Park Yourself in Park City
My problem with Park City, Utah, is deciding which season to visit.
I'm a skier, so it isn't necessary to twist my arm to get me to play in the bountiful light, dry fluffy stuff the state has named "champagne powder." The town of Park City is home to three world-class ski resorts -- the upscale and elegant Deer Valley, which does not allow snowboarding, and the Park City Mountain Resort and The Canyons, where lifts often have boarders and skiers sharing a chair on the ride up.
Deer Valley ranks at the top of most skier lists for its impeccably groomed slopes -- velvety cruising that makes for effortless turns. But there's also a gnarly side with enough serious steeps and bumps that this mountain prints up and an entirely separate trail map for those who ski diamonds instead of wear them.
You wouldn't think that a land-locked state full of deserts and mountains would be a destination for seafood lovers, but it is. The Salt Lake City airport is just 45 minutes away, so it's easy for Alaskan king crabs, Washington state oysters and their crustacean buddies to fly in for the weekly seafood buffet. Yes, of course, there are also miles of meats, veggies, salads, and desserts.
Mountains of resorts
The Park City Mountain Resort starts right downtown -- there's a chairlift at the foot of Main Street that whisks snowsports enthusiasts up to slopes challenging enough to have been the site of several events at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Most of the trails, and many of the lifts, here have names reflecting the town's mining heritage: Payday, Bonanza, and Glory Hole. In the 1870s, this was the site of the largest silver-mining camp in the country. More than $400 million worth of silver was pulled out of the ground, and one of the many silver millionaires the town created was George Hearst, whose family later built a newspaper empire.
The Canyons is one of the newest resorts in the U.S. Its Eastern owners took a sleepy little favorite of local residents and expanded it into one of the largest resorts in the country. The experts' area here, steep and bumpy like its Park City colleagues, is called 9990, which is the height of the mountain. This is a great place for beginners, since the learning area is at mid-mountain, where you can be inspired by the awesome views.
In other seasons, without the snow, Park City remains an outdoor lover's dream. Chairlifts sprout hooks for mountain bikes, with 300 miles of single-track and double-track trails to bike, and endless hiking trails, too. Remember to stop long enough to smell the flowers, the wildflowers, that it. The town's dozen golf courses are among the best in the West -- and surrounded as they are by snow-capped peaks year-round, it's tough to keep your eye on the ball. Remember not to swing as hard as you do at sea level -- at this altitude, the ball goes farther in the thin air, and it's easy to over-shoot. The Jordanelle Reservoir, just a few miles from downtown Park City, is a locals favorite for fishing and water skiing.
The junkie's path
For the adrenaline junkie, there are "zipline" rides both at PCMR and at Utah Olympic Park. Strap yourself into a harness and zip across a steel line as much as 110 feet off the ground. It's either the shortest or longest 60 seconds of your life. I could say the same about the bobsled run at the Olympic Park, the same refrigerated track used for training and competition. It took longer than 60 seconds for my stomach to recover. Athletes train here year-round, and you can watch. In warm weather, ski jumpers slide down a slope of artificial turf, stopped at the bottom by a pool of water. In they go, skis and all.
Speaking of stomach -- Park City is a gourmet's paradise. Downtown is lined with restaurants, ranging from the casual dining of the town's only microbrewery, the Wasatch Brew Pub, to the Asian-inspired cuisine at Wahso, decorated with antique Tibetan carpets and Japanese sculptures. One of my favorites is Claimjumper, a steakhouse in a Victorian building, where the menus are glued to empty beer bottles.
For a truly memorable experience, Robert Redford's Sundance Resort is just down the road. There is skiing in the winter, of course, and filmmaking and crafts classes the rest of the year. The formal restaurant, the Tree Room, is named for the huge tree that grows through the roof in the center of the dining area. Environmentalist Redford refused to cut it down when he built the restaurant, which is decorated with some of his museum-quality collection of Native American rugs, pottery, and other crafts.
The Sundance Film Festival has become one of the premier film events in the world, held in Park City every January, when the town is packed to bursting with both the currently famous and those who will be after the agents and distributors who see them here sign them to contracts. It's a pretty exciting week, but the traffic is impossible.
Park City is close enough to Salt Lake City, linked by an interstate that's rarely traffic jammed, that it's easy to stay in one and enjoy the other. Park City is a resort town year-round, with lots of nightlife and theater, and Salt Lake City has managed to hold onto much of the excitement and international cosmopolitan flavor of the Olympics.
What to Drive
The long, uphill climb to Park City from Salt Lake City deserves -- even requires -- better than a four-cylinder engine any time of year, and an AWD or 4WD when near-blizzard conditions in winter require super traction. My vote is the Dodge Magnum, which looks tough enough to tackle the weather, and is, either with one of its 200- or 250-hp V-6 engine choices, or with the get-out-a-my-way 340-hp V-8 HEMI under the hood. It has the seating comfort and handling of a sport sedan, but the wagon shape and 60/40 rear split provide the cargo room of an SUV. There's more than enough room for ski or fishing gear inside, and since it's not a tree-tall SUV, getting a mountain bike up on the roof does not require a construction crane.