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A hop, skip and a jump from Austin to Park City: How to take advantage of the last month of spring skiing

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Austin Photo Set: News_Laura Kelso_Park City_skiing_march 2012_canyons_panorama
A panoramic view at Canyons Resort. Photo by Justin Olsen
Austin Photo Set: News_Laura Kelso_Park City_skiing_march 2012_canyons_the farm
Named “Best New Restaurant in Utah” in February 2012 by Salt Lake Magazine, The Farm offers an innovative menu that focuses on locally sourced ingredients from farms and artisans within 200 miles of Park City. Photo by Dave Newkirk
Austin Photo Set: News_Laura Kelso_Park City_skiing_march 2012_snowboard
Another storm drops fresh tracks at Park City Mountain Resort. Courtesy of Park City Mountain Resort
Austin Photo Set: News_Laura Kelso_Park City_skiing_march 2012_ski
Skiing Park City Mountain Courtesy of Park City Mountain Resort
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The slopes at Deer Valley. Courtesy of Deer Valley Resort
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Dining at Deer Valley's Royal Street Cafe. Courtesy of Deer Valley Resort
Austin Photo Set: News_Laura Kelso_Park City_skiing_march 2012_canyons_panorama
Austin Photo Set: News_Laura Kelso_Park City_skiing_march 2012_canyons_the farm
Austin Photo Set: News_Laura Kelso_Park City_skiing_march 2012_snowboard
Austin Photo Set: News_Laura Kelso_Park City_skiing_march 2012_ski
Austin Photo Set: News_Laura Kelso_Park City_skiing_march 2012_5
Austin Photo Set: News_Laura Kelso_Park City_skiing_march 2012_6
Austin Photo: Author_Laura_Kelso

I am not a skier. So why am I raving about Park City, Utah, a premier ski destination? Good question. My husband had been pestering me to go on a ski trip for years. He’d return from trips to Utah, raving about the world-class powder, the beautiful views, the crisp, fresh air. All I heard was cold, steep, and double-black diamond scary. Not my cup of tea, thank you.

He tried the Baby Card — our toddler will be old enough to ski next year, he said. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to start him early? My mind flashed to a two-year-old flying down a mountain on a snowboard. Heart palpitations ensued.

His next line of argument: a ski trip would be terrific exercise. The fitness angle held appeal, but I fretted that my sun salutations and leisurely Lady Bird Lake walks had not adequately prepared me for the Utah ski scene. Especially when I gazed at precipitous Park City black runs with names like War Zone, Dead Tree, Grizzly, and The Abyss. Gulp. You’d need to be an Iron (wo)man to make it down one of those.

But before the Hubs could dig up another compelling reason to trek Westward, I agreed to go. Hadn’t I read somewhere that you should always face your fears — no matter how steep — head on? Besides, this way he’d stop bothering me. So I booked our airfare, secured accommodations, and began researching the “adventure” ahead.  

I learned why Park City is a world-class ski destination. The three Park City ski resorts — Deer Valley, Park City Mountain, and Canyons — include nearly ten thousand acres of skiing terrain, with 398 designated ski runs ranging from gentle beginner (ahem, me) to intermediate, to expert, to crazy ace (Park City is home to the United States Ski Team, after all). National Geographic identified Park City as one of the world’s 25 best ski towns. It racks up points for its easy accessibility from Salt Lake City, as well as its “remarkably well-rounded terrain” for both snowboarders and freestylers.

When we landed in Salt Lake City, I learned that Park City was getting fifteen inches of new snow. My first thought was, oh no, we’ll be stuck at the airport. Our friendly driver smiled as I asked how many hours it was going to take to get to Deer Valley, our first destination. He handed each of us a bottle of water, and proceeded to inform us that Park City is 1,000 to 2,500 feet lower in elevation than many Colorado ski resorts. It was still important for low-landers like us to hydrate, but we probably would not experience the headaches and vertigo that many Texans suffer in Colorado.  

Forty-five minutes later, we stepped out of the car into a travel poster snow ski scene, replete with Utah’s feathery, desert-dry powder falling around us. And that’s when it hit me: It had only taken four hours to go from Austin Bergstrom to the door of our Deer Valley condo-hotel. The myth that to get to good skiing from Austin involves hours of driving, airport layovers and weather delays was now officially shattered.

The Park City Chamber & Visitors Bureau is well aware of this misconception, and in an effort to enlighten visitors to just how accessible Park City is, they’ve launched the Quick START promotion. It’s simple: Catch a morning flight from almost anywhere to Salt Lake City International Airport, and Park City Quick START (Ski Today and Ride Today) lets you convert your airline-boarding pass into a same-day lift ticket to the Park City resort of your choice.   

Accompanying the thousands of acres of skiing and snowboarding is an equally overwhelming selection of accommodations. Choices range from economy hotels at Kimball Junction (the intersection of I-80 and UT-224, 10 miles off the slopes) to a wide selection of premium lodging (Stein Eriksen Lodge, Waldorf Astoria, and Montage Deer Valley) and every thing in between. Group lodging, long a preferred option for families and group skiers, is also plentiful. Park City offers a wide array of vacation rentals and condominium-hotels like the Chateaux at Silver Lake where we stayed, which melds the elegance of an Old World French apartment with the modern conveniences and services of a hotel.

The next morning I signed up for a half-day private ski lesson. As I climbed out of our toasty bed, my dread reared its ugly head again. Childhood ski memories of wet pants, frozen digits, and chattering teeth rushed back. Was this really how I wanted to spend my vacation?

While renting our ski equipment, though, I learned that my ski nightmares were completely out of date. I splurged on a new pair of Spyder ski pants that were waterproof, snug, and (bonus) super cute! As for my ski boots, the first set I tried was easy to slip on, warm and comfy. Ditto for all the rest of my equipment, right down to the magic hand warmers and padded helmet.

What a difference it makes to be warm and well equipped I thought, as I maneuvered my way (not very gracefully, I should add) towards the Deer Valley ski instructors, who are like ski beacons in their forest green jackets. I began to apologize for my novice skill level. Not to worry, my instructor said; we're going to have fun today! I must have looked skeptical because he added that in his thirty years of teaching, he couldn’t think of anyone who hadn’t had a great time on the slopes.

Sure enough, by the time I sat down for lunch at the Royal Street Café, a glass of Pinot Noir in hand and a plate of truffle-oiled yellowfin tuna tartare in front of me, I was gushing to my husband about how great it was to ski. “The beautiful views, the fresh air, the exhilaration of it all!” He smiled, and before he had a chance to say “I told you so,” our server placed bowls, brimming with hot turkey chili and fresh grated cheese, green onions, and sour cream in front of us. Hmmm, happiness.

Later that day, we learned more about the engaging history of Park City, a 19th-century mining outpost turned tourist boomtown. We walked the historic Main Street, lined with high-end restaurants, boutiques and art galleries, and popped into the newly renovated Park City Museum for a five-minute blow-through. An hour later, we emerged, fluent in the city’s colorful silver mining booms and busts (the 30-foot wall model of the mines is not to be missed) and old West lore.  

Main Street is loaded with fine dining options. That evening at Wahso, we savored hamachi sashimi, miso black cod and Thai style seared scallops. More casual, but also worth a visit is the Wasatch Brew Pub, where I fell in love with the refreshing Apricot Hefeweizen, and the Hubs discovered an affinity for the chocolate and malty flavors of the Polygamy Porter (it’s Utah, after all).

The foodie in me was delighted to learn that over the last few years, there has been a culinary Renaissance in Park City. While enjoying grass-fed beef “oxtail” onion soup at the Canyons’ The Farm, Canyons Communications Coordinator Caitlin Martz explained that all three Park City resorts do their best to stay on top of cutting-edge food trends. The Farm, for example (which won “Best New Restaurant in Utah” in February 2012 by Salt Lake Magazine), offers an innovative menu that focuses on locally sourced ingredients from farms and artisans within 200 miles of Park City. And the latest addition to the culinary family at the Canyons, Bistro at Canyons, is the first glatt kosher restaurant open all winter season at any ski resort in the U.S.  

In addition to eating and drinking, we skied a lot, and with each day, my ski confidence grew. After two cerulean sky, sun-kissed days of skiing Deer Valley and the Canyons, I was ready to tackle Park City Mountain. Sure it was snowing and the temps had dropped, but this was the day I discovered the Mountain Guide, or what I fondly referred to as "volunteer mountain concierges." The Park City resorts understand that thousands of acres of skiing can be daunting, so they employ a team of these folks. The Guide’s mission is to help skiers navigate the mountains.

On our last day at Park City Mountain Resort, I was paired with Mountain Guide Bill. To my semi-terror, he pointed us to the Pioneer lift, which whisks skiers to the mountain summit. “Um, I don’t think I’m ready for this…” - but before I’d finished my sentence, the lift had scooped us up, and to the top we went.

Thus began over 7,000 vertical feet of skiing, but unlike the vertical double black diamond runs I’d agonized over, Bill and I made our way down the mountain at a leisurely pace by way of green (beginner) trails. We skied narrow runs and around tight corners, through trees (a kids’ course, but hey, it was “tree-skiing”), and across wide groomed swaths of fresh powder.

Through snow flakes and shafts of sunlight, the final three miles to the Park City Mountain lodge capped a glorious run that only four days earlier I could not have imagined, much less thought I would relish. On our last day, when I was finally able to stop worrying about barreling down the mountain at a breakneck pace, and actually relax and take in the mountain’s natural beauty, it dawned on me how important it is to challenge oneself from time to time. Something unexpected and memorable always results.  

As of today, Canyons Resort, Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley Resort are scheduled to be open until April 15. For the latest information, go to www.visitparkcity.com.

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