I haven’t counted them myself, but I am reliably informed that there are around 250 ‘world class’ ski areas across the planet, a bewildering choice when it comes to booking next year’s fix of snow sports. For many, Europe rules the roost when it comes to vast ski complexes with the Three Valleys, Dolomiti Super Ski area, the Milky Way and so on, offering a volume of terrain that is, ahem, unparalleled outside the Alps. If you’ve done all of those, however, where else is there? North America now offers some excellent alternatives in the shape of Vail, Lake Tahoe, Whistler and others but, arguably, the best of them all is Park City in Utah. Yes, Utah.
The feature list is undeniably impressive – one town, three world class resorts (Park City Mountain, Deer Valley and Canyons Resort). Ten metres of snowfall on average per year. More than 100 restaurants and bars (boom time since the recent liberalisation of Utah’s once ultra-strict drinking laws), tons of live music, the Sundance Film Festival, a mountain roller coaster, luxury accommodation, a mountain yurt, awesome views and the evocative remnants of a once thriving silver mining community. The real star, though, is the unique, deep, dry powder snow that they call ‘The Greatest Snow On Earth’, a phrase protected by trademark. Even in Utah they know how to put on a show.
There are lots of practical reasons to love Park City – visitors don’t need to hire a car, there are a host of quick (35 minutes) and cheap airport transfer options, and a hyper-efficient bus service which covers anywhere you’re likely to want to go. I can’t remember waiting more than three minutes and several times a bus was at the stop waiting for me. And it’s free.
Where to stay? There’s something for everyone, from ultra luxurious hotels priced at the Russian oligarch end of the market (the St Regis, for example, has its own funicular railway) to affordable, spacious (meaning ‘vast’) and really well equipped apartments. Hot tubs overlooking the mountain are pretty much everywhere.
The obvious thing to note about the skiing is that there is tons of it, divided over three areas, each with its own personality. 9500 acres of skiable terrain, 426 runs, bowls and terrain parks and 58 lifts. The smallest of the three areas, Deer Valley Resort, is still a big place and regularly voted the top resort in America. It’s also the Beverly Hills of US mountain destinations, designed for comfort, ease of use and, you’ll be glad to know, to break out the bling.
It’s a safety first kind of place – a maximum number of skiers per day, and no snowboards. A nice attention to detail – the Snow Park Lodge base has heated paving, so no more treacherous icy walks in ski boots to the first lift of the day. The super-groomed, mainly tree-lined slopes best suited for good intermediates are never too busy and enough to keep most people happy for a couple of days at least. The more challenging runs are off the top of Bald Mountain and Empire, (ski through the trees if you dare) and there is an expansive beginners’ area. Of course, there is also a green route down from anywhere on the mountain.
Next stop, Park City Mountain Resort, 60% bigger than Deer Valley and therefore very big indeed. It appears to be a magnet for both serious ski bums and families. Miles and miles of well-maintained runs cater for every level of skier and there are enough steep thrills for adrenaline seekers. Deer Valley feels exclusive but the atmosphere in PCMR is much more vibrant and inclusive, relaxed and welcoming. Beginners can find plenty to do off the First Time chairlift, whereas intermediates and experts can plunge into the powder at the top of Jupiter Peak and McConkey’s express, use US ski team’s on the training area around Thaynes, and carve some long, fast (and safe) turns all over the mountain.
As if having two enormous, top class ski areas isn’t enough, Park City also boasts Canyons Resort, the largest single ski area in Utah (and the fourth biggest in the US), and twice the size of Deer Valley. Only 10% of the slopes are suitable for beginners and nearly half the terrain is designated as advanced. There’s hardcore skiing all over the mountain, and buckets of back country skiing for those that way inclined, which is accessed from the top of the Ninety-Nine 90 and Peak 5 lifts, although once you cross the ski area boundary you are on your own. Canyons quickly became my favourite of the three areas, as much for the super laid back ambience as for the excellent skiing.
Park City. A must visit ski area? You can drink to that.
by Don Perretta
Don travelled to Park City courtesy of Ski Safari (01273 224060)