By Andrew Collins
A hip, gay-friendly and heavily developed ski community 30 miles southeast of Salt Lake, the handsome town of Park City attracts the same Range Rover counter-culturalists as Aspen, Colo., but it’s considerably more laid back and friendly.
In 1993, after many lesbians and gays boycotted Colorado because of its anti-gay rights initiatives, Park City lured some of the queer market by holding a gay ski week. The charming, historic mining town remains a popular getaway for ski and outdoors aficionados, as well as movie buffs who visit each January for the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. Any time of year, however, Park City offers plenty to keep you busy. You may stroll along historic Main Street (and the newer, lower Main Street), which contains dozens of upscale restaurants, galleries and boutiques. At the foot of Main Street, a gondola takes skiers (or sightseers) up the hill above town.
As a primary winter-sports venue during the 2002 Winter Olympics, Park City saw unprecedented exposure — and growth — during the months leading up to the games. Park City locals maintain a love-hate relationship with the legions of celeb-watchers, film fanatics, and black-clad scenesters who invade the town during Sundance.
The crowds can be extremely intense. On the other hand, there’s virtually no time of year with a greater gay and lesbian presence. Another advantage to visiting Park City during Sundance is that lift lines at the breathtaking ski areas are relatively short, as many visitors spend their days watching movies.
You may attend movies at Sundance either by purchasing single move tickets or purchasing a pass, which admits you to numerous films. Go to sundance.org for more information. You may also attend screenings at Slamdance, a smaller festival that promotes burgeoning filmmakers.
Jan. 4-8, Park City hosts a relatively modest but fun Utah Gay & Lesbian Ski Week. To register or learn more go to SAGASD.com. This modest but festive event consists of several days of great skiing at Utah’s resorts, plus a handful of lunches, dinners and nightclub outings.
Whether or not there are festivals in town, winter easily qualifies as Park City’s high season, a time when it’s often necessary to book hotel rooms several weeks ahead, and when prices tend to be high. If you’re there primarily to ski and snowboard, book a room at the posh Canyons Resort, one of the best — and largest — full-service ski properties in the nation, with two outstanding hotels (the luxury Grand Summit Hotel and the upscale, but less pricey, Sundial Lodge). The spa at the Grand Summit offers a full slate of fun and healthy treatments, including soothing mud pedicures and muscle-relaxing hot-stone therapy. The Grand Summit is also home to the excellent Cabin restaurant, known for its cioppino (tomato-based fish stew), mesquite-grilled steaks and the rich chocolate fondue dessert.
Another commendable downtown option is the Silver Queen, a handsome boutique hotel with 12 spacious one- and two-bedroom suites with kitchens, fireplaces, large-screen TVs with DVD players and high-speed Internet.
A larger downtown property, the gay-friendly Treasure Mountain Inn offers a wide range of accommodations, from studios to two-bedroom suites. It’s also the host of the Slamdance film screenings, and it’s home to a hip little breakfast restaurant called Morning Ray, which is a hit with locals.
If you’re looking for a condo rental, consider All Seasons Resorts, which represents eight condo compounds.
Park City abounds with great restaurants and bars. 350 Main serves some of the more creative fare in town, including black-pepper-crusted venison medallions with blackberry-shiitake jus and cranberry-orange marmalade. Head next door to the Spur Bar & Grill if you want to mingle with locals and nosh on simpler food, such as grilled buffalo bratwurst and smoked-turkey quesadillas.
Blind Dog Restaurant is a cool little spot with a trendy ambiance and such tasty food as cashew-crusted grouper with charred-tomato vinaigrette. Although the main dining room at Butcher’s Chop House is a bit stuffy, the side bar has a warm and cozy feel. You may order off the main menu (filet mignon, King crab legs) or from a light cafe menu, which still offers sizable portions and delicious food: chicken and papaya quesadillas, chop salad, ahi-tuna spring rolls.
Stylish Shabu serves delicious, so-called freestyle Asian cuisine, such as crab cakes and wontons over greens with pickled ginger and ponzu aioli, and sea bass with ginger, chive and a garlic-black bean paste; there’s live acoustic music on Friday evenings.
Chimayo serves creative Southwestern food, including pumpkin-seed-encrusted gulf shrimp stuffed with spinach, and grilled buffalo flank steak with wild mushrooms, corn, and poblano-potato gratin.
Wasatch Brewery Pub is fun and has played host to parties during gay ski week. Fill up on baby back ribs or coconut-and-beer-batter shrimp. Park City’s favorite coffeehouse is Wasatch Bagel Cafe, which serves wraps, panini sandwiches, bagels and all sorts of espresso drinks.
Although it’s set in a shopping center near the interstate, Loco Lizard Cantina is a slick space with above-average Mexican fare, such as chicken-mole enchiladas, poblano-corn chowder, and fish tacos. It’s a good bet if you’re hungry after scouring the nearby Tangier Outlet Shops, which are right off I-80, for bargains. Also on this side of town, in the Redstone development, is a Whole Foods supermarket, which sells gourmet and healthful prepared foods, sandwiches, soups, salads and the like — it’s great for take-out and indispensable for groceries if you’re staying someplace with kitchen facilities. Redstone also has a number of shops and restaurants, plus a movie theater.