America’s largest ski resort combines history, a vibrant atmosphere and all-ages snow fun.
As I carve wide turns on my snowboard down the Boa run at Canyons – a long, serpentine blue considered somewhat of a local secret – I can’t help but hope it will remain crowd-free even with the big merger news.
The largest ski resort in the United States was birthed in the 2015/2016 season, when two of Utah’s legendary resorts – Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons – linked some 2,954 skiable hectares of terrain in the wonderful Wasatch Mountains.
This is how PR people tell the story. But skiing the story is another tale, of course. It’s early in the day after a fresh snowfall and Boa’s flanks are pristine with untouched powder. I weave off-piste into the stashes, viscerally comprehending what people mean here by ‘Champagne powder'. The feathery snow erupts in little effervescent puffs – bubbly toasts to the Utah high life in my wake.
Taking a break from the slopes one day, I take my six-year-old niece, Olivia, on an outing to Gorgoza Park – a tubing park just outside Park City with seven snowy half-pipe-like runs and a warm-up yurt proffering hot cocoa.
“We’re doughnuts!” she shouts from her bright blue rubber inner tube as we’re pulled along a conveyor belt up the side of a mountain.
This whole splayed-atop-a-comfy-inner-tube thing feels deceptively tranquil. When we get to the top, however, the plunging ‘advanced run’ back down does not. Suddenly we’re flying alongside each other in neighbouring tubes, bumping off the icy walls and even getting a little air. Catching our collective breath at the end, still supine in our tubes, our laughter rises like frosty clouds. I feel six years old, too.
Later that day, it’s more serious business as we’re mulling the merits of marshmallow flavours at the Montage Deer Valley resort, where the house-made selection for apres-ski s’mores (an American campfire tradition) includes cinnamon, chocolate and vanilla.
Fireside on the property’s terrace, looking up at the slope I’ve just skied down, I’m, you know, just getting some style tips from an Olympian. Shannon Bahrke, the hotel’s Olympic ski ambassador, seems to genuinely love her job.
Olivia joins the kids’ gathering around Bahrke for the chance to drape her silver Olympic medal (won on Park City’s moguls during the 2002 games) over their necks. Bahrke still kills it on the slopes, and she also goes for seconds on s’mores. So I get in line for another one, too, before heading out to explore downtown Park City.
You ski North America for the quality of the snow and the Alps for the ambiance, so the saying goes. But that rule doesn’t apply in Park City, one of the rare US ski towns that escapes the poured-concrete feel with a bona fide historic town centre at a killer mountain’s base.
Long before Park City hosted the world at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, this was a silver mining town with a whole host of less wholesome characters. And the colorful preserved facades still conjure the city’s past.
Who said getting a stiff drink is hard in Utah, anyway? I order a Polygamy Porter (“Why have just one?” quips the label, a reference to the state’s Mormonism) at the packed Wasatch Brew Pub one sunny afternoon. Then I join friends at Robert Redford’s excellent downtown restaurant, Zoom, for artisan charcuterie and Napa Valley wines served with a Sundance vibe. There really is one US ski town where great atmosphere meets the world’s best snow, and it’s here.
Words: Terry Ward