While my family does most of our skiing in Lake Tahoe a few hours away from home in the San Francisco Bay Area, we have been hoping for a long time to take a Utah ski vacation. Utah is where I learned to ski with my parents and sister when I was in high school. I have wanted to introduce my kids to the unrivaled snow and many amazing resorts for a long time.
When the opportunity to visit Park City Mountain Resort finally presented itself this winter thanks to a three day weekend, we jumped at the chance! Park City has been on the top of our Utah ski bucket list for quite awhile. It’s owned and operated by Vail Resorts, just like the resort we ski most often in Lake Tahoe – Northstar California Resort. Park City participates in the Epic Pass making it an especially good fit for many Northern Californians like my family.
Ski vacations involve a lot of logistics, so I did a ton of research and planning before our trip. Of course, we learned that much more being on the ground, making a few mistakes and stumbling into a few tricks and hacks on our three night trip. Here is what other first timers need to know when headed to Park City Mountain to ski.
(Editor’s Note for Winter 2020-2021: Park City Mountain is of course operating differently this winter than it was during my trip in January 2020! See my guide to what’s different about the 2020-2021 ski season for the changes you need to be aware of at major US ski resorts. And always confirm exact details directly with the resort and watch for last minute changes.)
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Tips for First Timers Skiing Park City Mountain Resort
1. Pick a Side & Stick to It
Park City Mountain Resort is actually two ski resorts in one, formed when Park City and the Canyons Resort merged back in 2015. This means there are two major base areas. While the sides are connected by both trails and lifts, traversing from one side to the other takes quite a bit of time. This is particularly true if you aren’t a more advanced skier.
My advice is to pick a base area and plan to ski mostly on that side for the day. Thanks to the advice of my friend Summer of The Points Guy (a.k.a. MommyPoints), I learned before our trip that the Canyons side has a lot of very challenging intermediate blue terrain that might be too much for my 10 year old daughter on the days she skied with us. Ok, ok… I might have been intimidated a bit myself too.
Thanks to this inside intel, we opted for the Park City side. It turns out we definitely made the right choice for our family, as this side has more green and easier blue terrain. Wide green slopes like Claimjumper allowed my daughter to gain confidence. We were then able to move to some easier blues like Muckers and Treasure Hollow.
I personally found plenty of challenge on other harder blues on the Park City side on the day she was in ski school, particularly King Con and Single Jack. Utah blues are definitely more difficult than some of the easier Tahoe black diamonds! And my expert black diamond skiing husband found more than enough powder and major challenges too. In short, everyone in the family was very happy.
Ski school is available on either side. So if you are going to put your kids in ski school, make sure you sign them up on the side that you personally want to ski more for the day.
2. Don’t Skip Ski School (& Book Early)
Speaking of ski school, I’m a big believer in putting kids in ski school – and for much more than a single introductory day. Even though my daughter has been skiing for several years, we gave her a single day refresher since this was her first day of the season. And my 6 year old is still very much a beginner so we enrolled him for two full days.
One thing I love about Park City Mountain is that it only offers smaller group lessons for kids. Called Ultimate 3 (for 3 year olds), Ultimate 4 (for ages 4-6) or Ultimate 5 (for ages 7-12), ski school class sizes are capped at 3-5 kids per instructor. This ensured that our kids had a lot of personal attention and instruction. Most ski resorts owned by Vail offer these lessons as an option at least.
While ski school is always quite expensive, the pricing at Park City was more reasonable than I’ve paid for comparable small group lessons at quite a few major ski resorts. That said, you’ll pay less if you can plan a vacation during non-holiday periods. We paid $275 per day for our kids the second weekend in January, but prices go up to $375 on Presidents Day weekend, for example.
Ski school can and does sell out at Park City, so plan to book well in advance. This is especially true for holiday weekends. As of the date this blog post was published, for example, ski school is already sold out at Park City for Presidents Day weekend. The cancellation policy is generous (requiring only 24 hours notice) so it’s always better to book ASAP and cancel if your plans change.
3. Expect Traffic on Powder Days
Because of its proximity to Salt Lake City (only about 30 miles), locals head for the mountains when the weather brings new snow. This can mean a lot of traffic to Park City on powder days, as we experienced on the last day of our trip. Once you exit I-80 at Kimball Junction, the road to Park City (Highway 224) is only 2 lanes in either direction and can get very backed up. Plan accordingly if you are trying to get to ski school or a lesson on time (or conversely, if you are headed out at the end of the day back to the SLC airport).
4. Consider Park City Transit
Park City and the surrounding area has the best transit system of any ski area I’ve ever visited. While sometimes taking transit can be hard for travelers with kids, definitely consider it here. Buses are frequent and serve most of the major places skiers would need to travel.
Since our family was staying a few miles down the road in Kimball Junction, we opted to rent a car this trip. But I’d probably make a different decision on our next visit. Parking your own car at Park City can be hit or miss. We had good luck the two mornings we arrived early for ski school on the Park City side by 8:15am, but I encountered a lot of full parking lots the third day when we arrived later in the morning to park at the Canyons Village side on a powder day. (Ultimately, I found a spot in the preferred lot for $15 – money well spent!). And of course, if you aren’t someone used to driving in snow, letting someone else do the driving is always smart.
To get from the Salt Lake City Airport to Park City, there are plenty of private shuttle companies available. One of the ones I eyed the most in my research was Protrans, which offers transport in 4WD Suburbans for 3-5 people for $129 plus tip. (For more details on getting from Salt Lake City Airport to Park City, stay tuned for a forthcoming post about flying to Utah for ski vacation.)
5. Study the Map, Especially if You are a Beginner or Lower Level Intermediate Skier
It’s always good to spend a little time with the trail map before skiing any new ski area. But we found it even more vital at Park City Mountain because of the size of the resort and its challenge level. If you aren’t an expert skier, it’s vital to know what turns you need to take so that you don’t end up on a lift serving more challenging terrain.
6. Have a Lunch Strategy
One of the harder logistical parts of a ski day is getting lunch. There is always a major rush at all the on-mountain lodges around noon when there are long food lines and a seating crunch.
Park City is better than most because it is such a large resort with many on-mountain dining choices. We nevertheless saw things get pretty crowded. We opted to dine two days in a row at Miners Camp, a very large newer lodge that may look familiar to Tahoe skiers (both Northstar and Heavenly both have lodges that are very similar). It has the most indoor seating of the lodges we scoped out, and a good variety of food choices from pizza to burgers to hearty soups and stews.
We found it possible to find ample seating until about 11:30, so consider starting your ski day early and taking an early lunch. Since ski school started for my kids at 8:45 am every day, we had plenty of time to get in lots of skiing before this time.
7. Take in the History
It’s rare for a ski resort to have much history to explore, but Park City Mountain does. You can even take it in while never leaving the slopes! Before it was a ski resort, Park City was full of silver mines, many of which are still standing on the mountain today. There are plaques at each one so you can quickly stop and find out about the history of each building.
The resort even offers a free guide-led skiing tour on the Park City side for anyone wanting more of a deep dive into this story. Called Silver to Slopes, you only have to be an intermediate skier to take one of these tours. I had the chance to sit and chat with one of the guides during lunch one day and get a crash course in the history myself. Well worth it!
8. Take Advantage of Lift Ticket & Pass Deals
At most major ski resorts, you’ll pay way too much walking up and purchasing a single day lift ticket at the window, and Park City is no exception. Walk up tickets can be as high as $189. With a little planning, you can easily purchase a lift ticket for much less.
There are a lot of different discount options, depending on how many days you plan to ski or ride, whether you are going to ski other Epic Pass resorts the same season, and even whether you have a 5th or 6th grader in the family. Here are the major ways to save no matter what your situation.
Single or Multiday Park City only lift tickets: Get a small discount by booking your single or multiday tickets at least 7 days in advance online direct from Park City Mountain. Prices on single day tickets range from $148-172, depending on whether you are skiing a peak day.
Undercover Tourist Ticket & Hotel Bundle Discounts: It’s possible to save even more on lift tickets booking ticket plus hotel packages from Undercover Tourist. Single day lift tickets can be as low $134, and the discounts get even bigger the more days you ski. Book ski packages at Park City from Undercover Tourist here. I priced out a couple of different dates at different slopeside hotels in the area and found substantial savings over purchasing directly (on both the hotel and the lift tickets), but it’s always smart to price compare for your own dates!
Epic Passes: I’ve already mentioned the Epic Pass, and I think it makes sense for a lot of skiers. The passes are no longer on sale for this year, but are usually available most years until at least Thanksgiving, although there are bigger discounts for buying early.
There are a quite a few different Epic Passes, and the sheer number of choices, with various blackout dates, resort limitations, etc. can be overwhelming. For that reason, I’ll highlight a few of the best choices for Park City skiers, but you can compare all of the option and features here.
- Epic Day Pass: Available for 1-7 days, simply choose how many days you want to ski at participating resorts for the season. You can pay extra for a no blackout version of this pass. Great for skiers planning a couple of weekend trips a season to one or more Epic Pass resorts. Plus, this choice is cheaper than advance purchase lift tickets at Park City Mountain on a per day basis.
- Epic Local Pass: The best choice for skiers who plan to hit Park City and/or the largest Colorado resorts but not on peak holidays periods.
- Tahoe Local Pass: The best choice for California-based skiers who plan to ski Park City up to 5 days in the season but who will spend most of their ski season at Northstar, Heavenly, or Kirkwood (it’s cheaper than the Epic Local Pass so if you don’t need more than 5 days total at Park City plus several Colorado resorts, don’t pay more!).
- Epic Pass: The most expensive but the most flexible choice – no holiday blackouts and unlimited skiing at Park City and dozens of other resorts included.
Ski Utah Passports for 5th & 6th Graders: If you have a 5th or 6th grader, consider the special Ski Utah Passport for those ages to truly save a bundle. For just $45 for the entire season, 5th graders can ski up to 3 times at each resort in Utah (6th graders get 1 day at each resort per season). No, you are not reading that wrong. The deal really is that amazing.
9. Explore the Area
The skiing at Park City Mountain is so fantastic that it’s hard not to do anything but ski on a Park City vacation. But Park City is an amazing town, filled with culture, history, and fabulous food worthy of exploring separately if time allows.
Due to a storm on our final day, we weren’t able to get into town and poke around as much as we had hoped this trip. But having been to Park City before, I know that the town is a huge part of the draw of this destination.
We were at least able to do one non-ski activity during our stay, which was with the Snowed Inn Sleigh Company. It started with us taking a horse drawn sleigh ride from the main village at Park City up the mountain to the Snowed Inn. There, we enjoyed a cowboy dinner of prime rib, chicken, and Utah trout with live music in an absolutely magical snowy setting. Prices are $100 for adults and $65 for kids which we thought was pretty reasonable for this incredibly unique experience and meal. Just be sure to reserve early because they sell out, especially on weekends!
Where to Stay in Park City: Hotel Recommendations
Since Park City Mountain Resort is so enormous, it probably goes without saying that the area has a wide variety of lodging choices. I did a lot of research before our trip, looking closely at the combination of location, amenities and price.
If you want to ski on weekends, be prepared to pay a pretty high price for slopeside accommodations. You can certainly save money and get more staying a bit farther down the road, but map out your transportation plans carefully.
Some of the best lodging choices for families in and around Park City include:
Newpark Resort (Kimball Junction)
We stayed at Newpark as guests of Visit Park City for three nights in a two bedroom suite. Our condo was enormous and luxurious, with a full kitchen, private hot tub on the deck, and separate bedrooms for parents and kids. This hotel is in Kimball Junction just off of I-10, about 3.5 miles or 10 minutes from the Canyons base area and 7 miles or 15 minutes from the Park City base area. The little bit of extra distance meant so much more space at a much lower cost, which we really valued as a family. One bedroom units are about $200-250 a night during winter season, and two bedrooms like ours are about $300-400.
Marriott’s MountainSide (Park City Village)
Since we picked the Park City side as our base of ski operations, I got a chance to peek at this hotel, which is located no more than a few dozen feet from the Payday lift there. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better located ski in/ski out hotel. It is a Marriott Vacation Club property, meaning that the rooms are all condo-like accommodations — ideal for families. Of course, with a great location comes great cost – usually over $1000/night during peak ski season. If you can find availability with Marriott points (which is, admittedly, challenging), the property is only 60,000 points a night at a standard redemption for a Marriott Category 6 hotel.
Hyatt Centric Park City (Canyons Village)
I have had two well-traveled friends recommend this hotel after staying with their kids – my friend Summer of The Points Guy and Leslie of 365 Atlanta Traveler (see Lesli’s Hyatt Centric Park City review). Located in a ski in/ski out location in the Canyons base area, this hotel has an excellent location for anyone wanting to ski the Canyons side. Standard rooms run about $500-800 a night in peak ski season. It’s a Category 6 property, so using World of Hyatt points (25,000 points a night), could present a very good value for a stay.
Wyndham Park City Resort (Canyons Village)
Another resort in this same area that works well for families is the Wyndham. Rooms are one or two bedroom condos and the hotel is just steps from the lifts at the Canyons village base area. My friend and fellow family travel blogger Jen of Deals We Like just stayed there, so I’ll share her review when it is released!
More Tips for Family Ski Vacations!
- Tips for Skiing with Toddlers & Preschoolers
- How to Save Money on a Ski Vacation
- Mistakes Not to Make Skiing with Kids
- How to Find a Truly Kid-Friendly Ski Resort
Disclosure: I received complimentary lift tickets and some meals courtesy of Park City Mountain Resort as well as lodging in partnership with Visit Park City and Ski Utah. All other travel expenses were at our own cost. As always, all opinions are my own.