Off-Piste Play

10 ways to make memories in Park City beyond schussing around at the resorts.

By Melissa Fields December 5, 2022 Published in the Winter/Spring 2022-23 issue of Park City Magazine

Consider, if you will, Park City’s long list of wintertime things to do in the context of a relationship. After skiing or snowboarding Deer Valley or Park City Mountain’s buttery slopes for just one day, you’ll find yourself excitedly smitten with this charming mountain town. But if, while you’re here, you choose to embark on an off-slope winter adventure, don’t be surprised if you fall uncontrollably and irreversibly head-over-heels in love with Park City—and maybe even find yourself calling a real estate agent. Following are 10 of our favorite non-resort, outdoorsy things to do in and around Park City in the winter, sure to solidify your affection for this charming corner of Utah, complete with our picks for post-adventure refueling.

1 - A Bird’s-Eye View
Along with a skier cutting perfect S-turns down a snowy slope, one of Park City’s most indelible images is of a hot air balloon floating peacefully against a bright blue mountain sky. If you’ve never experienced the surreal feeling of floating gently and silently up from the ground in the basket of a hot air balloon, well, now is the time and Park City is the place. The views you’ll see from on high go well beyond the snowy local mountain resorts to Salt Lake City and the Great Salt Lake to the west, and deep into Wyoming to the east. And thanks to the balloon’s overhead propane burner, you’ll stay comfortably toasty during your entire flight. Utah Balloon Flights' (801-419-5345; utahballoonflights.com) hourlong flights begin shortly after sunrise and conclude with a champagne toast upon landing. After the adrenaline of this once-in-a-lifetime experience wears off, head over to the Deer Valley Grocery~Café (1375 Deer Valley Dr, 435-615-2400; deervalley.com) for a Sunrise Classic: a hearty two-egg breakfast with thick, maple-pepper bacon, crispy hashbrowns, and toast.

2 - Zipping Down the Olympian Superhighway
Close to 70 percent of 2002 Olympic Winter Games skiing events were held in Park City, and so it makes sense that the town branded itself then as the “alpine heart of 2002.” What you may not know, however, is that Park City also hosted many more non-skiing events during the 2002 Games—including the first-ever women’s bobsleigh competition—at the Utah Olympic Park (3419 Olympic Pkwy, 435-658-4200; olympiclegacy.org). Anyone who dares (and who is age 16 and over) can take a hair-raising spin down the UOP’s icy, 16-turn, 117-meter vertical drop track—accompanied by a professional pilot, of course. Your friends and/or family can watch you reach 5Gs from the indoor comfort of the park's Olympics museum. After your wild ride, head down the hill to Canyons Village for barbacoa nachos, shrimp tacos, and a watermelon-basil margarita at Dos Olas Cantina (435-513-7198; dosolasparkcity.com), located on the plaza level of the Pendry Park City hotel.

3 - Self-Powered Sojourn Into the Uintas
Just east of Park City lies an undeveloped, alpine Shangri la known as the Uinta Mountains, Utah’s highest mountain range and the only major mountain chain in the contiguous U.S. that runs east to west. Given these mountains’ 9,000- to 12,000-foot elevation, a skiff of snow in Park City often translates to a foot-plus in the Uintas, making it a primo destination for backcountry skiing and snowboarding. Inspired Summit Adventures (435-640-4421; inspiredsummit.com) offers a variety of guided adventures there, ranging from snowmobile-assisted or by-your-own-steam backcountry skiing/riding day trips to a multiday stay-and-play at their cozy Castle Peak Yurt, recently outfitted with a new cedar barrel sauna. Not an expert skier or rider? No problem. ISA guides customize each outing according to the group’s ability level. They also offer Voile skis and splitboards and Scarpa boots for rent, and safety equipment (pack, beacon, probe, and shovel) is included with each guided experience. All Inspired Summit day trips begin and end at their Pinebrook neighborhood headquarters, located conveniently nearby O’Shuck’s Bar & Grill (8178 Gorgoza Pines Rd, 435-658-0233; oshucks-ahhsushi.com) where, following your unforgettable Uintas snow day, you can belly up for a well-deserved draft beer and The Cure, a burger topped with bacon, grilled onions, and a fried egg. 

4 - Mush Love Dogs
If you love both snow and pooches then you’re really going to dig dogsledding. This more than 10,000-year-old partnership between humans and pups is at its best at Rancho Luna Lobos (435-783-3473; lunalobos.com), a family-run dogsled kennel and rescue in Peoa’s Brown’s Canyon. There, after meeting the dogs, hearing their stories (eighty percent of the 87-dog pack there are rescues, in fact), and perhaps even helping harness them up, you’ll be bundled with thick blankets into a lightweight carbon fiber sled for an exhilarating tour of Rancho Luna Lobos's stunning 60-acre property. You can opt also to see how these canine athletes spend their downtime while learning more about dogsledding with a hands-on hourlong kennel tour—where lots of cuddling is encouraged. Follow up this unforgettable adventure with a nosh back in Park City at the come-as-you-are Windy Ridge Café & Bakery (1250 Iron Horse Dr, 435-647-0880; windryridgecafe.com) which boasts a sure-to-please menu of tasty comfort food like mac and cheese, meatloaf, and chicken and biscuits.

5 - Nordic Tour de Park City
Collectively, Mountain Trails Foundation (mountaintrails.org) and Basin Recreation (basinrecreation.org) maintain more than 80km of groomed cross-country skiing trails in and around Park City. Local tracks where you can get your skinny ski on include Round Valley, the McLeod Creek Trail (both free admission), and the White Pine Nordic Center at the Park City Golf Course (a fee area also offering rentals and lessons; 1541 Thaynes Canyon Dr, 435-649-6249; whitepinetouring.com). If you have a whole day and want to link a few of these areas together—and aren’t afraid of a little route finding—we recommend the following “Tour de Park City,” a route covering roughly 20 km or 13 miles. Begin at the Highland Drive Trailhead (located just southwest of Home Depot next to Highway 40). Take the Silver Queen trail south along Highway 40 through Quinn’s Junction to the Rail Trail Connector. Head west at the Rail Trail to the Prospector Trailhead. There, take off your skis and walk one block north to Freshie’s Lobster Co. (1915 Prospector Ave, 435-631-9861; freshieslobsterco.com), where you can replenish all those carbs you’ve been burning off with a lobster roll the size of your head. After lunch is where the route finding comes in: walk west from Freshie’s to the junction of Kearns Boulevard and Snow Creek Drive. Cross Kearns and continue along Snow Creek Drive briefly until you arrive at the McLeod Creek Trail. The section of the route—which meanders along the creek past beaver ponds, over wooden bridges, and past the Swaner Nature Preserve—travels slightly downhill all the way to the tour’s endpoint, the Redstone Center at Kimball Junction. From Redstone, book a free ride back to the Highland Drive Trailhead through High Valley Transit’s Micro (435-246-1538, highvalleytransit.org/micro).

6 - Sunrise Glide Up Homerun
If you were to peek out your window in the wee hours of the morning at Park City Mountain’s slopes, you may notice clusters of lights bobbing up its mountainside. No, those are not resort workers hand-grooming the ski slopes. They are uphill skiers “skinning” up the mountain on skis fitted with adhesive skins to provide grip on the snow. Park City Mountain (435-615-1911; parkcitymountain.com) allows uphill skier travel (no hikers, please) along Homerun from 6 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. daily. Besides getting to work off the previous day’s indulgences (uphill skiing torches more than 1,000 calories per hour), watching the sunrise while walking uphill with friends, accompanied by a nice endorphin buzz, is a pretty great way to begin the day. White Pine Touring (1790 Bonanza Dr, 435-649-8710; whitepinetouring.com) rents alpine touring and splitboard packages. After your self-powered run(s)—some locals skin up and ski down Homerun multiple times before the 8:30 a.m. cutoff—glide down to the Corner Store (across from the Legacy Lodge at Park City Mountain’s Town Base; 435-645-8666; thecornerpc.com) for a plate of brioche French toast or biscuits smothered with a rich sausage gravy and topped with two eggs, your way.

7 - Geothermal Asanas
Have you ever done paddleboard yoga in a 10,000-year-old natural hot spring? We didn’t think so. But thanks to Park City Yoga Adventures (435-640-3022; parkcityyogaadventures.com) you can do just that within the surreal Homestead Crater in Midway. The hot spring is fully encased in stone, protecting its 95-degree, therapeutic waters—and you—from the elements. Go just for the SUP yoga or make an afternoon of it by adding on a pre-yoga, guided snowshoe hike into the nearby and picturesque Wasatch Mountain State Park. When you’re booking your yoga, we recommend making a reservation for dinner in one of Café Galleria’s (101 W Main St, Midway, 435-657-2002; thecafegalleria.com) charming glass Alpenglobe dining shelters. Furry throws line the benches inside these private, rustic-chic pods where you and up to seven friends can sip cocktails and dine on woodfire-oven baked pizza, homemade pasta, cocktails, salads, hearty entrees, and much more.

8 - High-Octane Hiatus
First things first: The shorthand—and less newbie—term for a snowmobile is a sled. Secondly, sleds are FUN. Nothing will get you out into the snowy wilderness faster or more efficiently than on a snowmobile, er, sled. And if you’ve not quite mastered skiing powder, you’ll find out what all the fuss is about once you steer a sled through a meadow filled with untouched fluffy stuff. For a stunningly scenic exploration of Park City’s backyard backcountry, book a 90-minute guided sled tour at Red Pine Adventures’ 1,000-acre ranch, located in Park City proper just south of Canyons Village (2050 W White Pine Canyon Rd, 435-649-9445; redpinetours.com). Casual and convenient post-ride sustenance can be found at Squatters Brew Pub (1900 Park Ave, 435-649-9868; saltlakebrewingco.com), serving burgers, salads, sandwiches, pizza, cocktails and, of course, beer. For deeper motorized winter immersion, Park City Peaks (888-304-7669; powderutah.com) offers two-, three-, and four-hour tours of a gorgeous, 60,000-acre private ranch—filled with towering peaks, sweeping meadows, and powder-choked bowls—in the Uinta Mountains just outside of Oakley. Take the long way back to Park City through Kamas for an après-sled stop at High Star Ranch’s State Road Tavern (age 21 and over only, 218 Buck Rail Dr, Kamas, 435-783-3515; highstarranch.com), serving a full dinner menu, craft cocktails, and local beers with a side of comedians, live music, and other events nightly.

9 - Big Tire Fun
Maybe you’ve read or heard about the wide-ranging props Park City has garnered for its stellar summer trail system, but haven’t yet been able to pull off a summertime visit to Utah. Well, to have your cake and eat it too, so to speak, a fat bike is the answer. Essentially a mountain bike frame affixed with a wide fork and huge, knobby tires, fat bikes are designed to navigate snow and ice as easily as a mountain bike traverses dirt singletrack. Local trails where you can pedal in the winter include Round Valley, where you’ll likely find the town’s largest volume of shared fat bike/snowshoe trails; McLeod Creek Trail and trails around Willow Creek Park; and a six-mile stretch of the Rail Trail. Rent a fat bike and tap into local beta at Storm Cycles (1153 Center Dr, 435-200-9120; stormcycles.net) or White Pine Touring (1790 Bonanza Dr, 435-649-8710; whitepinetouring.com). Fat biking is a high-energy-output activity, meaning you’ll be spent afterwards. So, instead of heading out to a restaurant for dinner, why not have Low Spark Fondue (646-284-5025; lowsparkfondue.com) bring dinner to you? Choices include traditional cheese fondue, beef tenderloin with wild mushroom sauce, and even a fun chocolate fondue fountain for dessert.

10 - Zero Skills Sliding

Here’s a little test for your self-control: try not to giggle while sliding down a snow-covered slope on an innertube—we dare you! Giggles, chuckles, and full-on belly laughs are in plentiful supply on tubing lanes at Woodward Park City (3863 Kilby Rd, 435-658-2648; woodwardparkcity.com)—where you can also ski, snowboard, and play indoors on skills ramps and trampolines—and at Soldier Hollow (2002 Soldier Hollow Lane, 435-654-2002; utaholympiclegacy.org), which hosted all the 2002 Olympic Winter Games Nordic events and now grooms more than 30km of cross-country skiing trails. Both offer tubing passes in two-hour increments and are open until 8 p.m. daily. After your sliding sesh, head over to one of these two family-friendly dining destinations: Park City Brewing (1764 Uinta Way, 435-200-8352; parkcitybrewing.com) or Back 40 (1223 N Highway 40, Heber City, 435-654-3070; back40utah.com).

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