Is a Former Ghost Town Now the Best Place to Live in America? (Slideshow)
August 19, 2013
We went to Park City, Utah, to get the lowdown on its high life
Goldener Hirsch Inn
I arrive at midnight at the Goldener Hirsch Inn and jump into a feather bed.
The next morning, I stick my head out of the bedroom window to take in the fresh mountain air at Silver Lake, Deer Valley’s upper mountain resort at the foot of ski trails, which are now fresh with green summer grass. It’s time to schuss into town.
Condos and Ski Runs
On the 10-minute drive, I pass by strategically placed condos framed by a crown of mountain peaks and dozens of ski trails that lace the high meadows and forests of aspens and evergreens. In addition to Deer Valley, there are two other ski resorts – Park City Mountain and Canyons, recently purchased by the folks from Vail – each with multiple hotels, inns and restaurants.
Park City may still look like a mining town, but the real estate along its historic Main Street is worth a mother lode of silver these days. Still, its population is holding at a manageable 7,800 people, many of whom operate the shops, restaurants and bars along the bunny-slope street.
The History Museum
I get a taste of the old days at the town’s history museum with its displays of the area’s own industrial age, when thousands of miners walked its rowdy streets by night and dug for silver and lead underneath its mountains by day. This exhibit shows lighted lines where an estimated 1,000 miles of tunnels are still interlaced far beneath today’s ski slopes.
Park City has many fine art galleries, but it also treasures creativity in all forms. Here, framed graffiti by the British street artist Banksy is probably worth tens of thousands of dollars. And in the mountains, locals also preserve drawings of wild horses carved into the white barks of aspens in the 1940s by pioneer skier Tommy Thompson.
Back at Silver Lake, I encounter several mountain bikers on their way to climb the trails winding around Bald Mountain. Biking and hiking are both popular warm-weather pursuits in Park City, as is riding the riveting bobsled run and zip lines at nearby Utah Olympic Park. Personally, I save energy by taking a ski lift to the top of the Old Baldy.
A Stunning View
There, I enjoy the panoramic view of distant peaks that mark other Utah resorts, as well as nearby Jordanelle reservoir, a popular boating and fishing venue. Then I take the 2.5 mile hike back down through meadows and forests along the Ontario Canyon trail, past mine-shaft openings that have been sealed shut in recent years.
A Gondola up the Mountain
The next day, it’s more hiking. New Hampshire native Mitch Potter (pictured) is my guide at the Canyons resort as we take a gondola up one mountain and across a canyon to another. There we walk past rushing streams and beds of flowers before breaking our hike short due to threatening thunderheads rising over the Wasatch Range.
All this walking has made me hungry. I treat myself to chicken schnitzel with red cabbage and spaetzle during lunch at the elegant Montage resort hotel followed by a great dinner of Austrian-style fondue and black cod with bacon jam prepared by Chef Ryan Burnham back at the Goldener Hirsh.
A Bloody Mary and Soup
Another day, I have lunch of a vegetable-laden Bloody Mary and a bowl of tortilla soup at Canyons’ Red Tail Grill. The Olympics opened the government’s eyes to the great advantages of having world-class lodging and good food to go along with the skiing as well. It also relaxed its drinking laws in a state once almost as dry as the fresh powder falling on its slopes.
High West Distillery
So, “Tell people you can drink in Park City!” the local tourist people pleaded. Yes, you can get a beer or a shot practically everywhere. There are two brew pubs – Wasatch and Squatters – which are now partners, and High West Distillery has what might be called a “spirits pub” in an old garage. As the sign says, it was a very Goodyear.
Mayor Dana Williams
On my last evening, I hoist a couple with Mayor Dana Williams, who is outgoing in both senses of the word, at Talisker on Main. The popular official is known also as the town barista at a local coffee house and as guitarist in the Motherlode Canyon Band. Now, and as I break into one of chef Briar Handley’s juicy lobster beignets, I resolve to come back to Park City real soon.