The Older Skier's Guide To America's Biggest Ski Resort

Two of Utah's premier ski areas -- Park City and the Canyons -- recently joined to become the nation's largest ski resort. It's big, second only in North America to Canada's Whistler-Blackcomb. The entire complex is called Park City, and it has 7,300 acres, 41 lifts and 300+ trails. It's managed by Vail Corporation. The base of the old Canyons resort is now called Canyons Village.

This is a great new development for older skiers who enjoy the ease of Utah skiing: arriving at super efficient Salt Lake International Airport and having a choice of eight skiing opportunities less than an hour away.

Those planning to visit Park City now have single ticket access to almost endless green, blue and black opportunities. Unlike the East, El Nino delivered snow early, and projections are for accumulations throughout the season.

If you're a senior skier with Park City in mind, here's what you need to know to maximize the experience with the greatest comfort and lowest impact on your budget.

Lift Tickets -- Purchase in advance, on line. Even though Vail Corporation doesn't discount its Epic Season Pass for seniors, it does offer a substantial savings for lift tickets. Purchased online seven days ahead, a one-day pass for anyone 65 or older is $84. For those 13 to 64, the price is $122. Commit to ski Park City seven out of 10 days, and the daily cost drops to $75. I am intimately familiar with these resorts. It's easy to ski there seven days without getting bored.

Parking -- If you're driving to the mountain, park on the Canyons side. With some exceptions, the Park City lots are a long walk to the lifts; so long, that some equipment- carrying older skiers may tire before reaching a lift. The Canyons side offers vehicles that shuttle skiers to the Cabriolet, an open, stand-up conveyance that travels from lot to Canyons Village. A few steps away is a gondola that carries you in comfort to mid-mountain. From there you can ski or take lifts to wherever you choose. If, by chance, your day ends on the Park City side, free, frequent bus service will deliver you close to your car.

Staying Warm -- When it gets too chilly, seniors can head for one of Park City's three enclosed gondolas. On the Canyons side, Red Pine Gondola travels from Canyons Village to mid-mountain over several deep valleys where moose may be resting or snacking in stands of mountain mahogany. Newest to the fleet is the Quicksilver gondola, an 81/2-minute ride across a canyon or two, stitching the two resorts into one. Some skiers believe that the generally lower elevations on the Canyons side make it warmer. That may be true some days, but traveling to the top of the Ninety-Nine 90 chair (off-loading at 9990') quickly challenges that belief. Arguably, the most comfortable ride of the entire resort is the Orange Bubble Express (Canyons side), the four-person chair with heated seats and an orange transparent bubble that protects occupants from the elements.

Eating Well -- Following the lead of neighboring Deer Valley, Park City has refined its gastronomic chops. At the base of the Quicksilver gondola is the new Miners Camp restaurant, a beautiful structure seating 500 and, in addition to typical ski lunch fare, serving artisanal salads and a variety of Mediterranean-inspired offerings. Several skiable miles north and perched at 8300' is Lookout Cabin, offering a more intimate mid-mountain dining experience with spectacular views of the Wasatch Range. On sunny days, few things are as nice as enjoying a glass of wine on its expansive deck. When cold and cloudy, their soups warm body and spirit. Another on-mountain dining venue -- you get there via snowcat-pulled sleigh -- is The Viking Yurt, a cozy, high-end establishment serving a prefix six-course dinner.

Both sides of the newly combined Park City offer many slope-side lodging options. For those staying in Historic Park City, the Town Lift, a two-seater chair, spirits skiers from the commercial hubbub of Main Street onto the mountain in a few scenic minutes. This can be a blessing for older skiers who choose to avoid the hassle of cars and parking lots and simply want to experience an active ski town and the 3200 vertical feet of skiing on the mountains next door.

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