Park City during the holiday stretch of late December, across Christmas and New Years, is a uniquely special place to spend this time of year. The town peaks, as it does for the Sundance Film Festival, with an injection of frivolity and fun that makes this town one of, if not the single, best places in skiing.
Combine Park City's rich atmosphere and unparalleled Main Street with its mild Utah climate and steady snowfall, and those looking for the perfect Christmas-New Year's ski trip will certainly have to sample what Summit County, Utah, has to offer before making any kind of declarative call on what constitutes the best place for holiday skiing. For those who like to sample different locations on their holiday ski trips, Park City needs to be high on the list.
It's a classic, one of the true gems in the world of North American skiing, a place that needs to be included on anybody looking to visit skiing's vanguard. Let us tell you why.
Things that shouldn't be missed
These things hold true in all times of the year in Park City, but as with most things involving ski towns and the holidays, they're poignantly factual during this last week of the year. So heed our recommendations - and profit!
Park City Lodging At Christmas
Park City, especially when including the available lodging stock at Deer Valley, which is nestled on the other side of town, possesses one of the wider and more diverse sets of ski resort lodging in North America. Skiers can book anything from a standard economy hotel room on up to 5-star resort properties such as the Waldorf and Stein Eriksen Lodge.
There are also a wealth of unique properties within Old Town that can be had, which can help enhance the trip for those who are more concerned with prowling town and partaking in Park City's Main Street scene.
The best options for families, however, are properties near the south (town) and north (formerly the Canyons) bases of Park City Mountain. As any parent who has shepherded a full crew from bed through breakfast to the slopes knows, proximity is key. Parents should be willing to sacrifice some square feet in exchange for being closer to the mountain. The payoff will be apparent on the first morning—and afternoon—of skiing.
Because of its above-average snow performance and superior town, Park City can book up tightly for Christmas, so travelers are advised to lock down their lodging situation sooner rather than later. The best opportunities will be gone by mid-November.
Park City is a great Christmas destination for families. Courtesy: Park City Mountain Resort.
The Best Lodging for Holidays in Park City
The ideal lodging situation depends on individual preferences, of course, but Park City has such an extensive catalogue of lodging that traveling skiers can find anything they seek here. From expansive private homes, on-the-slopes condos, five-star hotels or apartments and houses close to the action on Main Street, Park City has a depth of lodging options that few ski resorts can match.
We recommends travelers book early, as Park City is one of the preeminent destinations in all of skiing. It's currently booking at a top-3 pace in all of North America, so aim to get your lodging locked down by October 1.
Our personal preferences steer us toward Main Street and the Christmas buzz generated by lodging close to one of the elite boulevards in all of skiing. Within a two block walk, vistors will be able to find anything:
• Top-end dining, including Robert Redford's Zoom restaurant, which is at the bottom of Main Street.
• A bevy of great bars, such as O'Shuck's and No Name Saloon.
• Dozens of art galleries, and the standard souvenir shops.
• A very nice state liquor store, just a block off of main street where nearly any bottle, wine or spirits, can be obtained.
At the end of the day, skiers can race down the runs that lead into town, Quit 'N Time and Creole, and stroll their way back home, getting into aprés mode at home quicker than many people can make it to a base-area bar.
One of the biggest benefits of staying near Main Street during the Christmas season in Old Town Park City is that it affords skiers the ability to skip renting a car. That will save skiers money and time, and it allows everybody in the group to get as revelrous as they want, as getting home will only ever require a short walk.
This makes for the ultimate Christmas or New Year's vacation: less responsibility, more skiing, and more time spent in the pubs and restaurants of Main Street than circling for a parking spot or waiting at the car rental desk in the airport.
Park City goes off in the early season.
Skiing Park City At Christmas and Holidays
Quite important, of course, is Park City's record—as well as that of the close-by Deer Valley, and Alta, Snowbird, Solitude and Brighton—for being top-notch destinations for early season snow by Christmas and New Year's. Not every resort does well in these kinds of examinations, but Utah performs at a high level across the board. Park City averages being 77% open by Christmas, a good mark, and things are often even snowier on the other side of the Wasatch, just a 45 minute drive away.
Families will be in great shape in almost all cases, as the wide, long groomed terrain that Park City is known for can be largely open by early December in many cases. ZRankings' own crew has skied Park City many times before Thanksgiving. There's a reason that America's Opening World Cup Race, usually held in November, was here for so long.
Experts will often find the best terrain on this side of the Wasatch is open by Christmas. This includes the shots off of Jupiter on Park City's southern half, and fall lines off of the Ninety-Nine Ninety lift to the north. The steep fall lines tend to be more pure and straight-on in the northern half of the resort, formerly known as The Canyons. Skiing off the north side of the Ninety-Nine Ninety lift offers the best snow and terrain on the Park City side of the Wasatch. Other expert hideouts include the north woods runs off of Super Condor, the woods off of Tombstone and a few lines off of McConkey's, but these latter runs are short and the run-out required to get back to the lift is long.
For intermediates, Park City is one of the premier destinations in North America, with wide swaths of acreage dedicated to the kind of big, wide and long blue groomers that make for the perfect canvas for a family ski trip during the period of Christmas and New Year's. Much of this terrain is covered by above-average snowmaking capabilities, helping to ensure that runs will be open with an adequate base by Christmas. For these kinds of runs, the southern side of the resort, nearer to town, tends to be superior, although there are fantastically-pitched groomers coming off of the north side of Super Condor and the front side of Tombstone to the north.
Park City's town lift is one of the classic institutions in all of skiing, and it should be seen and ridden even by those who aren't staying in town. For skiers who want a day-time diversion, ski down to Main Street for a refreshing hit of spirits at the High West Distillery Tasting Room, very close to the lift, or wander down the street a block for a tall glass of Cutthroat Lager at No-Name Saloon. Bark at the bartender and people will assume you're a local. Skiers and riders seeking sandwiches should clomp half a block over to Davanza's and order up a chicken parm and can of Hamm's. They'll know who sent you.
Families traveling to Park City at Christmas will find that the resort runs one of the more efficient ski school operations in the entire industry. Those who have registered online and have their equipment can head straight to the snow after signing off and grabbing lift passes at one of the lift ticket windows. So there's no need to stick it out in a snaking ski school line that can suck the fun out of the first day.
Park City has a good record of having terrain open by Christmas. Courtesy: Park City Mountain Resort.
Park City the Town At Christmas and Holidays
As good as the skiing can be, the town is just as much of the draw here. It's one of the truly elite ski towns in the world, with history and storylines that run far deeper than the roots of a ponderosa pine. It has history, charisma, gravity, class and taste. This is not Disney World, it's a town. A real place, where people come from and where people seek to stay. There are people all over the world who ski bummed for a season or two in Vail. But finding people who ski bummed in Park City is harder. That's because most of those people them are still there, along this lee side of the Wasatch range at the mouth of Daly Canyon.
If the aforementioned dining establishments don't seem exciting, we recommend checking out Fletcher's for haute kinds of meat and eats, Wahso for Asian fusion, and Chimayo for classic Mexican done with a superb attention to detail. We know John Malkovich likes to dip into Red Banjo Pizza on Main Street, but frankly, you can do better.
Lodging wise, the alpha experience is to find a place in town and roll out to Main Street every night. That said, the Old Town lodging is of a naturally limited supply, so be prepared to look elsewhere as well. Lower Deer Valley is a good option, as are many of the hotels and condos near the northern base of Park City. For skiers staying in town, a car isn't necessary; a shuttle to and from the Salt Lake Airport, only 35 minutes away, will do just fine.
There's very little manufactured about the Park City experience. Main Street's buildings and grand facades were built by the gold and silver of local mines and have been restored and preserved by the cash from travelers who are happy to spend money here. This is a place where gnarly locals and their traditions mesh with traveling families and skiers reveling in snow and scenery far different from that which they came. Skiing stretches deep into the soul of this town—the U.S. Ski Team is based here—but there's far more to this place than hotel rooms and aprés bars.
But be careful - this is a town that can burrow out a hollow in the heart, and erect permanent residence in that organ where most all vacation destinations, as fun as they are, can't find footing. A ski trip here can turn into years of pilgrimages that can stretch into dreams of retirement that mix Jupiter Peak summits with cozy breakfasts on Main Street and slow ascents on Deer Valley's mountain bike trails.
Just as likely, though, is that your heart will escape with no damage and you'll have logged an amazing vacation.