
• 7,300 acres
• Base elevation 6,800 ft
• Summit 10,026 ft
• 330 trails, 41 lifts
• Average annual
snowfall: 355 inches
• 8 percent beginner
• 48 percent intermediate
• 44 percent expert
• 2,026 acres
• Base elevation 6,570 ft
• Summit 9,570 ft
• 101 runs, 21 lifts
• Longest vertical, 1,380 ft off Little Baldy
• Average annual snowfall: 300 inches
• 27 percent beginner
• 41 percent intermediate
• 32 percent expert terrain
Wide, groomed intermediate slopes abound. Many trails offer drop offs into tree skiing at various pitches. Big bowls with double black diamond labels offer fabulous powder skiing and steep bumps when that is skied off. But beginners are not overlooked. This year Park City added a new beginner ski and snowboard area at the base, with an enclosed surface lift.
In 2015, Vail Resorts invested $50 million in upgrades. It also created two new trails at the Quicksilver Gondola mid-station, built a restaurant, and invested in snowmaking.
Eating here reverses that old ski adage, “We eat to ski.” In this case, we ski to eat. At Park City, chef Alex Malmborg manages the 16 mountain restaurants. Each one has its own executive chef and menu.
Skiing does get crowded: This is a popular area, but at many lift junctures, an LED board gives you traffic information, plus the Epic Pass app lets you track lift waiting times on your phone.
For lodging, you can go with deluxe ski-in/ski-out Grand Summit Hotel at The Canyons, which got a $15 million renovation last spring.Or go a little more traditional. To sit in the Troll Hallen Lounge at the Stein Eriksen Lodge is to feel yourself transported back to old Europe. Stein, who won two gold Olympic ski medals for his native Norway, eventually settled in Deer Valley where he was director of skiing for 35 years until his death in December 2015. His namesake hotel is world-renowned for luxury.
The great thing about Deer Valley is what you see on arrival. From Snow Park Base Lodge at the base of Bald Eagle Mountain, where the main parking lot is, it all looks entirely manageable with a cozy amphitheater of trails merging at the base of two lifts. Most of the skiing rises above Bald Eagle, putting you at Silver Lake Lodge, another base area. Here you have access to skiing at Bald and Flagstaff mountains with many intermediate runs and the Empire and Lady Morgan bowls with expert skiing. Basically, you’ve got 2,000 acres of skiing over six peaks. All have a beginner or intermediate run from the top so you can ski as a family with varying abilities.
You’ll have fresh powder tracks to yourself because most skiers stick to the groomed here. The forester on staff clears the glades for well-spaced tree skiing. Everyone’s favorite run though is Stein’s Way off the Sultan Express, a scenic run overlooking Jordanelle Reservoir.
At the Snow Park Lodge, the Natural Buffet is just one of many “stations” that offer carved roasts, deli sandwiches, soups, chilies, and chocolate chip cookies the size of small Frisbees. Not to mention the new Bald Mountain pho at Silver Lake Lodge or the award-winning Mariposa. For dinner, the seafood buffet at Snow Park is said to be truly outstanding and offers a vast array of fresh seafood Thursday through Sunday nights. For lodging, try the Deer Valley Resort Lodging condos at the base of the mountain or the upscale slope side Montage at Empire Pass with many family offerings including a bowling alley, spa, afternoon s’mores around the fire pit, concerts, moonlit snowshoe hikes, and family ski day with an Olympian.
The best way to ski Park City is to buy the Epic Pass, which lets you ski all Vail resorts in Utah, Colorado, and California. Deer Valley has its own separate pass.
It’s absolutely true, you could be skiing there tomorrow.