Park City, Utah. It’s famous for the Sundance Film Festival, founded by Robert Redford, and held each year at the end of January. The small, western town has a main street lined with boutique shops, art galleries filled with the works of famous artists and photographers, and a collection of eclectic restaurants.
But more importantly — there are three amazing ski resorts right in town!
Deer Valley, Park City and The Canyons.
A good friend, Laszlo, retired and moved to Park City at the end of 2014. He bought this fantastic house and made an open invitation to all of his friends to come visit. So how could I say no to this invitation? My wife, Karen, and I hopped on a plane to keep our good friend company for a few days of skiing fun.
We hit the slopes of Deer Valley the first thing in the morning after we arrived at Laszlo’s house on the previous night. The parking lot at the “skier’s only” resort was packed this clear Sunday morning and we braced for a day of crowded slopes and long lift lines. We found neither. Deer Valley has 101 runs, 7 bowls, 21 lifts, an elevation of 9,570 feet and a vertical drop of 3,000 feet. It hasn’t been the snowiest of winters out west this season. Only 90 of the runs were open. Still, that would be more than enough for one day. Plus, Park City had gotten a few inches of snow the day before we arrived, making for a bit of powder atop the hard pack.
Deer Valley is basically made up of five peaks. We started on the main face of Bald Eagle Mountain (8,400’). It is serviced by a high speed quad lift and includes several long intermediate cruisers, one beginner run and a couple of moguled-up chutes. The scheme in the region is green, blue, double blue and black. We could not figure out the grades at any of the resorts. Some of the blues were steeper than the double blues and a couple of blacks were not as steep as some of the double blues. But for the most part, all of the black runs had moguls — nice, hard icy moguls due to the dry winter. Consequently, we decided to stay mostly on the cruisers. It was wonderful: big wide open terrain and hardly anyone on the trails. After a few runs we continued onward and upward to the summit of Bald Mountain (9,400’) and zipped down another half dozen blues and double blues. Two peaks down and three to go. The trail map looked a bit complicated. We discovered, however, it was easy to move from one area to any other.
A long green trail sliced through a ravine to bring us to yet another high speed quad for a quick ride up to the top of Flagstaff Mountain (9,100’). Here we found our favorite runs of the day — Lost Boulder, Lucky Star, Hawkeye and Sidewinder. Here, too, the slopes were relatively empty. Deer Valley is one of the few ski resorts in the country that caps the number of lift tickets that can be sold in a day.
Karen and I decided to take a break for lunch and skied down a lovely green trail (Bandana) to the Empire lodge. We finally found all of the crowds — in the cafeteria. I asked someone from the staff about other dining options. He said there was a restaurant in the next building. He noted “it’s rather pricey.” All ski food is pricey. How much could it be? It was the most expensive lunch in my life! Seventy-five bucks (before tip) for a couple of sandwiches and hot chocolates spiked with Bailey’s Irish Cream. Oh well. Life on vacation.
Back on the mountain, we continued onto the Empire summit at 9,750’ for a few runs and then rode one of the high speed quads back up to the top of Flagstaff. There are very helpful guides by each of the ski maps at the top of each lift. We explained that we wanted to get over to Little Baldy Peak. She told us to follow an intermediate run down to a small lift (Judge), ski down to the Homestake Lift, and then follow the Little Stick slope to the Deer Hollow trail to the base of Little Baldy. Easy peasy! From the top of Little Baldy (7,950’) a long, long double blue trail, Jordanelle, ends at the only gondola on the mountain. The trail wound through the woods and over bridges and through a tunnel to the base of the gondola, dropping almost 1,400 vertical feet. What fun! So much so that we had to do it again. With daylight burning and Karen’s knees beginning to tire, we returned to the base and Karen took a break while I made another five very quick runs down the front of the mountain.
I finished up as the lifts closed and found Karen at the lodge sans skis. She had felt her skis were not gripping well on some of the more hard packed trails. While I finished up the day, she took her skis to the Rennstall Ski Tuning Center. They told her they were surprised that she could hold an edge at all! The shop didn’t have time to tune the skis while she waited. However, they could tune them overnight and deliver them to their Park City location first thing the next morning. So I gave them my skis as well.
Sure enough, the next morning at Park City we had freshly tuned and sharpened skis.
Park City has 116 trails and a 3,100 foot vertical drop. The ten thousand foot high ski area is divided up into color-coded zones on the trail map. One hundred and six runs were open during our visit with 51 trails groomed and sixteen lifts open. We warmed up in the green zone on a blue run called Treasure Hollow. A couple of the other intermediate runs here were closed for a race. So we moved over to the aptly colored blue King Con zone with fifteen blue and double blue slopes. We relished the effortless swooshing on these well-groomed trails with our newly sharpened edges.
After a couple of hours, we moved higher on the mountain to the dark Orange Silverlode/Bonanza Zone and stopped to warm up with a hot chocolate at the Snow Hut Restaurant. Despite a prediction of temps in the upper 20s to low 30s, it was only eight degrees Fahrenheit. All of the slopes, and even the cafe, seemed empty. The Silverlode High Speed Quad lift was another story. It took over fifteen minutes to wade through the throng of others skies to board the lift. Karen and I quickly abandoned the Silverlode zone for the purple Thaynes/Motherlode Mountainzone. The area had only a handful of blues and was serviced by a slower triple lift, but there was no lift line.
Park City and The Canyons are merging together to become the largest lift-served ski area in North America. As part of this merger, the Motherlode lift will be replaced by a high speed quad and a gondola will be built to connect the two resorts. We didn’t mind the old triple. It wasn’t too slow and it gave us a little time to rest our legs between runs.
For lunch we stopped at the Viking Yurt, which had been recommended by a couple of trail guides stationed by the ski maps. The cute green yurt had an assortment of inexpensive soups and sandwiches that was a welcome relief to the previous day’s lunch. At 8,700 feet, the Yurt is famous for serving a six course dinner in the evening where guests arrive via a sleigh pulled up the mountain by a snowcat. Live music on a baby grand piano is featured during the gourmet meal. Unfortunately, we would not have time for such an extravagance. The yurt was perfectly positioned to allow us to drop into the yellow McKonkey’s/Pioneer Zone. This zone had numerous opportunities for skiing in the trees, which we and nearly everyone else avoided. It also features a couple of the steepest and bumpiest bowls I have ever seen. It must have been intermediate skier’s day. I didn’t see anyone challenge these bowls as we rode the lifts up again and again to enjoy the intermediate runs in the yellow zone.
For true experts, Park City also has the light orange Jupiter MountainZone. It is nothing but high-mountain, backcountry double diamond terrain with glades, bowls, chutes, steeps and bumps. Karen and I didn’t even consider taking a look at this zone. The teal-colored Crescent Mountain Zone includes a large number of Signature Runs — single diamond slopes that are supposed to be groomed to allow non-bump skier the thrill of challenging steeper terrain. However, none of these slopes appeared to have been groomed. There is also a super pipe and a terrain park with jumps as big as skyscrapers!
Karen and I returned to the green zone via the easy Homerun Trail. I wanted to ski all the way into town via the blue Creole trail. We stopped to ask a guide for directions. She explained that the lift back up was very long and asked how good I was at being patient. Karen immediately blurted out, “he’s the worst!” The guide said the lift took over fifteen minutes — I was therefore dissuaded from skiing all the way into town. We finished up the day by returning to the Treasure Hollow trail and then a couple of leisurely runs down Payday, a long blue slope that is open for night skiing.
For our final day, at The Canyons, Karen and I both thought we would be fish out of water. The trail map is nothing but trees and black diamonds and an occasional blue connecting trail. It turned out to be our favorite resort of the three. Despite the intimidating trail map, 44 percent of the terrain is intermediate and 10 percent is green. There are 182 slopes of which 157 were open, serviced by twenty-one lifts.
We arrived in the mostly empty parking lot on a bright, sunny day. Unlike the previous day, temps were already in the mid-twenties. A gondola connected the parking area to the mountain base and lodge: no cramming onto a truck or shuttle. From the lodge we took another gondola up to mid-mountain. Like both Deer Valley and Park City, helpful guides stood near the ski maps at the tops of the lifts. There are not specific zones as in Park city or peaks like in Deer Valley. To explore the full extent of the resort, we followed the suggestions of the guides to move about the mountain. It felt liberating to abandon planning our day and instead go with the flow of the advice from the guides.
All of the lifts were fast and the slopes long and wondrous. The Canyons has a vertical drop of over three thousand feet and a summit elevation of 9,990 feet. One intermediate trail, Harmony, seemed to go on forever… through the forest and over and under bridges and past a variety of beautiful mountainside homes. It was phenomenal! A local referred to it as the Real Estate Tour.
For lunch, we dined at Cloud Dine — as suggested. The restaurant at Dream Peak features healthy flat bread pizzas, soups, salads and sandwiches. With only a couple of hours left before the lifts closed, we were steered back towards the center of this massive resort to bomb down a couple steeper double blues, Cloud Nine and Sidewinder. Zoom! We covered most of the mountain, avoiding only one section near the Iron Mountain Lift which we had been told was slushy. We skied till they closed the lifts and left the Canyons, and the charming town of Park City, with smiles across our faces.
You don’t need to have a friend in town to visit Park City. A variety of hotels, inns and condominiums are available, many including ski and stay packages. http://www.visitparkcity.com/visitors/lodging-hotels/
Matthew Graham is a skier as well as a hang glider and paraglider pilot, SCUBA diver, cavern diver, equestrian, polo player, sailor, hiker, biker, rock climber, paddler, and skater. He's also yoga teacher and certified personal trainer and has dabbled in just about every other sport, even stunt car driving and bull riding! He has written for the Washington Post, Washingtonian Magazine, USA Weekend Magazine, Hooked on the Outdoors, Richmond Magazine, Chesapeake Life Magazine, Metro Sports, American Fitness, Blue Ridge Outdoors, Recreation News and numerous other outdoor and travel publications.
Matt - sounds like you did it up right. Funny about PCMR - we have been sking it a lot lately because of our Epic pass and we keep trying to like it but I have to say it sucks really - just as you experienced. On Friday Prospector was supposed to be the "groomer's pick" according to signage ... yeah it was if the goomer picking the run was prep'ing for a World Cup Super G. It was basically racing boilerplate which I don't totally hate but Mary said while skiing it she couldn't stop laughing at how horrible the "groomer's pick" was - after standing in an alarmingly long lift line. Me - i think i lost partial hearing due to the constant World Cup chatter and vibration my skis were making as I forced them to bite.
Canyons still rules way over PCMR as several people on here have documented - and Harmony/Power Alley/ Santurary->Showcase are the best runs on a powder day because no one knows about them and there are usually 10 tracks going in to them - the best easy-ego powder runs you'll ever have. Glad you hit that.
Hopefully with Vail taking over PCMR they will spin that place up and make it better.