The Hills Are Live at Park City, Utah
A HIGH-ALTITUDE Summer in Park City, Utah—sweet relief for South florida residents—reveals a different side of this renowned winter playground
Long before the “Greatest Snow on Earth” regularly drew winter guests to the roughly 10,000 skiable acres in its backyard—and more than a century before Sundance, the country’s largest independent film festival, set an attendance record of 71,000 in January 2017 (nearly 10 times its population)—Park City, Utah, still found ways to lure visitors to the Wasatch Back.
Nearly all of them, at least in the century before Treasure Mountain opened in 1963 as the town’s first ski resort, involved silver. Park City’s sonic boom years as the silver mining capital of
the world (from the 1880s into the early 1900s) produced more than 20 millionaires—among them, publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. As late as 1980, there was still an active silver mine just a stone’s throw from what’s now the luxurious Stein Eriksen Lodge.
One of the modern-day charms of this quaint and affluent enclave, some 30 minutes southeast of Salt Lake City, is that nearly everyone has a story about the mining days. The driver of a hotel shuttle bus shares the legend that miners used to slide down the hills after a hard day’s work, thus giving rise, later, to the idea of Park City as a ski town. A patron at High West Saloon recalls how peace-loving hippies and hardscrabble miners had their share of bar-room disputes during the Vietnam era. And a trolley driver chuckles as she notes that the only thing more notorious than silver mining, back in the day, was Park City’s red-light district—which was still thriving, she says, into the 1970s.
dNearly every local we met seemed to have a little glint in their eye, an extra bounce in their step, and it wasn’t just over a fondness for sharing silver stories. It was late July in Park City. Not only is that a time for residents to catch their breath before the start of ski season, it’s, hands-down, one of the more postcard-perfect summer backdrops in the country.
Better still, for those anxious to escape the predictable afternoon storms and soul-sapping humidity of summer in South Florida, Park City’s base elevation (some 7,000 feet above sea level) delivers a July-to-September weather treat—the opportunity to play outside all day in the second-driest state in the land, but still cozy up next to a fire pit at night as temperatures dip into the 40s.
But that’s only the beginning of what Park City offers visitors during the summer.
Utah Olympic Park
It’s not often you see members of the Australian national ski team practicing freestyle slalom jumps and flips—into a swimming pool. Then again, plenty about this year-round U.S. Olympic Committee training site defies description, especially during the summer.
Spread across nearly 400 acres, the venue was built for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. Today, it provides athletes with sliding tracks for bobsleigh and luge training, as well as six Nordic ski jumps. For those who aren’t training for 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, the facility doubles as a family fun center like nothing you’ve ever experienced.
Summer activities include extreme zip lines that reach speeds of 50 mph; an Alpine slide that propels riders in a controllable sled down a track that includes 18 banked turns; a drop tower that combines a 377-foot-long zip line with a 65-foot free fall; and, my favorite, extreme tubing down the landing hills of the Nordic ski jumps—which are covered in strips of green plastic that replicate the feel of gliding on snow. (utaholympiclegacy.org/location/utah-olympic-park)
For first-timers to the area, the geographical lingo can be confusing. Park City is a city. But it’s also the name of the region’s mega-mountain that features some 350 slopes/trails and 41 lifts. Deer Valley is the smaller of the ski resorts, with 101 runs, but it’s part of Park City—the city, not the mountain. Ultimately, the backdrops are so picturesque that you quickly learn to stop worrying about semantics.
Though its skiable acres (2,026) pale compared to Park City Mountain (7,300), Deer Valley holds its own when it comes to summer activities. The mountain biking is epic, drawing cyclists from all over the world to traverse its 70 miles spread out over six mountains (with 3,000 vertical feet of elevation change). One of the summer treats involves lift-served Twilight Rides from 4 to 8 p.m.
The hiking is equally majestic. My wife and I enjoyed a guided 3-mile hike amid the native flora and aspen trees to the top of Bald Mountain, a 1,500-foot vertical climb that took us to an elevation of 9,400 feet. At higher elevation, you’re apt to spot moose and mountain goats, but the views from any of the trail summits, alone, are worth the price of admission.
Summer also brings the Deer Valley Music Festival. Guests relax in folding chairs on the side of a mountain that slopes toward the stage at Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater. Concerts here aren’t for the soft-pretzel crowd; many guests will pre-order gourmet picnic baskets, which can be picked up before a show. This year’s highlights include performances by Rick Springfield (July 20) and Kristin Chenoweth (July 21) with the Utah Symphony; the symphony also performs the music of Pink Floyd on Aug. 11. (deervalley.com)
Stein Eriksen Lodge
As lodging goes, in and around Park City, options abound. But in the go-big-or-go-home category, few of those options compare with Stein Eriksen—Utah’s first resort to receive the coveted Forbes Five-Star honor (2007). In the 11 years since, the condominium hotel named after the Olympic ski legend from Norway has only grown in stature.
The red-carpet treatment starts with luxury suite accommodations that range from 1,200 square feet to five-bedroom, 4,900-square-feet layouts that can host up to 18 people. Aesthetically, there’s a chic European ski-lodge vibe throughout the 10-acre property, complete with dramatic wood treatments and fireplaces in the rooms.
Recent renovations include a new coffee/pastry shop, an in-house movie theater, a state-of-the-art ski locker room, expansion of the pool lounge area and a new family pool. Dining, as one would expect, exceeds expectations—especially at the award-winning Glitretind, which, in addition to gourmet dinner entrees and a renowned Sunday brunch, offers a to-die-for morning buffet brimming with fruit, pastries, egg selections and the best maple-glazed bacon you’ve ever tasted.
The concierge basically can plan your entire vacation—the team is dialed into guided hikes, mountain biking, concerts, dude-ranching, Dutch oven cooking classes, and championship golf, thanks to a partnership with Park Meadows Country Club and its course designed by Jack Nicklaus. On top of all that, the resort is always hosting original on-property events—such as Hops on the Hill, where Stein Eriksen chefs prepare tasting stations that complement offerings from local breweries. (steinlodge.com)
When the sun begins to set, and the focus transitions from outdoors to indoors, the attention of most everyone in Park City turns to its thriving restaurant scene. There are some 150 establishments from which to choose—but here are a few of the standouts.
High West Saloon: This is the culinary complement to High West whiskey and scotch, which was first distilled about a decade ago in Park City. An adjacent general store sells bottles of High West, but cocktails flow freely inside a Western-style interior straight out of “Gunsmoke”—along with a menu heavy on meats, chili and stew. (highwest.com/saloon)
Riverhorse on Main: Considered one of Park City’s premier dining destinations (and with the awards to prove it, including the first DiRoNA honor for a Utah restaurant), the thoughtfully rendered menu by celebrity chef Seth Adams is driven by the season and available ingredients. On our visit, expertly prepared offerings included a bone-in ribeye with lobster tail and bacon-wrapped shrimp with jalapeno sauce—plus, a dish that never leaves the menu, macadamia-crusted halibut. (riverhorseparkcity.com)
Chimayo: Inspired Southwestern décor—with architectural details and furnishings that leave no doubt about the cuisine—sets the stage for a Mexican-style feast with a gourmet spin. Executive chef Arturo Flores delivers a little of everything, including seared scallops in blood-orange jalapeno beurre blanc, barbecued spareribs in caramelized chipotle glaze, and honey-roasted duck in poblano verde sauce. (chimayorestaurant.com)
Firewood: The chic, minimalist vibe inside gives chef John Murcko’s commitment to cooking over a wood fire center stage. The power of a wood flame informs every entree on the abbreviated menu. During our visit, dishes included juniper-spice elk loin, organic chicken, cherrywood-smoked brisket and coriander-crusted salmon. (firewoodonmain.com)
Before walking into Jans Mountain Outfitters in Park City (jans.com), I had placed my odds of catching a fish with a fly rod on par with the male models in “Zoolander” figuring out how to retrieve a computer file before smashing the orange iMac into a thousand pieces. I had been fly fishing once before, a wildly unsuccessful episode in Colorado.
But in the experienced hands of our guide, Woody, something about this trip to the Provo River felt different. After driving us to a spot outside of Huber City, Woody led us on a 20-minute walk in our wading gear through high grasses, over a bridge, past marmot holes, and down a path that opened to a clearing by the river bank.
He adjusted our reels, tied tiny flies to our line that resembled larvae and patiently showed my wife and me how to cast, where to cast and how to brace ourselves in thigh-deep waters (temperature: 50 degrees) against deceptively strong rapids.
“I’ve seen husky men, a bit overconfident, lose their footing and float 200 yards downstream in the blink of an eye,” Woody said.
Neither my wife nor I needed to hear that story, but Woody’s cautionary tale served its purpose. We settled in, amid cloudless blue skies and the tranquil sound of rushing water, and maintained our focus. An hour later, we had caught and released not one, but a combined three fish—two German brown trout by my wife; and an 8-inch whitefish that, for a few memorable seconds, made me feel like Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea.
That night, over a farewell dinner at Firewood, we recounted our fish tales—with mine sounding more like a scene out of “Jaws” after two cocktails. Our morning along the Provo River, like everything else about our summer adventures in Park City, had left an impression we would not soon forget.
10 Things Locals Shared About Park City
1) Easy rider: There’s no need to rent a car in Park City. With the free trolley and bus services, the resort shuttles and Uber, it’s no problem getting around.
2) Listen up: You know those Skullcandy earphones that everyone wears? The company is headquartered in Park City.
3) Ode to creative types: True to its reputation as an inspired hub for artists, Park City stages one of the nation’s top art celebrations—the Kimball Arts Festival (Aug. 4-6), which features some 200 artists and 30 live bands.
4) The Down Under connection: Australians are serious about their coffee. And they love Park City. That’s why no fewer than three Aussie-led coffee dens are doing business there.
5) Piece offerings: Locals also take their pie-baking seriously. That’s why you’re apt to have, say, a shopkeeper, invite you to try a slice of her apple or cherry pie.
6) Street wise: Historic Main Street includes 64 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.
7) Street wise II: Historic Main Street also includes 70-plus retail shops; many are original boutiques.
8) Paw patrol: Park City is so dog-friendly, several of its resorts have canine ambassadors.
9) Luxury hiking: Montage Deer Valley, a luxury resort with the state’s largest spa (Spa Montage; 35,000 square feet), boasts a fitness excursion where guests receive private air and ground transportation to one of Utah’s national parks, guided hiking or mountain biking, and a chef-prepared lunch. Price: $8,000.
10) Sunday fun: Summer in Park City also means the weekly Park Silly Sunday Market, a street festival and open-air gathering of food and product vendors that runs through Sept. 17.