Resort Guide

Murdock to McConkey's: Skiing Park City Mountain Resort

An insider’s guide to navigating the United States’ largest mountain resort

By Tom Clyde January 1, 2016 Published in the Winter/Spring 2016 issue of Park City Magazine

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Like many Park City locals, visitors, and much of the skiing public, I have followed Vail Resorts’ Utah acquisitions with great interest. In 2013, the Colorado-based ski resort operator entered into a long-term lease with Talisker Corp to operate Canyons. And then in September 2014, following a complicated and contentious lease-agreement dispute with Powdr Corp, Vail secured ownership of Park City Mountain Resort and announced plans to connect it to Canyons, creating the largest ski resort in the United States. While the two mountains functioned separately through last winter, the 2015–16 season marks the first of a fully integrated, and simply named, Park City.

You can get there from here.

Last spring, before the gondola and new trails were in place, I tested out the new Park City’s skiability as best I could. Starting at what’s now called Canyons Village, I hopped on the Orange Bubble lift (avoiding the line at the Red Pine gondola), skied to Red Pine Lodge, and glided down to the Tombstone area. From there I took Timberline—a horizontal transport lift—over to the base of Iron Mountain. There I rode the lift up and skied down to a place in the woods where I was told the base of the Quicksilver gondola would be installed on the Canyons side. With no lift lines, the trip can take as little as 30 minutes, although mine took 45, owing to a few stops along the way to study the lay of the land.

A ride on the Quicksilver gondola takes about nine minutes, and most skiers and riders will likely ride the whole way, despite the option of getting off midway at the top of Pinecone Ridge. For one thing, the Park City side of Pinecone is expert terrain. For another, the run is usually sun- and wind-burned (read: awful), although when it’s good, it’s really good. Skiing down Pinecone also doesn’t get you to the Silverlode chairlift, a critical connection for this route. I’d recommend taking the gondola ride to its end, riding Silverlode up, and then skiing top to bottom on any of the runs under Bonanza (my favorite is Silver Queen), all of which lead to the Park City base. 

Doing the trip in reverse can be even quicker: from the Park City base area, take Crescent up and ski Powder Keg, Assessment, or Claimjumper to the base of Silverlode/Quicksilver. Ride the gondola to the midstation and ski down the new runs on the Canyons Village side of the ridge—Blaise’s Way or Highway—to the base of Iron Mountain/Timberline. Take Timberline across to Tombstone, ride up Tombstone, and ski down Sidewinder or Deschutes to Red Pine Lodge, where you will find several options for heading down. 

Traveling from base to base takes a little over an hour (when there aren’t lines). But what if you want to enjoy some skiing along the way?

Off the beaten path

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Sure, skiing the new Park City from end to end merits bragging rights, but the real adventure lies in adding a few detours to the previously described route. From the Orange Bubble, get off at the midstation and take a right to the base of Super Condor. A hike from the top into Murdock Bowl is well worth the effort if conditions are right. With fresh snow, the deepest powder around can be found here. But this area is also south facing and can turn to mashed potatoes in a hurry. If Murdock looks sketchy, there are plenty of challenging runs off the top of Super Condor lift—the nicely spaced trees and typically good snow in the Condor Woods or the wide-open One Hundred Turns are both solid choices. When you’ve had your fill there, board the Sun Peak lift to start migrating south. 

Offering steep terrain with an out-of-bounds feel, the Ninety-Nine 90 lift is a not-to-be-missed diversion. Take care, however, otherwise you might find yourself all the way back at Red Pine Lodge instead of the bottom of the lift; keep moving to skiers’ right, or take to the more open terrain in 94 Turns. While you’re in the neighborhood, don’t miss Peak 5, a slow, fixed-grip chair accessing some steep and nicely spaced tree skiing on the Mystic Pines and The Abyss runs. For intermediates, the Crowning Glory run—north facing and typically covered with good snow—also leads back to the base of the Peak 5 lift.

From the top of Peak 5 continue south by skiing down Solace or Harmony to Dreamscape, another slow (but fairly short) quad chair. There isn’t an exciting option to get to Quicksilver from there, but the skiing under the Dreamcatcher lift is worth exploring. If you are new to glade skiing or like your trees spread out a little, Chimera and the bowl at Fools Paradise are too good to pass up. These runs end at Cascade, a long, gentle cat track/trophy home tour winding down to Iron Mountain. To access Quicksilver from there, simply take the Iron Mountain lift back up and ski Chrome Alley to the gondola base. If you skip the trees under Dreamcatcher, there are a couple of intermediate runs that will take you from the top of Dreamcatcher (and the Cloud Dine restaurant) to Flat Iron. Bugle Ridge is the most direct. The Flat Iron chair will take you to Quicksilver—slowly.

After traversing the ridge on Quicksilver, head up Silverlode and then down Double Jack or Single Jack to the Thaynes chair (a slow relic, but short). From the top of Thaynes, take Jupiter Access to the Jupiter chair. This old fixed-grip double is a throwback to the days before grooming, offering a view so spectacular you won’t mind the slow pace. For my tastes, the vast terrain accessed by this unassuming lift—most notably Jupiter Bowl—is the best you’ll find on this side of the Wasatch Mountains. The options range from the wide-open bowls on West Face and Scott’s to tight chutes through the trees in Portuguese Gap. 

If you are doing this the cowboy way, you’ll need to hike to the top of Scott’s Bowl and then work your way south toward Jupiter Peak. In the quest to get it all in, the only logical route from the top of the Jupiter chair is taking the High West traverse and then hiking over into the Puma Bowl area.  It’s officially marked as “Pinyon Ridge” on one side of the Peak, and “Pioneer Ridge” on the other, although most locals just refer to the whole area as Puma Bowl. The 15-minute hike is always rewarding, and once in there you can ski down to the McConkey’s lift.

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Thigh deep in The Abyss

Image: Eric Schramm

McConkey’s Bowl gets enough traffic now that it often has deeper moguls than I like, but in a good snow year, the Black Forest, along the southern boundary of the resort, offers some superb tree skiing. (It looks impossibly tight from the lift, but the spacing actually opens up nicely.) Another idea: from the top of the McConkey’s lift, a very short hike puts you back into the off-piste terrain of “O-zone” or “P-zone” under Jupiter Peak.

Add that up, and you’ve got a very full day of skiing. No lingering over lunch on this mission. Whether you traveled Murdock to McConkey’s or McConkey’s to Murdock, it’s—appropriately dubbed—an epic day. Is there an hour left to transit back to your starting point? That depends on how long you played in the trees under Dreamcatcher or whether 94 Turns demanded a second or third run. But regardless, you can always ski down to either the Park City base or Canyons Village and take the free city bus back to where you started.

Not everybody will want to do the hiking, and there’s plenty of fantastic skiing to be had along the way without it. Intermediate skiers will definitely want to avoid both Ninety-Nine 90 and Jupiter—those serve only expert terrain—and should head to the McConkey’s chair by way of Silverlode and the Mid-Mountain Meadows run. Both Peak 5 and Dreamscape offer choices suitable for intermediate and expert skiers alike, so a group with mixed abilities can reconnect at the bottom of the lift. Beginners will probably find the most direct transit route challenging enough.   

As ambitious as these suggested routes are, they barely scratch the surface of the new Park City. I haven’t even mentioned the tree skiing under the new Motherlode chair, the vast intermediate area around the King Con and Tombstone lifts, or the steep stuff off Crescent. And then there are the 10 terrain parks scattered throughout the 7,300 acres, if you are so inclined. On the flip side, this route mostly avoids the busy hubs of Silverlode, Tombstone, and Saddleback, where good skiing can be marred by heavy, time-consuming traffic. 

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Image: Eric Schramm

Will one Park City change the way we ski?

Over the years, the town has divided itself into die-hard devotees of Park City, Canyons, and Deer Valley. Now that two of the three are linked, will our loyalties change, too?

For the bulk of the local population—who live in the Kimball Junction area rather than in town—accessing the new Park City from Canyons Village might make the most sense. The Orange Bubble provides an easy work-around for the morning bottleneck at the Red Pine gondola. That said, many locals, waking on a quintessential snow-filled, Wasatch Mountains morning with dreams of Jupiter, will probably still start from the Park City base, despite the in-town traffic and parking snarl.

For a vacationer looking to explore, either starting point will get you there a lot more efficiently than I would have imagined before testing it out. It really should ski like “there’s only one Park City.” And while Vail Resorts hasn’t announced any further upgrades, it’s safe to assume that this is the beginning and not the end. (Let’s hope the old fixed-grip chairs are not long for this world.)

The Quicksilver gondola aside, the only change I foresee in how the once-two-and-now-one Park City will ski involves the runs under the Dreamcatcher lift. This formerly hidden jewel used to be a bit of a chore to get to, and the powder would last for days here following a storm. Now it’s in the very center of things. Just take Crescent up from the Park City base, ski down to Quicksilver, and you’re there in two high-speed lift rides.

But the real difference I see between the old and new Park City has little to do with new hardware. Up till now, Canyons has always been the locals’ favorite, and despite the proliferation of hotels at its base, it drew heavily on the Wasatch Front. The old PCMR, meanwhile, commanded a bigger share of the destination market. Merging those two cultures is certain to change the feel of both. In addition, to justify its investment, Vail Resorts will need to significantly increase skier volume, so expect fewer slack times when you can ski or ride right onto the chair. But Vail has a well-deserved reputation in the industry for being a top-quality operator, and the new Park City will likely be consistent with its other resorts. The real challenge will be preserving our unique local culture. After all, there is only one Park City, and we don’t want to lose it.

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