There are more than 300 runs in Utah’s new mega ski area. For intermediates, it’s the big daddy
The world of winter sports is buzzing. America has a new ski resort, and it’s the biggest in the land. In fact, by one unit of measurement, it’s the largest ski area in North America.
It’s called Park City, and it sprawls across the Wasatch Mountains, just east of Salt Lake City, in Utah. It’s been formed by the union of two existing resorts, Canyons and Park City — they’ve been connected at the hip by a high-speed eight-seater gondola.
By any reckoning, the numbers are impressive: 7,300 acres of terrain, 38 lifts, more than 300 waymarked runs. Budding acrobats get seven areas of bumps, rails and jumps, as well as an Olympic-standard half-pipe. What’s more, according to Christoph Schrahe, a German who has measured every significant ski resort in Europe and North America, its 162 miles of waymarked trails come in four miles longer than Whistler’s, in Canada, commonly regarded as the biggest ski area in North America. In Europe, only four resorts can beat it.
I skied its two halves last winter and loved the sheer variety on offer. This is a dense, concertinaed place, like a giant crumpled piece of cardboard, and within its nooks and crannies lurk almost every kind of slope imaginable. Ski from top to bottom, and in a single run you could find yourself plunging through an open powder field, slaloming through trees, bouncing over bumps and making big carved turns across a piste. Keen, athletic skiers who want to stretch themselves in lots of different directions will have a ball.
What really marks out Park City, however, is the quality of the intermediate-level terrain. If you’re one of those skiers who still hasn’t nailed their on-piste technique, and gets thrown by crowded slopes and sudden steeps, Park City deserves a place on your hit list. One sector in particular, called King Con, feels as if it was designed by computer to boost fragile skiing egos.
Warm up your legs on a piste called King Con Ridge, which is as wide as the M1 and not much steeper than your average driveway. Then, just as you find your rhythm, no fewer than 13 gentle descents open up on your left. Each is broad and beautifully groomed. Every one of them is a joy to ski.
Spend a morning diving down them, one by one, and by lunchtime you’ll think you’re Ted Ligety. Of course, you won’t look like America’s most exciting ski racer (who grew up in the town, at the bottom of the slopes), but that’s not the point. It’s the feeling inside that counts. Your blood will be fizzing.
Admittedly, not everyone will warm to the place. If you’re a die-hard off-pister, then there’s only one address in Utah, and it lies two valleys southwest of Park City. It’s called Little Cottonwood Canyon, and it’s home to the neighbouring resorts of Snowbird and Alta. By a strange quirk of topography, these two ski areas get nearly double Park City’s snowfall. That’s not to say Park City’s 24ft average is poor. Few Alpine resorts can match it. But Little Cottonwood Canyon also has longer, more open off-piste descents on which to enjoy it.
Anyone who likes their mountains pointy, meanwhile, will find the scenery a little underpowered. The thousands of silver-barked aspens on Park City’s slopes may look ravishing against a blue sky, but there’s a downside to the gentle, confidence-boosting terrain on the lower half of the ski area. Sometimes it feels like you’re skiing a range of hills, rather than anything resembling an alp.
Let the aesthetes scoff. Down in the valley below the lifts lies Park City, still sprinkled with Wild West architecture from its silver-mining days, and home to one of the best après-ski scenes in America. It’s here, within easy reach of both the nightlife and the skiing, that you should base yourself. Chances are that once you’ve got stuck into sumptuous pistes such as Eureka, bars like O’Shucks and the local distillery-cum-restaurant, High West — housed in a former livery stable — you’ll be having far too much fun to worry about the view.