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A mountain of fun

Utah ski area offers thrills in summer, too

Email|Print| Text size + By Stephen Jermanok
Globe Correspondent / August 24, 2005

PARK CITY, Utah -- It's early Wednesday morning and folks are already lining up to purchase tickets at the Park City Mountain Resort. There's even a slight wait at the chairlift. Yet, unlike winter, when skiers always seem to be in a rush to get up the mountain and even more of a rush to get down, people relax and strike up conversations before their ascent. Once on top, they have three ways to make their way back -- via the sled-like alpine slide, or attached to a cable on a 45-mile-per-hour zip line, or on a mountain bike slicing through the birches and firs on a steep slope. Others are content to stay at the base to climb the rock wall, bounce on the trampoline, play miniature golf, or ride horseback.

Snow can be seen only on the highest peaks of Utah's Wasatch Mountains and ski season is a distant memory, but Park City and its ski areas flourish in summertime with a wealth of outdoor activity, fine dining, and shopping on the town's historic Main Street. And, unlike the rest of Utah, which always seems to swelter in the summer heat, Park City's elevation of 6,900 feet helps to keep midday temperatures in the more reasonable 70-to-80-degree range.

''I came to this area to ski, but it's the summer that keeps me here," says Deb Lovci, a guide with local outfitter Interconnect Tour. ''I feel like the mountains are all mine this time of year."

More thrill rides await at Utah Olympic Park, which was home to a handful of events during the 2002 Winter Olympics. A one-hour tour of the facility whisks guests to the top of the 120K ski jump, around the edges of the serpentine bobsled run, and back down near the visitors center to the freestyle ski jumps. Since these are all cold-weather sports, you would expect Olympic Park to be dead come summer, but the opposite is true. The four-man bobsled is open to the public, who zip around the track on wheels, reaching speeds of 70 miles per hour. Over at the freestyle area, campers learn to flip and twist with skis off a jump into a huge pool. Watching youngsters trying to control their skis and land in the water is like watching a bird take flight for the first time. The true masters of the sport, members of the US Ski Team, practice their moves in the late afternoon.

''This stop is always one of the group's favorites," says Charles Jones, chaperone to 40 North Reading Middle School students on a tour of Western highlights that includes Utah Olympic Park and Yellowstone National Park.

Park City might have recently scored Olympic gold, but it was silver that built this city. The mineral was discovered in the surrounding hills in 1868, and soon thousands of miners arrived seeking their fortunes. Four years later, George Hearst, father of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, paid $27,000 for the Ontario Mine. He would earn more than $50 million from that one investment.

Today, two- and four-story buildings line Main Street in the heart of the historic Old Town district, some made of brick, others wooden with second-floor verandas that evoke those bygone days. It's easy to imagine a rowdy miner swinging through the doors of the No Name Saloon and shooting his guns in the air like Yosemite Sam, only to be arrested by the local sheriff and thrown into the Territorial Jail. Both sites still exist, along with 62 additional buildings that made the National Register of Historic Places.

Instead of cowboy boots and spurs, you're more likely to find a pair of Tevas on folks' feet these days as they stroll Main Street. Yet, the Wild West and a sense of history still permeate much of the inventory that lines boutiques and art galleries. At Durgins West, cowboy hats, leather purses and handbags, and Native American dreamcatchers are for sale. At Terzian Galleries, sculptor Arunas Oslapas creates long-head steers using recycled bicycle seats and handlebars. The result is a cross between a Georgia O'Keeffe painting and a Marcel Duchamp ready-made. Or for $500, you can have an Adirondack-style chair, called ''Park Sitty," made solely from used skis.

When the bottom fell out of the silver market in the mid-1930s, Park City began to focus on what would become the area's next mother lode -- skiing. In 1946, the town's first ski area, Snow Park, opened with one T-bar lift. Today, it is home to the far more expansive Deer Valley Resort. In the winter, Deer Valley opens the mountain to only 5,000 skiers a day and prohibits snowboarding. This lends a feeling of exclusivity that merely starts with the skiing and includes upscale accommodations and fine dining.

A popular venue for lunch in summer is the Royal Street Cafe at Deer Valley's Silver Lake Lodge. Take the Silver Lake Express lift up to the middle of the mountain and soon you'll be sitting on the outdoor patio, watching the mountain bikers slither down the slopes. This is no ordinary ski cafeteria, offering a mix of chile, burgers, and greasy french fries. In their place is a shrimp and lobster margarita appetizer, with chunks of fresh seafood served on a bed of papaya, salsa, and creamy guacamole. Then there's gazpacho with a lemon dill sour cream, as soothing as the green mountains you're gazing at. Entrees feature sesame-encrusted wild salmon on a dab of sticky rice, mixed with red and yellow peppers in a lemony cream sauce. Wash it down with a refreshing cranberry mint cooler, a combination of cranberry juice, fresh mint, lemonade, and a dash of Sprite. And save room for dessert, an ice cream cookie, quartered and dipped into a saucer of melted chocolate.

Judging from all the riders at Deer Valley, lift-served mountain biking seems to be the sport of choice in summer. A mellower option than speeding down a mountain is one of the relatively level biking trails that leave from town and slice through the valley into neighboring farmland. The 28-mile Union Pacific Rail Trail meanders alongside a rambling creek, past marshes filled with cattails and red-winged blackbirds, and fields of wildflowers including the pinkish-red Utah paintbrush. Bluebirds fly over the cattle lounging in the tall grasses. High above, tinges of snow whiten the ridges of 10,000-foot peaks.

Park City will always be synonymous with the Olympics and winter sports, but people are beginning to realize this scenic spot is pretty darn fun in the summer, too.

Newton-based Stephen Jermanok can be reached at farandaway@comcast.net.

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