Park City lies east of Salt Lake City in the western state of Utah. Framed by the craggy Wasatch Range, it’s bordered by the Deer Valley Resort and the huge Park City Mountain Resort, both known for their ski slopes. Utah Olympic Park, to the north, hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics and is now predominantly a training facility. In town, Main Street is lined with buildings built during a 19th century silver mining boom. Find out more at visitparkcity.com and parkcitymountain.com
The first treasure, discovered back in the 1860s when Park City was no more than a motley collection of small settlements, was silver – both in colour and in form. Tales of fame and fortune followed, and at one time the city’s Silver King Mine was one of the most well-known and prosperous mines in the world. Sadly, the good times didn’t last: fire struck in 1898, and four years later over 30 miners were killed by an accidental explosion in the mines. By 1950, crippled by the low price of silver and the Great Depression, Park City was on the verge of becoming a ghost town.
Just in time the town discovered its next treasure, and this time it was glisteningly white. Snow. Or, to be more precise, dry, light, fluffy, plentiful and perfect snow (Utah snow has an average water content of just 8.4%, for those who want to be scientific about it).
The miners already owned a lot of land, and they had plenty of underground trains, shafts and aerial trams that could be used to get to the top of the mountains. With a flick of the magic wand, the mines were transformed and Treasure Mountain Resort was opened. The first few brave and adventurous skiers liked what they found, and over time this snow has continued to yield ever more valuable treasures. The ski resorts surrounding the city became world famous, culminating in the hosting of the ski events for the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympics.
Once again treasure was plentiful in Park City, and for a while it rained down on the winning athletes in the form of gold, silver and bronze medals.
A mountain biker’s mecca
Rumour has it another treasure has been discovered in Utah, which is the reason for my visit. The dry desert summer climate, breathtaking vistas and high-quality ski-lift networks have apparently turned Park City into a mecca for mountain biking, and I’m keen to see if it lives up to its billing.
In a nutshell, the answer is yes. Over 450 miles of bike trails await, ranging from cheerful beginner tracks to ferocious expert-only descents of technical terror. While navigating down the slopes it’s worth slowing down enough to appreciate the scenery, as you’ll be passing beautiful aspen and poplar forests, stunning views out over the valley beyond and (with a bit of luck) some of the resident deer and moose. Best of all is getting to the bottom and realising its just an easy chairlift ride back up to continue the fun.
For those not tempted by the two-wheeled lifestyle, Park City is still an outdoor paradise with plenty of great attractions on offer, such as hikes, concerts, fly fishing and horseback riding. The Utah Olympic Park (home to the United States Ski Team) is also worth a day’s visit, if for nothing else than to watch the athletes on summer training launch off ski jumps into a large swimming pool.
While you’re there, the bobsled track and the museum both provide fascinating glimpses into the world of the winter Olympics. Visitors can get taken down the bobsled track by a professional driver at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour, and there is also a climbing course, zip lines and tube rides for the young (and young at heart). The museum provides a more serene experience, with videos, photo and articles of the history of the area and of the Olympics hosted there.
Packing a punch
For a small city of only 8,000 permanent residents, Park City punches way above its weight. However, walking down the quaint Main Street, the city exudes no sense of self-inflated importance. Rather, one is struck by the simple beauty of it all.
Tourists and locals alike enjoy the many restaurants and bars (over 130 at last count, including the world’s only ski-in whisky distillery) in town, and there are plenty of art and photography shops with memorable Utah landscapes on display. Everyone is friendly and seems to know each other, and when I asked people why they chose to live in there, most said they visited and simply decided never to leave.
Contemplating the colour of Park City’s modern-day treasure, my first thought was that it was the green of the dollars, mostly brought in by tourists enjoying the charm of one of America’s most beautiful towns. However, on deeper reflection, there’s more treasure that exists here - treasure that’s harder to quantify (and definitely harder to put a colour to).
Despite its many charms and achievements, maybe Park City’s greatest feat is that it has managed to reinvent itself many times over, each time uncovering more hidden treasures. My conclusion is that maybe, after all, it’s actually the character of town and its people that is the real treasure.