By Larry Olmsted
Bigger often is better. That is now the case in Park City, Utah. For years the easy-to-reach suburb of Salt Lake City has had the richest assortment of offerings of any ski town in America, with three full-sized resorts to choose from. Now there are just two, creating the nation’s largest ski resort, a behemoth unparalleled in the history of American skiing. And the skiing and snowboarding are better than ever.
Until this year, Canyons, operated by renowned Vail Resorts, was the largest ski resort in Utah. Adjacent Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR) was the state’s second largest, which is pretty impressive given that Utah is home to more than a dozen famed resorts. In 2014 Vail Resorts bought PCMR and spent more than $50 million connecting them into one mega ski resort. Now simply called “Park City Resort,” it spans 7,300 skiable acres of terrain, accessed from three different base areas. To put that in perspective, Colorado’s Vail, which used to be the largest single mountain ski resort in the country, has 5,289 acres, and famous destinations such as Jackson Hole, Wyo., Sun Valley, Idaho; and Breckenridge, Telluride and Aspen, Colo., are all less than 3,000.
The new resort offers 14 above-tree line bowls and more than 300 trails, all connected by an extensive network of 38 lifts. With an average annual snowfall of more than 350 inches (nearly 30 feet), all of it Utah’s famously dry powder—the “Greatest Snow on Earth,” as license plates tout—the quality and quantity of skiing and snowboarding at the new Park City is staggering. The only question is how to manage it all?
Which base area to use is mainly a function of where your rental property is, as choices exist near all three entry points. But if you simply want to switch things up from one day to the next, Park City’s elaborate, user-friendly and free bus system makes it easy to get to and from any of the starting points. Likewise, if you decide to ski the massive resort end-to-end and finish someplace other than where you started, it is easy to get home—even after après-ski fun.
The most developed base area is at the former Canyons, a modern ski village with shops, several excellent restaurants, lively après activity, ticket and ski school offices, and plenty of rental shops. There is also ample parking.
The original Park City Mountain Resort base area sits just a few blocks above downtown, but has very limited parking, so it is better to use bus service unless you are already staying there. This is an older base area with just a few restaurants and shops, but also has full ticket office, ski school and rental facilities.
The third and most unique option is Park City itself. Lifts and trails run right down to the edge of Main Street in the historic 150-year-old mining town, and many visitors relish the opportunity to ski right into town and end their day with an après drink at a colorful Old West saloon. The famed “Town Lift” carries skiers right from Main Street into the old PCMR side of the resort, and effectively turns all of downtown into ski in/ski out.
The two ski areas were formerly separated by just a mountain ridge and have been connected with the new Quicksilver gondola, unique in that it carries passengers in both directions, rather than just up, with a mid-station, so skiers can go one or two stops either way. It’s sort of like a subway for skiing. It takes just 8 ½ minutes from end to end, but has a mid-station atop the ridge, 4 minutes from either side. This now easily accesses several existing expert-only trails in an area known as Thaynes Canyon on the Park City side that were previously reachable only by a long hike.
On the Canyons side, three new intermediate and advanced trails were added so skiers can go downhill from the mid-station, but beginners can simply ride to either main gondola base. This creates a wealth of options when connecting the two resorts in a single day, and many visitors will want to go end to end simply for the uniqueness of the feat. But in most cases, it makes more sense to ski one side or the other for the day.
Park City Base: There is a beginner/learning area at the bottom, and a vast array of blue and double-blue intermediate trails off the popular high-speed six-passenger King Con lift. For expert skiers, the best options are off the Bonanza chair, which serves many black and a few double-black diamond trails. The most challenging terrain, including chutes and steep glades, are the double-blacks of Jupiter Peak off the McConkey’s Express chair.
Canyons Base: While beginners are often stuck near the base, this is the rare mountain with a large green area high up, served by the High Meadow chair. Intermediates also have a world of their own in the middle of the mountain, just below the base of the 9990 chair, with lots of long blue cruisers. Advanced intermediates like the Sun Peak Express, which serves a mix of blue cruisers and some less advanced blacks. For experts, the Super Condor is simply one of the world’s great lifts, running up the spine of Murdock Peak, with seven double-black chutes and trails on one side, half a dozen blacks and a black diamond bowl on the other, plus access to the vast double-black Condor Woods glades and eight more double-blacks in Murdock Bowl. Less daunting advanced terrain lies off the Tombstone and Dreamcatcher lifts, with many long single-black cruisers.
Town: The Town Lift connects Main Street with the Bonanza chair, which serves a lot of blue and black terrain, while there are a variety of green, blue and black runs under the lift, back into town.
Larry Olmsted has been covering ski travel for more than 20 years. He holds the Guinness World Record for Most Different Trails Skied in 8 Hours (64) and has been a frequent visitor to Park City.