As the chief family travel planner (aka “Julie the Cruise Director”), I sympathize with anyone trying to organize a family vacation, much less a multi-generational ski trip. Not only do you have the typical flights, foods and fun times to research, but if you add skiing and snowboarding, your to-do list looks more like a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle.
Here is a template — because you need some flexibility when traveling with eight-year-olds and 80-year-olds — for a fabulous spring break ski vacation in Park City, Utah. I apologize in advance for the length of this article, but trying to fold three trips into one is, in fact, the challenge. So below are the best tips, tricks and tactics to make your family trip much easier and more enjoyable.
Spring is one of my favorite times to visit Park City, home to two world-class ski resorts: Park City Mountain and Deer Valley Resort. The skies are sunnier, the temperatures are milder, and the crowds are smaller, making it perfect for families looking for on and off-mountain fun.
Spring skiing in Park City runs from March until the resorts close in mid-April, conditions permitting. For families, this typically includes spring break as well as Easter and Passover holidays. However, unlike beach destinations, prices, from airfare to lodging, begin to drop throughout Utah in March. So, set a Google Flights alert to Salt Lake City (SLC), only 45 minutes from Park City on interstate highways, and make this a more affordable family vacation, too.
The first day is always the hardest, but a family ski vacation in Park City is about as easy as it gets if you do a few things before you leave home.
Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) is a Delta Air Lines hub with dozens of daily nonstop flights to most major U.S. cities and several international ones, making it fast and easy to fly the family here. Other airlines also have daily flights to Utah’s capital. Even better, most major car rental companies offer vehicles on site, saving time and one less shuttle of kids, grannies and luggage. If you need extra assistance to or from the gate, SLC is one of the few airports that offers SkySquad. As a bonus, because Park City is only 45 minutes from the airport, if you arrive at SLC in the morning, with a bit of planning, you can ski the slopes in the afternoon.
Getting Grandpa’s Gear There
Managing ski and snowboard gear is, arguably, one of the most challenging elements of a family ski trip. Here are a few tips on making it more time efficient and less stressful. Foremost, get it over with quickly! Pick up your rental gear on your way to your lodgings, or have the outfitter meet you with the gear at your lodgings.
If you’re bringing your own equipment on a family vacation, consider shipping it all directly to your lodging, giving you one less thing to transport or worry about. (Depending on the size of your group, shipping gear may also make it easier to wedge people and their luggage into a rental car or ride share.) If you plan to ski in Utah more than once, you can have it shipped, stored and delivered wherever and whenever you want with companies like Utah Ski Storage and Delivery.
Somebody’s Always Hungry
Typically, the other “first day” item is food. When grandpa or your four-year-old starts complaining the moment you step off the plane that he’s hungry, reply that you ordered groceries before leaving home and will have them delivered to the condo. Yes, you did do this! I hate spending time at the grocery store when I’m at home, much less taking up valuable vacation time doing it. Alta Provisions will even drop off pre-made meals taking it one step further. You also did a little foodie research and booked dinner reservations during the week. Park City boasts a plethora of award-winning restaurants, and almost all of them are considered “family-friendly.” The biggest challenge is narrowing the list.
With a Little Forethought…
With food, gear and lodging squared away prior to checking into your family’s hotel, home or condo, you can relax until dinner…or go skiing! Park City Mountain is one of the country’s largest ski and snowboard resorts and stretches the length of Park City’s main route along Highway 224 just south of I-80 to Historic Main Street. Chances are, your lodging is nearby. You and the family can take the free Park City Bus or park at the Mountain Village or the Canyons base and ski until the lifts close in the late afternoon. If you’re staying at or skiing Deer Valley Resort (a skiers-only resort), the Park City Bus also drops off at Snow Park Lodge.
If your family doesn’t want to ski on Day 1 but wants to enjoy some time together, a walk on Park City’s Historic Main Street is a perfect introduction to this former silver mining town. Filled with shops and restaurants, it’s a place they’ll likely return to throughout the week.
Because you’ve already had a long travel day, I recommend eating an early dinner at the hotel or including a hearty prepared meal in your grocery order (that you picked up or had delivered earlier). Then, pop it into the oven, enjoy a family meal, discuss the game plan for tomorrow (there are choices), drink more water and get everyone to bed early.
Day 2 — Skiing, of Course
This itinerary assumes you purchased lift tickets in advance. Doing so saves time — a key for any family trip — and money…a lot of money.
Day 2 is all about skiing. If you have a snowboarder, make them ski. Just joking! If you have a snowboarder, your family is going to Park City Mountain because Deer Valley is a ski only resort. So, walk, drive or preferably, take the bus to the Mountain Village base near the center of town after breakfast.
A compulsion or piece of DNA makes at least one family member — let’s call him ‘Dad’ — try to wrangle everyone else to the lifts as soon as they open at 9 a.m. Unless a family member is in ski school, let’s take a deep breath (after you’ve stopped laughing) and think this through.
How many days does each family member plan to ski? How many hours in each day does each family member plan to ski? What are the ages and abilities of each skiing family member? Do you want this to be a pleasant experience?
Kids and seniors or people who don’t ski regularly typically cannot ski all day or more than a few days in a row. Even local families don’t often try (the whining would be insufferable, and the laundry would never get done). So, unless you have to be at ski school early, there is little reason to race to make the first chair. It’ll be warmer if you wait until 10-11 a.m., there will be less traffic and fewer lift lines. Moreover, my favorite, by arriving a bit later, your family can ski through the lunch rush (when the slopes are typically quiet), grab a later lunch at 2 p.m. at one of the on-mountain restaurants, such as Miners Camp, and ski a few more runs before close. You’ll get hours of skiing with fewer crowds and happier campers.
Families love the runs off First Time, Pay Day, Bonanza and Silverlode. These are mostly rated green (easy) and blue (intermediate). Better skiers might even find some powder stashed in the trees.
The family will be exhausted no matter how much or little skiing they did. So again, eat an early and hearty dinner at the condo or hotel. If you cannot even manage that, on the last lift, order amazing lobster rolls from Freshie’s Lobster Company for pickup as you leave the resort. Get XLs for everyone. No one will complain.
Day 3 — More Skiing at Park City
Chances are the family was getting their ski legs and didn’t explore much of the Mountain Village side of Park City Resort. Families will enjoy many blue runs, but don’t make the rookie mistake of trying to ski every run together. There is a reason ski school limits the size of groups: It’s hard to herd cats, and they tend to stray. Divide and conquer! Group skiers within a family. Dad can spend some time with a teen, Grandma can ski with the littles, Mom can sneak off to the spa…Ok, maybe she can do that on Day 4.
If there are beginner skiers or those that need more hot cocoa breaks, they can ski the greens lower on the mountain. Meanwhile, the more eager skiers can tackle the blue runs and double-black bowls off McConkeys and Jupiter lifts.
If you have non-skiers, a restaurant on Main Street is a great place to meet for lunch. From Park City Mountain, skiers and snowboarders can take the Town Lift directly to the bottom of Main Street to meet you at Davanza’s, eat and jump back on the lift to ski the rest of the day.
For dinner, you’ve already made a reservation. Perhaps, it’s at the stylish Tupelo or the casual Sammy’s. Enjoy a game night back at the hotel or condo. There are almost always some games lying around nearby. If not, bring or buy a deck of cards, and let the kids and grandparents teach everyone how to play their favorites.
Day 4 — Rest Day, Sort Of
Mom and grandma have a spa appointment scheduled sometime during the day. Papa wants a rest day. The kids are bored. Dad, of course, wants to ski. Depending on the family dynamic, it is possible to make everyone happy.
Dad is going to ski. Best bet: Let the skier ski. It’s the one thing that’s difficult/impossible to do at home. Dad gets a bonus for taking the most-diff…, I mean, wonderful child.
In the afternoon, enjoy a family activity. Take a kids tubing at Woodward Park City or Soldier Hollow. Other ideas: hike, fat bike, Nordic ski, ice fish, shop or any number of non-skiing family activities. If you go to Soldier Hollow, you’ll make Grandma happy by having a family picture taken at the Ice Castles.
Two options for dinner afterward: From Woodward, you’ll make every car-lover in the family happy with a meal at nearby Billy Blanco’s, a garage-themed diner with cars and car parts hanging everywhere. If you’re leaving Soldier Hollow, you can enjoy the delicious food and ambiance at Lola’s Street Kitchen in Midvale.
If you’re not too tired, take another walk on Main Street at night. Shops are open, and streets are lit. Take another family photo under the marquee of the Egyptian Theater. Parents and grandparents might return later for a live performance by a band they grew up listening to. Young adults might look for something from this century.
Day 5 — Skiing and Turkey Chili
It’s Deer Valley day! That means turkey chili for lunch. And skiing! Unless you’re staying near Silver Lake Lodge at mid-mountain, you’ll begin your day at Snow Park Lodge. There are two lifts from there. Carpenter Express is popular with families and provides green and blue runs on “lower” Deer Valley. Silver Lake Express (the line on the far right that is typically empty, for some unknown reason) takes you up and over to mid-mountain to the rest of the resort.
This is the one time I will advise families to plan around lunch. Decide where and when. Deer Valley has lodges all over the resort that serve turkey chili and other great dishes. Savvy families try to avoid the lunch crush between noon and 2 p.m.
If you arrive early (Silver Lake Express opens at 8:45 a.m.; Carpenter at 9 a.m.), try to feed the masses at 11 a.m. at Silver Lake Lodge, even if they say they’re not hungry. (Did I mention Deer Valley’s famous chocolate chip cookies? Stick one in your pocket for later.) Then, you’ll be in and out and have more time to ski.
There are different “strategies” for skiing Deer Valley, but if you have two days to ski here, start in the center and spread out. Ski the runs off Sterling Express where families of differing abilities and comfort levels can ski blue or green runs that meet at the bottom. Those more confident can move over to Wasatch Express and even soar down Steins Way off Sultan Express. These lifts filter into the Silver Lake area allowing family members to ski and meet throughout the day. If legs are dead, skiers can “down load” all the way back to Snow Park Lodge via Silver Lake Express.
Hopefully, you booked a reservation for the popular Fireside Dining at Deer Valley, a family favorite. Multi-course, gooey cheese…what’s not to love? If you didn’t snag a spot, check out Rime for steak and seafood at St. Regis. The kids will love riding the funicular up the hill. The adults will love the fire garden and the view from the top.
Day 6 — Leave It All on the Mountain
Last ski day. Let’s do this! Families taking advantage of a second day at Deer Valley should make their way toward Northside Express and, depending on abilities, Lady Morgan and Empire Express. There are options off the latter ones, in particular. Trees, chutes, bowls… Many come to Deer Valley for its incomparable corduroy, but its off-piste areas are where locals like to ski on a powder day.
Northside and somewhat hidden Silver Strike Express are some of the best blue runs at the resort. Long groomers are where beginners can step up their game, and more advanced skiers can refine their carving skills. It’s one of my favorite areas to ski with my family. It’s also home to Cushing’s Cabin at the top of Northside Express, where families can briefly rest and warm up with hot cocoa before wrapping up the day.
For those family members that are done skiing or don’t ski, revisit the list of things to do in and around Park City, including just walking on the hundreds of miles of paved and groomed trails that ribbon their way around this mountain town. Visit the Kimball Art Center to view its latest exhibition, the Park City Museum for mining history or the Alf Engen Ski Museum for a fascinating ski exhibit. In a place with extraordinary beauty, art galleries abound. Some people live here year-round and never ski. There is much to enjoy.
That night, clean the refrigerator or enjoy one last meal out on the town at one of dozens of great restaurants. For the food lovers (or the grandparents are paying), Riverhorse on Main delights. For a casual setting, check out Hearth and Hill (the kids can stretch out in the booths). There are several incredible sushi choices, as well.
Day 7 — Heading Home
Return the rental gear or ship it home. Although Delta allows you to check sporting equipment as luggage if you’re traveling with multiple family members, having fewer things to keep track of at the airport is always better.
If you have time, grab breakfast and stretch your legs (and let the kids burn off some energy) before your flight or drive home. Then, take some final family photos at the McPolin Farm. Wonder at all of the moments and experiences your family had together in Park City.
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