It’s no big surprise that winter adventure opportunities abound in and around Park City, but how will you choose to spend precious free time or vacation days? While many people delight in skiing and snowboarding the fabled slopes of Park City Mountain and Deer Valley Resort, others seek experiences of a different sort. We have several excellent recommendations.
Snowshoeing should be at the top of the list as it works for a wide range of ages and abilities. It also appeals to both those out for a leisurely trek through Park City’s legendary snow as well as tired skiers and snowboarders looking for a day off the slopes with an athletic outdoors component. Several local outfitters also add unique twists to guided outings.
White Pine Touring, in business since 1972, is the oldest continuously operating tour company in Park City. “Winter visitors here on vacation are often a little beat up after a couple of days of hard skiing or snowboarding and looking for something different,” said White Pine Touring Sports Director Mike Benson. “Snowshoeing offers them a chance to slow down, catch their breath and look around. That’s not to say you can’t get a great workout on snowshoes, but it definitely slows you down.”
Benson indicated their most popular trip is the two-hour tour, but the one-hour moonlight excursion also is a big hit as the evening landscapes make the experience almost surreal. White Pine also offers a three-hour historic snowshoeing tour that takes people to several historic silver-mining sites around town led by guides well-versed in Park City history.
“A lot of our guides have been with us for over 10 years, and some have lived here all their lives. I personally like the backcountry tours we offer in the Uinta Mountains because we’re completely outside of Park City and there are no crowds,” shared Benson. Snowshoeing the secluded Uinta range, with peaks approaching 12,000 feet, is a truly exhilarating wilderness experience.
All Seasons Adventures, another well-known Park City outfitter, also offers top-notch snowshoeing outings. The Star-Gazer Tour takes clients through a snow-covered wonderland under a mind-boggling canopy of stars. For families, there’s the ever-popular Snowshoes to S’mores Tour. It’s an hour-long trek to the Deer Valley Gazebo where a crackling fire and freshly prepared s’mores await.
For more daring souls, snowkiting offers a unique combination of skiing or snowboarding while being pulled along by a kite. It’s the winter equivalent of kiteboarding,” explained Rob Umstead, owner of Uinta Kiting in Park City. “Transitioning from kitesurfing or snowboarding to snowkiting is fairly easy, and it’s actually easier on skis than on a board,” he said. Umstead, a seasoned instructor who has been snowkiting for more than 20 years, can have an experienced skier or snowboarder up and kiting in just three hours.
“It all comes from learning flying skill with the kite, so we start students on smaller training kites that don’t have as much power as the ones you actually ride with. We cover how all the safety systems in the kite work before we put [participants] on a bigger kite and send
them on their way,” Umstead explained. “People come to Park City and the surrounding area from all over to kite,” he said. In plentiful snow years, the open fields just east of Highway 40, only 10 minutes from downtown Park City, are excellent areas for training.
Umstead touted one major advantage of snowkiting versus skiing or snowboarding at a ski resort. He said, “It’s like having your own private chairlift. On a powder day when the wind blows, you can go up and downhill and get nonstop fresh tracks all day.” The Utah Snowkite Center in Salt Lake City also offers lessons and seasonal equipment rentals.
Another winter sport that is elevating its status among serious and more casual athletes is ice climbing. John Mletschnig, owner of The Backcountry Pros in Salt Lake City, suspects its newfound popularity is largely due to the growing number of climbing gyms around the country.
“After all, ice climbing is simply the winter version of rock climbing. You just need the appropriate tools for the situation; in this case, it’s layered clothing, an ice axe and crampons,” said Mletschnig. “Most people drawn to try ice climbing have some rock-climbing experience but want to try something else and have a more diverse experience during their winter trip.”
The veteran guide says Provo Canyon, a 45-minute drive from Park City, is the best area in Utah for ice climbing. “There are several waterfalls in the canyon, but most people don’t know where to go and we can help with that,” he said. Safety comes first at The Backcountry Pros. All ice climbers are belayed by their experienced guide, meaning there’s virtually no chance of falling while learning the frosty sport.
While there are so many incredible outdoor winter activities to choose from, at the end of the day a wide range of indoor adventures also await. Enjoy amazing restaurants and watering holes on historic Main Street and beyond. There are also dozens of hotels of all sizes and specialties and cozy lodges scattered through the valley. Go have fun, whether you are an adrenaline junkie or just wanting to try something new and unique.