New heights of service in Park City

By Johanna Jainchill

Montage Deer Valley loungePark City, Utah's Deer Valley has always been considered among the most exclusive, white-glove service ski resorts in the country.
But Park City itself, and its two other premier ski areas, didn't always match those standards.

That has changed over the last decade, with Park City's dining, lodging and ski scene having taken a step decidedly upscale.

Park City gained fame as host to the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, but for ski buffs, it's always held a special place, even among the bountiful ski playground of the American Rockies.

In one week — in theory in one day — a skier or snowboarder in Park City can hit the trails at three world-class resorts, each blessed with the powder snow that Utah is known for: Deer Valley, Canyons and Park City.

These premier ski resorts did not always offer many high-end lodging options; Park City was known more for its array of luxury, private mountain homes.

However, the city's inventory of high-end accommodations has increased significantly in recent years. Some examples are the addition of the St. Regis Deer Valley in 2009, and in 2010, the Montage Deer Valley; the Waldorf Astoria Park City, only the third hotel to use the Waldorf Astoria name; and in the four-star category, the Hyatt Escala Lodge.

Skiing

• Deer Valley: Skiers-only Deer Valley is known for its silver-spoon service; it is not hyperbole to say they help you strap on your boots here. They also help carry equipment from your car and offer services like complimentary overnight ski storage.

Deer Valley caps the number of tickets it sells each day to prevent crowding, and skiers can always expect the runs here to be impeccably groomed. The resort also offers complimentary intermediate and expert Mountain Host tours twice per day.

Eating is upscale even at midmountain comfort-food stops like the Royal Street Cafe, situated at 8,100 feet, featuring items like Korean barbecue and a Dungeness crab tower appetizer.

Park City CanyonsThe resort has poured over $15 million into improvements over the last two seasons, with an increased focus on kids. Deer Valley redid its learning area with new surface lifts and opened a new children's retail clothing outlet. The resort also installed a new high-speed quad chairlift and energy-efficient snowmaking equipment. Visit www.deervalley.com.

• Canyons: Canyons' former reputation was mostly for being big; it's the largest ski resort in Utah but certainly wasn't the most polished. That's changed. New owners spent millions to gut and revitalize the resort in 2010. The result is a technologically advanced and downright upscale ski experience. Canyons is now home to North America's first heated chairlift, the Orange Bubble Express, with a pull-down cover to keep the wind and snow at bay if necessary.

Canyons has an impressive array of high-concept eating options in seven new restaurants at the mountain's base, Canyons Resort Village. My favorite, the Farm, features ingredients sourced within 200 miles of the resort, and Bistro, the nation's only kosher restaurant at a ski resort. These eateries have already made a name for themselves, becoming destination dinner stops: Salt Lake Magazine named the Farm its Best New Restaurant in Utah in 2012.

On sunny days be sure to take a break at Ski Beach, a European-style outdoor area perfect to relax on a lounge chair with a beer while listening to music. On cold days, grab a hot chocolate at the Chocolate Bar in Mourdocks Restaurant, also at the base. Visit www.canyonsresort.com.

• Park City: This resort may boast the fewest "upscale" amenities, but it makes up for it with fun. Kids will love the resort's ZipRider as well as its Alpine Coaster, the only on-mountain roller-coaster in Park City. And Park City resort is the only one of the three in town that offers night skiing. Visit www.parkcitymountain.com. Full-day lift tickets at each resort's window range from $102 to $105.

Lodging

• The Montage Deer Valley: The top qualifier on my list for an upscale slope experience is "ski-in, ski-out." At the Montage, property attendants help guests into their boots and then carry their skis the few steps to the slope, at a lift base. At the end of day, the attendants are there to pull those boots off again.

The 220-room, five-star Montage is built right into the mountain but is only five minutes above Park City's Main Street. Its spacious rooms have fireplaces and heated bathroom floors, and you will never see the same flavor of chocolate on your pillow.

The resort offers fine dining in its Mountain American Grill as well as a sushi bar and gastropub offering upscale pub fare.

Hyatt Escala LodgeThe Montage and Deer Valley like to say they are cut from the same cloth in terms of guest service. Montage looked for five years before choosing Deer Valley to build its slope-side resort, and both parties believe that their standards flow through the hotel to the slopes and back. Winter rates begin at $845 per night. Visit www.montagedeervalley.com.

• Hyatt Escala Lodge: This AAA Four Diamond Resort, also ski-in, ski-out, is located at Canyons' base and offers a high-end experience perfect for families or groups.

All 150 rooms and suites have kitchens, and many have laundry machines. Also for sale as condos, the suites feel like homes; my two-bedroom suite was spacious enough to host a dinner party or let children romp around the plush furnishings. If you don't feel like cooking, there is a cozy on-site restaurant offering three meals, and a free shuttle takes guests anywhere in town.

The property has a very lodge-like ambience with lofted timber beams, stone fireplaces in the living rooms and bedrooms and mountain views. One thing the Lodge lacks is a spa: Guests in need of a rub will be accommodated by a local masseuse or at the nearby Waldorf Astoria Park City Hotel. Winter rates begin at $439 per night. Visit www.escalalodge.hyatt.com.
 

Follow Johanna Jainchill on Twitter @jjainchilltw. 

Johanna's Picks


Johanna JainchillSki rentals

No matter where you ski in Park City, renting from Skis on the Run is worth the splurge. Knowing your vitals, a company rep brings a selection of boots and skis to your hotel room so you can sample different brands and styles. If something doesn't feel right when you get out on the slopes, call Skis on the Run, and a rep is at the lift base 20 minutes later with more equipment to choose from. Rates begin at $42 for skis, boots and poles. Visit www.skisontherun.com.  

Dinner  

Yes, it's touristy, but nothing says cozy, chalet lifestyle like a four-course meal served from huge stone fireplaces. Alpine Fireside Dining at Deer Valley's Empire Canyon Lodge is a must, especially on a cold, snowy night. Guests move between bubbling pots of cheese, cured meats, hearty stews and fire-roasted meat on spits before hitting a ridiculous selection of dessert fondues. Adult all-you-can-eat, $58. Visit www.deervalley.com/dining.  

Off-slope adrenaline

A tour of the 2002 Olympic facilities at Utah Olympic Park is well worth carving out time. Visitors will get a glimpse into the fascinating inner workings of a real Olympic venue and seeing just how incredibly steep a Nordic ski jump ramp is. For real thrill-seekers, the park offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a bobsled ride the length of an actual Olympic track with a professional pilot at the helm. In less than a mile, the Comet Bobsled takes 15 turns, reaches a speed of 80 mph and experiences up to 5 Gs of force. This is not for the faint of heart, and you will sign a waiver before boarding. A venue tour is $10; Comet ride, $200. See www.utaholympiclegacy.com.
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