From world-class alpine skiing to snowshoeing, snow recreation is endless in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. Whether you’re going on a ski vacation to Park City or just want to spend a few days in a winter wonderland, the Wasatch Mountains are easy to get to from Salt Lake City with just a 35-minute drive into the mountains. From where to eat to where to see ice castles, here are my picks on how to enjoy winter in the Wasatch.
Ski, Stay and Play in Park City
It’s the largest ski resort in the world, but surprisingly Park City doesn’t feel overcrowded. I skied Park City for the first time with friends from San Antonio. We started from Park City Mountain Village and made our way over to ski the abundance of blue runs off of King Con Express lift. When we got hungry and thirsty, we skied over to Mid-Mountain Lodge, a 120-plus-year-old miners’ boarding house where history meets culinary adventure on the mountain. Warm up with their house-made chili or soup like we did or try one of their bowls or sandwiches to fuel you through more runs. After our break we made more turns off of Bonanza Express and Silverlode Express lifts. Both have great options for skiers and riders of all levels. I couldn’t get over the wide-open runs of groomed corduroy and how we have some runs to ourselves.
For après ski, stroll through the historic downtown. Yes, Park City is a ski resort, but it’s also a quaint ski town with rich roots in silver mining. It was incorporated as a city in 1884. You can even ski into the historic mining town with ski in and ski out access right off of Main Street. It was great for our group for those who wanted to keep skiing and riding, while others wanted to sip and shop. Spend an afternoon dipping in and out of the unique galleries and boutiques. Olive and Tweed is my favorite for fashion finds that will have folks asking where you got your sweater or necklace. They just opened a sister store, Alpenglow, just two doors away. Check out their selection of apothecary, jewelry and even some things for the kiddos. Wander through the art galleries, many of which feature the works of local artisans from photographers to painters. For après, I have two favorites. First is No Name Saloon. The building was built in 1905 and was originally known as the Alamo because it looks similar to the historic mission in San Antonio. Over the years it was a mercantile shop to a bowling alley. In 1981 it was restored as The Alamo Saloon. In 1999 it became known as No Name Saloon – America’s Last Authentic Miner’s Organization and called No Name Saloon for short. The no frills, casual pub has the feel of a sports bar and the rooftop patio is heated year-round. They’re known for their buffalo burger and wings. Add the sweet potato taters. They’re my favorite thing on the menu. My other pick for après is High West Saloon. It’s so close to the Town Lift, you could ski into this gastro-distillery. It opened in 2006 focusing on whiskey and was Utah’s first legal distillery since 1870. If you want to sample several of High West’s spirits, try the 101 flight. To pair with your spirits or seasonal cocktail, the deviled eggs and shishito peppers are must nibbles. If you’re really hungry, order the Rocky Mountain trout, Utah elk chili or saloon sausage platter.
My favorite spot for dinner is Yuki Yama Sushi. Yes, I go for sushi in this mountain town. Sip some sake as you devour nigiri and sashimi. Complete your meal with maki or ramen. They have traditional Japanese sushi, but I suggest being adventurous and try their modern sashimi plates or hot dishes, especially on a cold winter’s night.
There are lots of places to stay in and around Park City. If you can snag one of the twelve rooms or suites at Washington School House Hotel, go for a swanky stay in a chic hotel that used to be a schoolhouse built in 1889.
Ski Day at Deer Valley
Deer Valley is for skiers only, which make it a unique day on the slopes. I found it very easy to traverse the entire resort. Take the Jordanelle Express Gondola then ski Little Baldy Peak, Bald Mountain, Bald Eagle Mountain, Flagstaff Mountain to Empire then back. You’ll definitely work up an appetite and can splurge during après since you “earned your turns” while taking in amazing views. My favorite run is Jourdanelle, a double blue run with a spectacular view of the Jourdanelle Reservoir.
You have a plethora of luxury accommodations with ski-in, ski-out access at Deer Valley from the Montage to St. Regis. The Stein Eriksen Lodge is Utah’s only Forbes five-star hotel and spa. Even if you don’t stay at this authentic European lodge, pamper yourself with some spa time or enjoy a delightful dining experience like I did with friends. Nosh on Rocky Mountain elk tenderloin, bison ribeye, sea bass or Utah lamb porterhouse at Glitretind Restaurant. They’re also knows for their skier’s lunch and Sunday brunch if you want to enjoy an upscale leisurely dining experience as a break from the slopes.
Winter Adventure in Heber Valley
If you’re looking for a break from the hustle and bustle of ski resorts, Heber City and Midway are worth driving over for dinner, staying overnight or for a couple of unique experiences. In Heber City, stay at Best Western Plus Heber Valley Hotel. With its modern-rustic lobby, it’s a big step up from a regular Best Western and is a great basecamp to explore from Park City to Sundance. Trail travel in Heber Valley dates back to 1899. Take a ride on a steam locomotive with Heber Valley Railroad along the shores of Deer Creek Reservoir on the 90-minute Monday night train ride. The two-hour scenic Lakeside Limited train ride runs 11 a.m. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays and the 90-minute Deer Creek Express runs at 3 p.m. those three days. All three rides include an Old West gunfight or train robbery re-enactment.
When your muscles say it’s time for a therapeutic soak, head over to Homestead Crater. For over 10,000 years, melting snow has seeped deep within the Wasatch Mountains. About two miles below the surface, the earth heats the water and it percolates upward. The geothermal spring is hidden within a beehive-shaped limestone rock that’s 55 feet tall. The mineral water stays 90-96 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. A hole in the top of the dome let’s sunlight and fresh air in. You can soak, swim, snorkel, scuba dive and even take a paddleboard yoga class. If you want to stay where you soak, you can book at room or condo at Homestead Resort, with a hotel history dating back to 1886.
In Heber City, fuel up for a day of adventure with an egg, cheese, and avocado on focaccia breakfast sandwich at Belle’s Bakery. Go ahead and splurge on a cinnamon roll too. They are sinfully good.
Grab a causal lunch or dinner at Back 40 Ranch House Grill. For lunch, go for a burger. For dinner, order the Back 40 tacos made with grilled salmon topped with roasted pineapple salsa. The building was originally a nearby ranch house and moved to its current location in the late 1940s to be Heber Valley’s first bar. The family-owned restaurant is very popular with locals and visitors.
For a cozy-chic eatery for dinner on a Friday or Saturday night, head over to Main Street Social for their “Social Experiment” with a changing menu every weekend. The smoked trout rillettes are my favorite.
Head to a Swiss-themed town to see ice castles or to enjoy dinner in a European-styled inn. Original Swiss settlers dubbed it “Utah’s Swiss Alps” because it reminded them of their home country’s green valleys and snowcapped jagged peaks. Put on your ski gear to explore a frozen attraction in Midway. Hundreds of thousands of icicles are hand-placed as professional ice artists create LED-lit ice sculptures, tunnels, fountains, slides and thrones in the Ice Castles. You can also go ice skating on the rink in Midway Town Square. If you want to glide down the longest tubing lanes in Utah, Soldier Hollow tubing hill near Midway has 1,200-foot sliding lanes sure to make you squeal with glee as you zoom down. Make your tubing reservations in advance as it does sell out quickly.
Tucked away in the foothills of Midway is an old-style European chateau. The Blue Boar Inn is a four-star, four diamond and five medal award winning bed and breakfast. There are only twelve guestrooms all named and decorated after famous literary figures like Charles Dickens and Robert Frost. The Blue Boar Inn was named after the tavern in Howard Pyle’s novel The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. Sip a cocktail, beer or glass of wine in the walnut-paneled room of Truffle Hollow. The pub is filled with antiques from England and France and has a great view of Snake Creek Canyon. Then relax in the restaurant as you enjoy an elegant dinner. Start with the fondue or smoked Norwegian trout appetizer. The Blue Boar salad is simple and delicious. For your entrée, try the Holsteiner schnitzel or seared scallops. I went for the salmon and it was fantastic. This is the place for a romantic candle-lit dinner or for an intimate dinner with friends.
Snowshoeing Serenity in the Uintas
Take a break from downhill skiing in the Wasatch Range for some snowshoeing in the stunningly beautiful Uinta Mountains. This is where the locals, like my friend Pam and Earl, go to get away from the crowds at the ski resorts. For a short snowshoe, Nobletts Trail is only two miles with an elevation gain of just over 300 feet. You’ll go through an aspen grove, by a series of ponds, and deep into a pine forest as you follow the creek to the waterfall. When you get to the sign “End of Trail,” stop and enjoy the ice-over and snow-covered cascading waterfall flowing over moss-covered rocks. Pam, Earl and I did it a few days after a big snowstorm and it was a winter wonderland with several feet of fresh snow.
For a longer snowshoe adventure, take the Beaver Creek Ski Trail, also just off the Mirror Lake Highway. On a different day, Pam and I started from the Shale Creek/Yellow Pine Trailhead is about six miles east of Kamas. You can make your jaunt as short or as long as you want. We decided to get our hearts pumping and climbed up through the trees then enjoyed the view as we snowshoed about four miles with only a handful of other folks on the trails. Hungry for lunch, we stopped for enchiladas at Tacos el Sombrero Restaurant in Kamas. It was delicious Mexican comfort food. If you’re craving a burger after your snowshoe, try Mirror Lake Diner or Hi-Mountain, both in Kamas.
Nordic Skiing at Sundance
Tucked away in Provo Canyon, Sundance Mountain Resort was founded by Robert Redford. It’s also home to the world-renowned Sundance Film Festival, which now spreads out in venues from Sundance to Park City. The ski resort got voted #1 Ski Resort in North America in Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards this year. The boutique ski resort is where arts meets outdoor adventure.
For a different ski experience ditch your downhill skis for skinny skis. You can rent a pair at Sundance Mountain Resort’s Nordic Center, a yurt tucked away in the woods near the resort. It’s okay if you’re a beginner. They have trails for novices to experts. Pam and I took off on one of the easier trails that gradually winds through aspens and pines up to a serene meadow with views of Mount Timpanogos and Sundance Mountain Resort.
After working up an appetite, we stopped in the Foundry Grill for lunch. Start with a pink grapefruit margarita complete with black salt lining the rim. You deserve this refreshingly light cocktail after working up a sweat on your ski adventure. The tempura fried artichoke hearts with roasted garlic aioli are sinfully delicious and worth every calorie. It’s my favorite thing on the menu. For an entrée, I’m partial to either the black bean and corn veggie burger with sweat potato fries or the fish tacos. Both are delicious.
After lunch, peruse the Sundance store. It’s even better than the Sundance Catalog. Be sure to check out the walls of old photographs of the many celebrities to visit the resort and film festival. I’ve looked for the movie icon every time I’ve visited Sundance. I haven’t seen him yet, but he is often spotted around Sundance. If you want to stay overnight, you’re in for a luxurious stay in a mountain room, suite or loft. There are also plenty of posh mountain homes you can book. Take some evening turns on runs like Top Gun, Stampede and Maverick during Sundance’s night skiing offered four nights a week. You can get a “Super Day” ski pass to ski 9 a.m.-9 p.m. for just under $100. Compared to other resorts, that’s a great deal for a ski day.
As you revel Utah’s white gold swishing down the slopes in one of their world-class ski resorts, I hope you’ll try some of these unique winter experience as you enjoy winter in the Wasatch.
Author Jennifer Broome frequently visits Utah and loves to do winter adventures in the Wasatch Mountains.