Oh, how many times have I taken that lovely shuttle ride up the snow covered Wasatch Mountains from Salt Lake City to Park City, UT? Quite a few I recall, on my way to that other-worldly destination called Sundance Film Festival. But this time it’s summertime, and the mountains outside the shuttle window are a deep, intense green.
After about an hour, I arrived at my destination, strategically located in the center of Park City’s Historic Main Street. For the fist time I actually saw The Sky Lodge, hidden from the street not by hordes of people, but by an unobtrusive awning and an awesome exterior lobby, With all the puddles and snowdrifts and bustling Hollywood types gone until next year’s Sundance , The Sky Lodge and so much more about Park City, I realized, was about to reveal itself to me. I was excited!
You might think that a lovely room with ultra modern décor and granite bathrooms is something else, but how about an entire apartment, with 2 bedrooms, 2 baths (one with a freestanding tub large enough to swim in, and a shower head that releases the water from the ceiling) and a chic kitchen with small but mighty appliances. Add to this a gorgeous outdoor terrace with hot tub for releasing the stress of a long day of travel or sightseeing, and a great view of the rustic chateaux and hills surrounding the town. And when you add the magical music of Shaun Barrowes drifting upward on the cool night air from the stage at the Easy Street Restaurant below you will be, as I was, in heaven.
Because of its association with film and skiing, most visitors to Park City probably don’t realize that the area was first developed as a great silver mining camp. On 23 December 1869 the Young American lode became the first recorded claim of the district. By 1879 the rich Ontario mine was flourishing, with houses springing up near the mine and lower down the canyon--the site of Park City. As the city boomed, personalities such as the Silver Queen (Susanah Bradford Emery Holmes, and now the name of a luxury Main Street hotel) added to the city's style and lore. It’s obvious that for some mystical reason, Park City and celebrities and wealth seem to have been made for each other.
By the end of the 1950s silver mining in the area was coming to an end, and Park City was hanging by a thread, when a ski resort called Treasure Mountain ended up saving the day. It opened in 1963 on 10,000 acres of land, and was followed by the city’s three major ski resorts: the in-town Park City Mountain Resort, the location of Sundance’s Annual Opening Night Gala, the near-by Deer Valley Resort and The Canyons Resort, known among other things, for it’s unforgettable Sunday brunch at the Stein Eriksen Lodge (which I, of course, did not miss). And by the way, the Park City and Deer Valley resorts were the major locations for ski and snowboarding events at the 2002 Winter Olympics.
After checking in to my own private wonderland at The Sky Lodge, I headed off to a popular restaurant called 350 Main Street Brasserie to meet my hosts from the Park City Chamber and Visitors Bureau, and the charming Myles Rademan, Director of Public Affairs, Communications & Leadership for the city for over 20 years. He also served as Director of Information for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Park City and was honored to be an Olympic Torch Bearer. Myles shared stories galore about the town’s history, his clashes with Robert Redford during the early days of Sundance, and the little known fact that in the 1970’s the visionary leaders of the town bought most of the land surrounding Park City, thereby guaranteeing that the pristine mountains will remain green and snow-capped forever.
I might add that dinner, as prepared by Chef Michael LeClerc, was as original as Myles stories were fascinating. And I found my oddly named main dish, Ono-Ono, to be fantastic! It’s Pacific Ono served two unique ways, and thus the double name-one grilled and served with Asian stir-fry topped with spicy island chutney, and one wasabi seared with warm Napa cabbage and rice noodle salad, topped with pickled shallots and peanuts. I ended the meal with Tart Tatin-caramelized apple tart served warm with brandy crème anglaise, whipped cream and caramel sauce. Divine!
Obviously, in winter these resorts are predominantly occupied by serious skiers, who travel to Park City from around the world. Summer though is a whole other world, and the denizens of Park City are as imaginative as you can imagine when it comes to fun things to do. If you can’t ski, why not mountain bike, or hike those same treacherous slopes that you enjoy in winter? Or as at the Park City Mountain Resort, build an entire theme park with outdoor activities such as Rock Wall climbing, or zip-line and Alpine Slide riding. For those less adventurous, the Scenic Chairlift Ride is a good choice, thrill-seekers should take a heart-stopping 30mph ride down the mountain on the Alpine Coaster (Day pass- $70 adults, $35 children). While you’re there, don’t miss the informative Eco-Zone booth, or just grab a bite while taking in the mountain scenery at Legends Bar & Grill.
No matter what time of year you visit Park City, be sure to take the time to visit the Deer Valley Ski Resort, partly for the views, partly for the mountain biking and hiking, and partly for- you guessed it- the food. Although the titans of the resort’s equipment room recommended I climb up the mountain and ride down, this weakling preferred another idea- ride up the mountain on a convenient chair lift, and then climb down! Much more than just a stroll in a park, even hiking downhill at Deer Mountain was treacherous, with loose pebbles underfoot in some spots, and death-defying curves in others. Still, whether you’re fit enough to run up or down the mountain as many other super-humans were doing, just walking slowly and carefully will still provide you with truly spectacular views. Reaching the lodge just before the sky opened up with a sudden summer downpour added that final sense of perfection to an incredible outdoor experience.
The trek left me famished, but luckily it was time for lunch at the resort’s Royal Street Café. Exhilarated by the hike, I decided to eat light, thoroughly enjoying the lunch special Asian Chicken Salad, finished off with a Royal Chocolate Brownie topped with vanilla ice cream and a caramel cookie (I deserved it!).
Though I desperately wanted to return for the outdoor Deer Valley Music Festival, I just didn’t have time. Instead, I was invited to the Stroll of Park City Grand Tasting, one of the feature events of the Park City Food & Wine Classic, an “Epicurean Extravaganza” which takes place each summer over four nights in July.
I took a chairlift up the event, which was set in the courtyard of the beautiful Canyons Ski Resort, Park City’s largest. So fun! And believe me when I say it was Classic with a capital C- with some of the most varied wine and spirit offerings I’ve ever seen. From the Napa Valley based Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, to Icon Estates Drylands from Marlborough, NZ, to Frogmore Creek’s 42° based in Tasmania, they all tasted as good as their names implied. I also enjoyed Parducci’s because of their Green Winegrowing practices, a more holistic approach to winemaking, which produces Biodynamic® wine. And it tastes delicious, too.
Also present for the fun were the Hendrick’s Gin people, offering their product devoted to “Enjoy a Life Less Hurried”. And I must admit, since my first meeting with Hendricks at the Classic, I’ve become a bit “Less Hurried” myself, if you know what I mean. There was also a delightful surprise in Kraken Black Spiced Rum, which “Puts a Beast in Your Belly” according to the maker. Named for a tentacled sea beast of myth and legend, this smooth, rich rum has a kick strong enough to sink ships. Plus, I must not forget the extremely popular Mercer’s Wine Ice Cream, whose booth had people lined up around the block for a taste. Featuring flavors such as A La Port, ice cream blended with an award-winning Ruby Port, or Red Raspberry Chardonnay, or the ultimate Chocolate Cabernet, chocolate ice cream with bits of bittersweet chocolate blended with a Cabernet wine filled with dried cherry & cassis notes. All right, then.
Not finished yet with the Park City Food & Wine Classic, I once again joined the lively carousers during Merrell’s Stroll of Park City, a culinary walking tour through historic downtown Park City. I began at The Mustang Restaurant at the bottom of Main Street’s steep hill, then passed through the Town Lift Plaza for a glass of wine or two, and then continued on to the High West Distillery, Park City’s first and only locally-made spirits producer. Plus, I must mention the Kimball Art Center, generally a music and private-party venue during Sundance, but an amazing art museum the rest of the year (a not-to-be missed contemporary quilt exhibit was on display during this visit).
I visited Talisker on Main, The Phoenix Gallery, and ended up (pretty lit) at Miner’s Park. I switched to drinking water at Jean Louis Restaurant, our final stop, named after the popular Chef. A happy good time was had by all, but I appreciated the fact that the Sky Lodge was right across the street!
Energy restored after a good night of soaking in the hot tub and listening to American Idol alum Shaun Barrowes’ music, I headed out the next day to the Utah Olympic Park. I took a tour of the ski jumps, bobsled and luge tracks that were built for the 2002 Olympic events that took place here. The park is also home to the 2002 Olympic Museum. I must admit I had butterflies in my stomach when I stood at the top of the ski jump, and felt panicked when I peered down the luge track where some crazy people were risking their lives (or so it seemed to me) on the Comet Summer Bobsled Ride. I couldn’t help but think back to my frightening Alpine Coaster experience of the previous day, and I had to admit - at least to myself - that I was a chicken - but at least a live one.
One of the most thrilling features at the Olympic Park was an outdoor pool built for ski jumpers of all ages, some as young as 7, from all over the world, who can practice their tricks there even when there is no snow. Their dramatic, death defying jumps just end up in the 750 gallon splash pool, which cushions their landing. A highlight of the day was the Flying Aces All-Stars Saturday Freestyle Aerial Show where famous high-flying Olympians and U.S. National team members thrill the crowds and earn a little extra cash doing coordinated jumps that put 6 athletes in the air- and in the pool- at once. Watching 6 Olympians swimming around a pool with their skis on is a sight to behold, in and of itself!
Also at the Olympic Park is the Alf Engen Ski Museum, featuring classic photos and artifacts of skiing’s development from a way for miner’s to get around road-less snow-covered mountains to a popular sport enjoyed around the world. There are many interactive exhibits as well, where you can virtually participate in the Olympics, or experience the sound and fury of an avalanche heading your way.
My last day in Park City was as much fun as the previous three, and included a morning of shopping at the monthly hippy-influenced street fair known as the Park Silly Sunday Market. There you can find all kinds of arts and crafts, as well as musicians with faces painted red, and a few aging hippies still wearing their beads and tie-dyed shirts.
Going from the silly to the sublime, I went back to the Sky Lodge for my massage appointment at Amatsu Adventure Spa, which is on the basement level. First, I spent a relaxing 30 minutes in a bamboo Ofuro tub, and then enjoyed a 50 minute massage treatment. I decided to just stay on that table forever, until I remembered that my suite was only one floor away. A nap was definitely in order.
Refreshed, I headed off to dinner in the Redstone area of Park City, a lovely new activity center that includes the Italian Ghidotti’s, one of the town’s celebrated Bill White restaurants. Although I had sworn a few hours before that I would never eat again, I couldn’t resist tasting Executive Chef Matt McMillen’s Antipasto selection the waiter brought to our table, that included Artisan Cured Meats, House-cured Duck Prosciutto, Marinated Olives and Imported Cheeses. For obvious reasons I decided to go light on the entrée, which was lucky since the Seared Sea Scallops with Crispy Duck Proscuitto, Fingerling Potatoes, and Watercress Garnish, all drizzled with a Blood Orange Reduction was Amazing!!
So if you asked me what impressed me most about this loveliest of towns, given all the many wonderful experiences I’ve had there, this is what I’d have to say:
The Weather. The temperature in Park City this summer averaged a comfortable 71°, the nights are chilly, and it rained every so often, not too little and not too much.. Add to this the remarkable fact that there are no fleas or ticks at this altitude, which explains why even the animals are happy here.
Free Bus Service. That’s right, you don’t need a car in Park City. Just jump on the frequent public buses, and go.
The People! Every single person I met there, from wilderness guides to chairlift operators, bus drivers to resort managers, was happy to tell me how lucky they feel to be living in Park City.
Everything Else! And who could ask for more than that!
For more information about Park City check out www.parkcityinfo.com.