A Long Fall Weekend in Park City
By Brian E. Clark
I’m a diehard schusser, so my favorite season to visit Park City is winter, when the slopes are buried in snow and I can carve turns on the thousands of acres of skiable terrain at Deer Valley and Park City Mountain Resort.
But autumn comes in a close second for me. That’s when the aspen trees are turning golden and there’s a snap to the air, but still weather for mountain biking, hiking, fly fishing, scenic chair rides and outdoor dining. I took part in all of those activities during a recent weekend visit to Park City that was centered around the Deer Valley Ski Resort and the lovely Stein Eriksen Lodge – named for the charismatic Norwegian alpine skier who won two medals in the 1952 Olympics and later popularized aerial, trick skiing.
Noon – After an easy, 35-minute shuttle from the Salt Lake City airport, my driver zipped through Park City and dropped me off at the “Stein,” as locals call the lodge – which is set partway up the slopes at Deer Valley at 8,200 feet. (Yes, I felt a bit winded walking around at first.) The circular driveway entrance was bedecked with flowers and there was a larger-than-life statue of Eriksen holding a pair of skis and poles. Beside him, a burning, Olympic flame.
I checked in to my digs and had lunch at the Troll Hallen – which translates roughly as “hall of the trolls” in Norwegian. Trolls, in Scandinavian folklore, are generally considered somewhat nasty creatures who live under bridges and scare misbehaving children. (They were nowhere to be found while I stayed at the lodge. But I’d swear I saw one or two the summer I lived with relatives outside Oslo during high school.)
For lunch, I had a tasty quinoa garden salad with carrots, radishes, peas, asparagi and kohlrabi, followed up with an avocado hummus flatbread served with spiced cashews, grilled vegetables, pickled mango, cucumber, mint-chili vinaigrette served on naan bread. Yummm.
2:30 p.m. – I met up with avid angler A.J. Garcia of the Wasatch Guide Service. We drove a mere 25 minutes to a stretch of the Provo River – considered a Blue Ribbon trout fishery – where I got a lesson from Garcia on proper casting technique. I didn’t catch anything, but a young woman in my group landed a medium-sized brown trout that we photographed and released back into the stream.
Truth be told, I didn’t mind not catching anything. Just being out on the river on a beautiful autumn afternoon was enough fun by itself. The price for a day of guided fishing starts at $180 per half day per person, with all the gear provided.
6 p.m. – I wandered around Troll Hallen, looking at display cases with many of Eriksen’s trophies and other awards, including four medals from FIS World Championships held in Aspen and Sweden. The hall is also filled with carved, wooden Norwegian furniture. Eriksen served as director of skiing at Deer Valley for more than three decades and was a legend in teaching circles. He died in 2015 at the ripe old age of 88, but the lodge continues to celebrate his birthday every Dec. 11 on “Stein Day.” I got the chance to interview him six years ago, when he was in mid-80s and he was still a vital, handsome man with wavy, silver hair. And still skiing.
7 p.m. – For dinner, I stayed up on the mountain and dined at the Glitretind (shimmering mountain) Restaurant, named for the second highest peak in Norway. I had a garden feta salad with cukes, tomatoes, arugula-fennel sauce and tasty King salmon with jasmine rice, peas, pickled mushrooms and asparagus.
I’m looking forward to returning this winter to try the Skiers’ Buffet, which includes Stein’s Wild Game Chili, a selection of daily chef-created salads, local meats and cheeses, fresh cold and hot seafood offerings, four daily entrée items, rotating live carving and action stations, and 20-plus house-made desserts from pastry chef Jeremy Garcia.
9 p.m. – I was hoping to do a bit of star-gazing and attend a lecture by Paul Ricketts, a University of Utah professor who runs the school’s observatory. Alas, even the best-laid plans can go astray. A cloud cover obscured the stars.
8:30 – I headed for the Deer Valley Grocery Cafe, a locals’ favorite near the base of the ski hill that is set on the Deer Valley Pond, where some folks go fly fishing. It serves fresh roasted coffee and espresso drinks, soups, chili, salads made with local seasonal ingredients, panini sandwiches, freshly baked breads, desserts, cakes and other items. I dined on the cafe’s lakeside deck and had a big bowl of granola and yogurt, orange juice and coffee to fuel my morning’s adventures.
9:30 a.m. – After I was fully outfitted with a full-suspension mountain bike, plus elbow and knee pads (which I would DEFINITELY need later), gloves and a sturdy helmet, I met guide Jason Jones at the Snow Park Lodge, elevation 7,200 feet. He gave me some tips and reminded me mountain biking can be dangerous. (Really???)
We hopped on one lift and then another to get to the top of Deer Valley’s Bald Mountain at 9,400 feet. Then we found the not-so-green (underrated in my case) Holy Roller trail and began our 1,300-foot descent back to Silver Lake Lodge. Because most of my cycling is on paved roads, I listened carefully to Jones’ instructions.
At one point, when I grabbed my front brake too hard, I nearly flipped over the handlebars. I only fell once during our descents that morn, which I considered lucky. Fortunately it was on a gravel stretch, away from sharp rocks and trees that might have ripped my flesh and broken bones. It was exhilarating, but truth be told, more than a little scary. I happy I was wearing protection when I tumbled because after I picked myself up from the gravel, my gloves, elbow and knee pads were all tattered. Better than my skin, I thought to myself. I was pleased we skipped the black-diamond Twist and Shout, and Tsunami trails.
1 p.m. – Because the weather was a pleasant 70 degrees, I dined outside again, this time at the Cena Ristorante, which is part of the Chateaux Deer Valley Hotel and features Italian creations. For my lunch, I had a pleasing Summer Margherita pizzetta (small pizza) with heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil and mozzarella cheese.
3 p.m. – I spent the afternoon wandering around Deer Valley and then headed for Park City, which is filled with scores of shops and restaurants. On Sundays, the main drag is shut down and hosts scores booths and food stands for the famed Park Silly Sunday Market , which, alas, is now done for the season. It runs from early June to the end of September and draws thousands of shoppers.
5 p.m. – I’m not a pool shark, but I dropped by the Champions Club at the Stein to try my skills on a billiards table. (I found a willing foe. And beat her. Ha! ) The club offers a variety of games – from high-tech to old school – in a new 3,500-square-foot entertainment center and cafe. When I was there, it was filled with families.
7 p.m. – The Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater beckoned after dinner, for its last show of the late summer. So I rocked out with a thousand-or-so other music fans on a gently ski slope and listened to the 40-year-old British band “Squeeze.” I munched away on a gourmet picnic dinner prepared by Deer Valley chefs that featured tandoori chicken salad, Asian slaw and mango chutney in a roasted garlic her wrap.
8:30 a.m. – I grabbed a muffin and coffee at the lodge’s First Tracks Kaffe at the Stein and met up with my old skiing, hiking and rafting buddy Craig McCarthy and we rode the lift back up to the top of Bald Mountain. This time, though, I had hiking poles instead of a mountain bike. We hiked at a leisurely pace down the slopes on the Ontario Canyon trail through open meadows and through stands of aspen trees, which were just showing signs of color.
Craig a Park City resident, and I reminisced about another friend, the late Dallas Morning News ski columnist Walt (“The Walter”) Roessing, with whom we both skied at Deer Valley. He ascended to the great ski mountain this fall after six-plus decades of carving turns down slopes around the globe. And enjoying more than a few massages.
1 p.m. – I headed back down into Park City for lunch at the Twisted Fern restaurant, which is run by the award-winning, yet unpretentious Adam Ross. Head chef at Bistro 412 on Main Street for a decade, he opened the Twisted Fern in 2017 so he could run his own kitchen and make nearly everything from scratch. For my meal, I had a mouth-watering blackened octopus served with black bean-pepper salad, lemon-white bean hummus, parsley oil and tapenade.
5 p.m. – I’d stayed at the luxe Montage Hotel in Deer Valley’s Empire Village half a dozen years ago, so I went over to see if it had changed much. Fortunately, it hadn’t. But it has added a way-cool orange yurt that serves as its Apres Lounge. While there, I chatted with the loquacious executive pastry chef Stephen Jones, a former art student who has transferred his inspirations from painting and sculpture to making delicious bonbon and other confections. The lounge also features champagne from Veuve Clicquot, which pairs nicely with the Jones’ bonbons, caviar, local cheeses, charcuterie and smoked fish all prepared by the hotel’s culinary team.
7:30 p.m. – No visit to Park City would be complete without a stop at the High West Distillery, which is located in a former car-repair garage just a block off Main Street. That’s right, a distillery in Mormon Utah that creates vodka, bourbon, rye other whiskeys. In 2006, it became Utah’s the first legal distillery since 1870. I tried a Hateful Eight cocktail, made from Rendezvous Rye, Smith & Cross Rum, Campari, St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, fresh pineapple and lemon juice and angostura bitters.
I admit, I chose the libation for its name. And it was delicious, but the pan-fried Utah trout with pumpkin seed gremolata on a shaved heirloom carrot and watermelon radish salad with Slide Ridge honey vinaigrette was even better. Still, I was glad I’d saved room for the scrumptuous Silver Oat Whiskey crisp, made with tart Granny Smith apples, brown butter and oat streusel, served a la mode with vanilla ice cream.
Brian E. Clark is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer and photographer who contributes to the Chicago Tribune and LA Times on a regular basis. He also writes a weekly travel column for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. A native of Iowa, Clark is a University of Colorado, Boulder, graduate who focuses on adventure travel. He’s a veteran whitewater kayaker and skier who has lived in Norway, Sweden, Brazil and Bolivia. He worked for newspapers in Washington State and California for 25 years, including the San Diego Union-Tribune, before returning to the Midwest. He manages to head back West several times a year when he’s not off in other corners of the globe. Or poking around Wisconsin.