Family Travel: Park City, Utah

The author skiing with her family in Park City

I have a love/hate relationship with skiing. I love skiing down the broad, beautiful trails on a sunny, warm day (well at least above 25 degrees when possible) while watching the gorgeous scenery fly by and challenging myself just enough to feel exhilarated, not scared. At the same time, I hate the lines, the layers, and all the schlepping.

So what if you had more of the good stuff and less of the bad? That’s what I found during a recent visit to ski Park City, Utah—a skier’s paradise.

If you’ve ever thought of visiting Park City, this is the year. Thanks to Vail Resorts’ purchase and $50 million investment in mountain improvement projects, they’ve created the largest ski resort in America by combining two resorts, Park City and the adjacent Canyons, into one behemoth—now going by the name Park City Mountain Resort. The mountains have been connected by a brand new eight-person high speed gondola with access to the combined 7,300 acres of skiable terrain, 300+ trails, 41 lifts, and eight terrain parks all on one Epic Pass ticket.

Combine that with the nearby Deer Valley Resort spanning the length of six mountains and more than 2,000 acres of terrain and you’ve got two world-class resorts all within minutes of the charming, historic Main Street with buildings dating back to its silver mining past.

Since Park City is less than 45 minutes from the Salt Lake City airport—a major international hub—you can actually fly in and ski that same day. We took a 7am flight out of JFK and even after renting skis we could have gotten a couple of hours on the trails if we had the energy. To make the most of our time in the West we also took a red-eye home so we had a final full day of skiing and dinner in town before we had to head back to the airport.

Park City, Utah

These are very family-friendly mountains. As you arrive at Deer Valley, you are greeted at the curb by a mountain concierge who helps you with your skis, guides you to the lift ticket window, whisks your kids off to ski school and gives you a trail map—all with a smile. Now that’s service!

I found that the lines were minimal, if non-existent (okay, so we went on a non-vacation week, but there are so many lifts and so many trails that things move quickly). Everyone was pleasant and helpful and there were numerous guides on all the mountains offering advice on which trails to take and the best way down. Plus, they have tissues on the lift lines. They’ve thought of everything.

Skiing on amazing slopes is only one part of this fun city. There is so much to do off the slopes that we didn’t have time to do it all. The place is also magical. Every day looks like Christmas here with colorful holiday lights strung on homes, restaurants and trees that stay on the entire ski season through mid-April. As we drove around Park City with the snow swirling around us and the rugged beauty of the scenery in the background, it was almost like being inside a gigantic living snow globe. It’s an experience I will never forget. See the slideshow below to get a visual sense of the area!

Here are some reasons to love Park City:

For Parents:

  • There’s no need to have a car. If you are located within the city limits, you can ride the free city bus service to ski, eat or shop. Many hotels and condos also have their own shuttles and Uber is on the scene.
  • Helping to make the ski experience easier and hassle-free these days is Ski Butlers; a better way to rent equipment. Instead of waiting in line to be fit and then lugging rentals back and forth from the ski shop, the friendly Ski Butler staff members bring an assortment of equipment to your hotel or condo, all on your schedule.
  • Both Deer Valley and Park City Resorts offer complimentary guided ski tours designed to show you the best trails for your level. I highly recommend taking advantage of this your first day there to get the most out of these massive mountains. As an added bonus, the Park City Mountain Resort tour even includes a history lesson with info on some of the mining artifacts that still remain on the trails.
  • If you have little ones and you’re worried about crazy snow-boarders bombarding by, ski at Deer Valley; it’s one of the country’s few ski-only mountains. If your kids want to snowboard, or you do, too, just hit the Park City Mountain Resort where it’s allowed.
  • Need a break from the slopes mid-day? From the Park City resort you can ski into town for lunch and then take a lift right back up.
  • Park City is teaming with culture, including world-class theater, performing artists, premier film festivals and dozens of art galleries. The Egyptian Theatre (home to the annual Sundance Film Festival) features groups as diverse as the Village People (playing when we were there) to the Repertory Dance Theatre 50th anniversary (March 25-26, 2016) and Peter Yarrow (May 20-22, 2016).

For Kids:

  • Both resorts have children’s programs with extensive on and off mountain activities including storytelling, art projects and indoor and outdoor playgrounds. At Deer Valley, there are four fuzzy mascots who roam the slopes and a special kids’ trail map with hidden trails and secret lodges. They accept children as young as two months.
  • At Park City Mountain Resort on select days, kids can hang out with the avalanche dogs at a meet-and-greet (perhaps better known as a lick-and-pet event). Other days there are jugglers, balloon artists and make your own s’mores. Check out the calendar (click HERE) for a host of family events and activities;
  • Kids—and their parents—will enjoy the city’s two museums. At the Park City Museum you can explore the city’s fascinating history, go inside an old jail, sit in a mining car, and climb aboard the world’s only “skier subway.” Or visit the Utah Olympic Park, home of the 2002 Winter Olympics. There is the Alf Engen Ski Museum, a zip-line, extreme tubing, and a tour that takes you to the top of the world’s highest Nordic ski jump. Those over the age of 16 can take a bobsled ride on the Olympic track at speeds over 60mph.
  • Need even more adventure? Ride the alpine coaster—like a roller coaster—on an elevated track through miles of loops, curves and hair-pin curves.
  • Go on a scavenger hunt when you’re downtown. See whether you can find the two Banksy pieces the street artist left behind years ago when his movie “Exit Through the Gift Shop” was shown at the Sundance Film Festival. Hint: they’re down two different alleys.

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Food is another focal point of Park City. You’ll find a wide variety of food, including the usual sushi, Italian, and Thai, plus lots of Western-inspired cuisine and locally sourced ingredients. Even on the slopes you’ll get way more than the usual cafeteria frozen pizza and fries. You’ll find upscale salad bars, bison chili, gyros, even Pho, a Vietnamese soup to warm you up at the Silver Lake Lodge at Deer Valley.

Beer lovers flock to Park City for its local breweries. You’ll get a kick out of the great labeling and names from the Wasatch Brewery including “Polygamy Porter,” “Devastator Double Block” lager, and “First One Down” winter warmer ale. If whiskey is your thing, head to High West Saloon, the nation’s only ski-in/ski-out gastro-distillery. And Canyons village boasts Prime, an upscale kosher restaurant.

A visit to Park City isn’t complete without a visit to the Empire Lodge for a unique open hearth Fireside Dining experience. First you take a horse-drawn sleigh ride before indulging in a traditional multi-course Swiss dinner where food is cooking or kept warm in front of numerous stone fireplaces. Go from station to station as many times as you want. Start with a plateful of gorgeous melted cheese paired with bread, cured meats, house made mustards, and strawberry chutney.

Next there’s melt-in-your-mouth venison medallions, trout, roasted leg of lamb, soup, and assorted veggies. The highlight for me was dessert: You get individual fondue pots and a huge selection of items to dip in them. Can you tell this was a gastronomic highlight of the trip? It’s a price-fixed meal ($63, pp) and there is a kid’s rate ($30 for age 12 and under), but this may not work for picky eaters or vegetarians. It’s definitely a romantic parent’s night out.

The author and her family snow biking in Park City

Snow Biking

Although snow biking has been in Europe for years, it’s only relatively arrived in the US. It’s a whole new way to enjoy the snow, offering great cardio exercise, beautiful scenic routes, and a real adrenaline rush. Park City has acres of rolling hills and mellow groomed terrain perfect for riding a “fatty” (the bikes with extra-wide tires that grip the snow). Even kids can do it!

Now I can’t wait to come back in the summer when the city turns into a warm-weather wonderland with biking, hiking, zip-lining, outdoor concerts, golf, and so much more. We’ll be back!

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