Park and ride: checking out the biggest resort in the USA
My memories of Salt Lake City and its surrounding resorts were forged against the backdrop of September 11.
There for the 2002 Winter Olympics, less than five months after the attacks, it was a surreal and unnerving time.
Snipers in the hills, extraordinary security arrangements and an almost tangible (and understandable) paranoia pervaded these Games.
The Australian dollar sat at 48.5 cents and Utah state law seemingly made it easier to get a gun then a beer. Steven Bradbury won his country’s first Olympic Games gold medal in 66 years when everyone else fell over. A little over a day later aerial skier Alisa Camplin won the second.
It was a strange time and then some.
Fourteen years on and I was back in Park City for the first time since the Games.
How has this place changed? Let me count the ways. And perhaps talk about a few things that have stayed the same …
THREE BEST THINGS ABOUT PARK CITY
- The snow. I’ve ski-toured extensively and the quality of snow we encountered was phenomenal. In my experience only Hokkaido puts down a challenge
- Convenience. It’s great to be just 45 minutes from a major city and airport like Salt Lake. That convenience continues with the on-snow accommodation and being so close to town (Park City).
- The resort. It’s huge and has so much to offer.
With the Quicksilver Gondola linking Canyons to Park City ahead of the 2015/16 season the resort became the biggest in the United States with 7,300 acres of terrain. To put that in perspective Perisher is 3080 acres.
We rode with a big Canyons fan and chewed up plenty of its best terrain over three days. Canyons is probably the more obvious choice on a powder day.
The good news is there is plenty of low hanging fruit. While many – even locals – head to the high alpine areas after a storm you can get your fill down low in spots that are missed. Given the colder temperatures (we didn’t get past about -5 Celsius the week that we were there) the lower elevations don’t get nearly as funky as the resorts closer to the coast. The snow here is amongst the driest around anyway.
We spent significant time off the Orange Bubble Express, sneaking into the trees of Arrowhead and Badlands.
There was plenty to pick apart over the next few days where we enjoyed a nine inch storm (that skied more like 15″ or more in spots) and hit the deep gully of The Tube, Sunpeak and Hurricane Alley.
What seemed like a loss when the higher alpine lift of Super Condor was closed because of avalanche danger turned out to be a blessing – we got fresh tracks there under clear skies the next day.
The Park City side – which was noticeably colder – was decidedly more open and had plenty of long groomers dedicated to intermediates and certainly more beginner terrain. (that said there is still some pretty serious riding around Jupiter Peak/Bowl).
Literally riding into town is kind of cool and having a coffee or a whiskey shot at High West (where you can almost ski to the door) ain’t half bad on cold day either.
NO, IT’S NOT A DRY STATE
I am not a big drinker but it’s interesting to note just how many people I speak to Australia say “you can’t get a beer there eh?”
For the record the law about having to be a paid member of a club to imbibe changed here in 2009.
There are still some hangups. Getting asked for ID as a 40+ year-old and also the ‘Zion Curtains’ which prevent you from seeing alcohol or someone pouring you a drink in a restaurant is just plain weird.
There was certainly nothing like the Epic Pass back then and it was brutally expensive to ski when the dollar was under 50c. It still is far from cheap by the day (walk up prices can tip $A170 a day) but that seems to be the model in many places across the US – pay for multi-days or get a season pass for value.
The Epic Australia Pass really becomes the way to go and at $A849 represents good bang for your buck if you are going to put a few days in at Perisher this season.
Make no mistake, Vail want you there to spend your dollars on the hill in other ways but compared to the days where you’d be spending up to $1500 on an Australian resort season pass alone this is a significant breakthrough.
We were lucky enough to stay at the Waldorf Astoria in Park City. Great hotel, location and facilities with the dedicated Frostwood Gondola across the road. The only let down was the ski valet service which couldn’t quite nail delivering people’s skis to the right place/right time (which may understandably upset some on a powder day). Australians would probably find it easier just to take charge of the their equipment themselves!
Just my feeling but at 70c the US is right on the cusp as a destination for those wavering about whether to choose the US as a destination say above Canada or Japan. Much below this and it starts to feel a bit brutal when you start adding on tip and exchange. Of course those who don’t have to worry about their spend won’t give two hoots ..
AND FINALLY …
- The Sundance Film Festival is great; though expect to accommodation and prices to be at a premium (on January 19-29, 2017)
- Main Street is gorgeous with plenty of cool bars, art galleries and places to shop. For bargains head about 10 minutes out of town to Tanger Outlets
- It’s worth checking out the Utah Olympic Park where you can even take a ride on the bobsleigh.
Glenn Cullen was a guest of Vail Resorts