The first treasure, discovered back in the 1860s when Park City was no more than a motley collection of small settlements, was silver. Tales of fame and fortune followed, and at one time, the city’s Silver King Mine was one of the most well-known and prosperous mines in the world. Sadly, the good times didn’t last: fire struck in 1898, and four years later, over 30 miners were killed by an accidental explosion in the mines.
By 1950, crippled by the low price of silver and the Great Depression, Park City was on the verge of becoming a ghost town.
Treasure above the ground
Just in time, the town discovered its next treasure, this time above the surface: snow. To be more precise, dry, light, fluffy, plentiful and perfect snow (Utah snow has an average water content of just 8.4%, for those who want to be scientific about it).
The miners already owned a lot of land, and they had plenty of underground trains, shafts and aerial trams which could be used to get to the top of the mountains. With a flick of the magic wand, the mines were transformed and Treasure Mountain Resort was opened. The first few brave and adventurous skiers liked what they found, and over time this snow treasure has become even more valuable than the silver.
The ski resorts surrounding the city have become world famous, culminating in the hosting of the ski events for the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympics. Once again treasure was plentiful in Park City, not just in the form of gold, silver and bronze medals but also tourists and publicity.
A mecca for mountain biking
Rumour has it another treasure has been discovered in Utah, which is the reason for my visit. The dry desert summer climate, breathtaking vistas and high-quality ski-lift networks have apparently turned Park City into a mecca for mountain biking, and I’m keen to see if it lives up to its billing. In a nutshell, the answer is yes.
Park City won the first “Gold-Level Ride Center” award from the International Mountain Biking Association, a prestigious honour currently only awarded to six bike parks worldwide. To win the award, parks must have a wide range of trails available for all levels and interests, which my group of exhausted riders can proudly vouch for.
Over 450 miles of trails await, ranging from cheerful beginner tracks to ferocious expert-only descents of technical terror. Our favourites were the intermediate tracks, filled with an endless array of flow trails, rollers, berms, switchbacks, single tracks and tabletop jumps (these terms didn’t mean much to me at the start, but after a few days it’s impossible not to get sucked into the wonderful world of biking).
While flying down the slopes it’s worth slowing down enough to appreciate the scenery, as you’ll be passing beautiful aspen and poplar forests, stunning views out over the valley beyond and (with a bit of luck) some of the resident deer and moose. Best of all is getting to the bottom and realising it’s just an easy chairlift ride back up to carry on the fun.
It takes a few days to properly explore all of the ridings on offer. Deer Valley Resort had the best downhill trails, while Park City Resort has an endless array of spectacular cross-country trails (as well as a really fun zip line and alpine slide, which managed to tempt me away from the bike for an entire afternoon). The Trailside Bike Park, filled with fun jumps and obstacles, is also worth a visit.
For those not tempted by the two-wheeled lifestyle, Park City is still an outdoor paradise with plenty of other diversions on offer, such as hikes, concerts, fly fishing and horseback riding. The Utah Olympic Park (home to the United States Ski Team) is also worth a day’s visit, if for nothing else than to watch the athletes on summer training launch off ski jumps into a large swimming pool.
For a small city of only 8,000 permanent residents, Park City punches way above its weight. However, walking down the quaint Main Street, the city exudes no sense of self-inflated importance. Rather, one is struck by the simple beauty of it all. Tourists and locals alike enjoy the many restaurants and bars (over 130 at last count, including the world’s only ski-in whisky distillery) in town, and there are plenty of art and photography shops with memorable Utah landscapes on display.
Everyone is friendly and seems to know each other, and when I asked people why they chose to live in there, most said they visited and simply decided to never leave. Despite its many awards, Park City’s greatest feat is that it has managed to reinvent itself many times over, each time uncovering more hidden treasures.
My conclusion is that maybe, after all, it’s actually the city and its people that is the real treasure.