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The Ultimate Survival Guide to Park City

January 30, 2014 at 10:28 AM | by | ()

She's a Park City beauty, that Washington School House

Hot on the heels of Sundance, home to three mega ski resorts and a favorite training grounds for many a winter Olympian, Park City, Utah has an allure like no other winter ski destination.

But if you’ve never made the trip, the options in PC—including countless hotels (and rentals) found everywhere from the charming downtown to slope side or mid-mountain—can be overwhelming.

Which ski mountain is right for you? Should you stay near the slopes, downtown or does it really matter? And what about the town ski lift (that’s right, Park City even has a ski lift from the downtown direct to Park City Mountain Resort)?

The first thing to know about Park City is that not only are there a multitude of lodging options, by and large, the options are very good. So, the question is less about finding a great hotel and more about finding the right hotel. For example, you want to spend après time around a fire, of course, but do you want to hang with the tots and roast marshmallows or toss back bourbon with the boys?

Just back from Park City, we canvassed the ski town from north to south to find the top hotels in the best locations, taking care to uncover all those little details that can make a hotel really special. And in keeping with the idea that there are different strokes for different folks, we came up with a list of favorite that speak to a variety of unique needs and wants.

The result of our efforts, the fruit of our hotel-loving loins: another must-have HotelChatter survival guide, this one for the powder-dusted mountain town of Park City, Utah.

Big and comfortable rooms at Montage Deer Valley

From a visitor’s perspective, there are four major parts of town to keep in mind: Park City’s historic downtown and its three major ski resorts. If you arrive by flying to the nearest major airport, which is Salt Lake City International Airport, you'll drive about 35 minutes south to Park City, first encountering Canyons ski resort, Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR), the downtown and, finally Deer Valley Resort. Hotels and rentals can be had at all four stops and everywhere in between. It is straight-up overwhelming.

But before we get into where to stay, let’s talk about these four stops, as where you should stay depends on how close you want to be to any one or all of them.

Downtown Park City radiates out from Main Street, a steady upward climb compressed with boutiques, bars and a distillery, and some of the town’s best restaurants, as well as Sundance’s famous Egyptian Theater and Park City Museum (a shockingly cool museum with interactive mining exhibits and the town’s original jail). No matter what season you visit, the downtown is a hub of activity and life, and you'll wind up here at some point, if not daily.

The definition of mid-mountain, slope side at Deer Valley, as seen from the ski locker room at Stein Eriksen Lodge

At 4,000 acres and with 182 trails, Canyons is the fourth largest ski resort in North America. It traverses nine mountains, offers mostly intermediate to challenging terrain for both snowboarders and skiers, including runs that drop from the summit peak at 9,990 (the Ninety-Nine 90). But generally speaking, the terrain at is Canyons is considered the most challenging of the three resorts. We agree: Canyons is a killer beast and the kind of ride that experienced boarders and skiers dream of.

Park City Mountain Resort is a great, all-around ski resort for all levels of riders and skiers, and with an especially good dose of regional history and character. At the height of Utah’s mining days, the mountain was home to some 50 percent of the areas mines, and many old mining structures still dot the mountain today. These are pretty cool to see as you’re zooming down all sorts of runs, which include 114 trails, nine bowls and four terrain parks. The coolest thing about PCMR, however, might be that you can reach it via a chair lift that runs directly from downtown Park City.

Deer Valley Resort is a rare find for skiers, and especially families who ski, as it’s one of only a few ski-only resorts in the country. Deer Valley is also well known for its high-touch service, with a solid ski school program and some great instructors. The terrain is predominately intermediate with lots of interesting and log runs. It's an especially excellent place for younger families learning to ski, as there's a bit less chaos with the absence of snowboarders (no disrespect to the riders out there, yo).

A view of the king bed in the loft suite at Washington School House


When someone asks us where to stay in Park City, it’s hard for us to not blurt out "Washington School House!" A National Historic Registry landmark built in 1889 and one of three original schools in Park City, the 12-room hotel opened in December 2011 following a down-to-the studs rehab. The result is a beauty of a hotel with incredible design —think tall ceilings, reclaimed dark wood floors and gray accents against white walls, singular furnishings that blend materials like wood and marble, a 16-foot limestone fireplace under a white antler chandelier, an outdoor rooftop pool tucked into the side of a hill, silver platters and pitchers, and even silverware that doesn’t match, on purpose. The experience of staying here feels personal and private (as if you were the only guest) and luxuriously simple. Where so many hotels offer boatloads of activities morning, noon, and night, WSH works some magic that leaves you feeling like there is no hurry at all and that there nowhere else you need to be but loafing there by the fire. Wifi throughout is complimentary.

The lounge is the heart of the Washington School House

If you came to ski, you might scoff at the hotel’s location in downtown Park City (which puts you one block from Main Street and a quick walk to great restaurants, pubs and shops). But getting to the lifts is actually easier than you might think. First, WSH offers a complimentary shuttle to all three ski resorts. Or, you can walk a couple blocks to the town chair lift, which takes you straight to Park City Mountain Resort; WSH will even give you a lift to the town chair if you’d rather not schlep over. If you need rental equipment, Ski Butlers will come directly to WSH—or any location in Park City—to set you up with equipment, which you can store in the onsite ski lounge at WSH.
Best for: People who want to quiet the world and connect with one another in a cozy, cozy place. Couples, old friends, and even families will not want to leave, with kids loving the royal treatment and surprise nightly turndown gifts (like kiddo travel journals and a cuddly stuffed moose).
What it’ll run you: We found rates from $850.

Another view of a room at Montage Deer Valley

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Montage Deer Valley is a mega hotel with 154 guest rooms, 66 suites and residences, and a backdoor that opens up to Deer Valley’s Empire Express chairlift. We say “mega” not so much for the size, but for a bevy of really great offerings for all ages. And we mean all ages. Let’s start with the bright, lodge-style rooms fashioned with fireplaces and mountain-facing balconies, a 35,000-square-foot spa, and five restaurants that include a sushi bar, the new Burgers & Bourbon (which houses the biggest collection of the brown spirit in the state as well as some kick-ass milkshakes) and Daly’s pub, where grownups and kids can unwind together (think bar and flat screens, shuffle board and darts, Wii and vintage arcade games, and a bowling alley). Skiers can rent high-quality equipment onsite. Everyone can kick back in après hours in a huge mountain-style lounge with fondue, cider toddies, free billiards and board games and an even bigger fireplace (s’mores are also outside on the terrace). There’s a big indoor pool with designated times for families and adults only (spa hours).

Montage is not cheap, but it's done well and there are complimentary offerings worth noting, too: Wifi; fitness room and instructor-led classes; spa-area access to saunas, steam rooms and an indoor pool; transportation throughout PC via Mercedes Benz GL fleet; ski locker storage; billiards; and snow tubing (there’s a hill up in here, too).

Best for: Montage is a total score for skiers who want to be near Deer Valley’s slopes and groups, especially families. In a world where family friendliness often gets confused with being just about the kids, Montage Deer Valley gets it right with something for both cool kids and cool parents. There’s even a robust kid’s club program for ages 5-12, with neato activities scheduled all the day long (you can even drop the kids off on Friday and Saturday nights for time along to dine and booze).
What it’ll run you: Rates at the montage start at $665.

A pretty room at the St. Regis Deer Valley

The beginning of a luxury ski escape begins with a steep funicular ride up to the 177-room St. Regis (www.stregisdeervalley.com) Deer Valley, which sits slope side at Deer Valley Resort. From the posh lobby and rooms to the split-level outdoor pool, St. Regis is the beautiful, mod hotel you would expect it to be, though it’s the food and beverage offerings that really grab us here. First, guests get to enjoy complimentary hot chocolate with toppings. Big whip, you say, BUT YOU HAVE NEVER HAD HOT CHOCOLATE LIKE THIS BEFORE. It is that good. If hot chocolate is not your bag, step up to the St. Regis Bar for St. Regis’ signature Bloody Mary, this one poured with a locally distilled vodka. There’s a cozy wine vault with some 13,000 bottles where you can hold private parties. We recommend saving your pennies and instead making a reso in J&G Grill, with a menu created by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and a sweet Chef’s Table room with great mountain views, available at no extra cost. Also complimentary at St. Reg: Wifi, transportation around PC and access to the fitness center.

Best for: Foodies and fans of recreating in style.
What it’ll run you: Room rates start at $495.

The hot chocolate at the St. Regis will blow your mind

Opened by the namesake Olympic Gold Medal skier, Stein Eriksen (www.steinlodge.com) Lodge is a skier’s dream. It sits mid-mountain at 8,200 feet at Deer Valley’s Silver Lake Village, about halfway between the resort’s summit and base. Glide straight out onto runs from the full-service ski locker rooms with valets standing by. There are 180 units here, including 112 guest rooms and 68 suites; the best deliver a residential-lodge vibe, with huge family rooms, decks with hot tubs, and full kitchens. Even if you don’t stay here, you should drop in for the incredible buffet lunch, the chance to ogle Eriksen’s overflowing trophy case (find it right in the lobby) or to cap off a day of skiing at the 16-treatment room spa. Like the hotels above, Stein Eriksen Lodge offers complimentary Wifi and a shuttle for getting around town as well as to PCMR and Canyons ski resorts.

Best for: Hard-core skiers will love the Stein Eriksen history throughout the hotel and the fastest and most convenient access to Deer Valley's most challenging ski runs.
What it’ll run you: Rates start at $775.

And the buffet at Stein Eriksen will bust your gut (good luck skiing afterward)

We like Grand Summit Hotel for the huge convenience it offers: a location at the base of Canyons, right in the resort village. Nothing fancy but still very comfortable, this more traditional lodge has a great pool, a spa, and a fantastic Mexican restaurant, the Red Tail Grill.

Best for: Riders and skiers who want the easiest access to Canyons while staying in a comfortable hotel will feel right at home here.
What it’ll run you: Canyons offers the lowest rates found among the Park City hotels on our list, starting at $373.

One last bit of insight on room rates, currently at their highest now that we're at the tail end of Sundance and in the heat of ski season. Every local we encountered shared that spring and summer are among the most sublime times to visit Park City, with green hills that go on forever, tons of hiking and biking, and some of the best hotel deals seen all year. While rates do fluctuate throughout the year, hoteliers backed the claim, sharing that room rates drop during the warmer months by as much as 75 percent less than what’s available now in the ski season. As an example, Washington School House's current rates at $850 drop to $295 in spring. Yowza.

Image Credit: Nina Kokotas Hahn.

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