PARK CITY, Utah -- You may have missed Sundance Film Festival in January - and if you love cinema and celebrity spotting, it’s a must-go event - but there’s still a huge variety of reasons to visit this winter.
It’s not simply thanks to its postcard-like setting amidst snow-covered mountains soaring up to 10,000 feet into deep blue skies. Nor is it solely thanks to the incredible skiing, snowboarding, and other winter activities available at its three principle ski resorts — Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley Resort and The Canyons Resort. It’s not just due to its status as a liberal blue island in a sea of red, making it a natural choice for gay and lesbian travelers looking for some queer-friendly outdoor fun this winter.
It’s for all these reasons plus the genuinely friendly welcome you’ll receive whether whizzing down the slopes, sipping an après-ski drink at the lodge, or enjoying some up-and-coming rock band at a bar on Main Street downtown. If this isn’t enough, here are another seven reasons to put Park City on your travel gaydar this winter.
It’s gayer than you think
While Park City has no homo-specific bars, you’ll be warmly welcomed at just about every commercial venue throughout town. You’re also apt to find other gays and lesbians everywhere you go, particularly during the Sundance Film Festival, when you’ll find even more lesbian and gay folk, especially those in the entertainment industry.
As far as gay nightlife goes, most local queers get their gay on in nearby Salt Lake City — less than an hour away by car — which boasts a vibrant and diverse scene, much to the surprise of many visitors who assume SLC is as conservative as the rest of the very red state of Utah. It is not.
With its recent history of openly gay and lesbian elected officials and legal protections for LGBT citizens, Salt Lake is a very progressive community that is home to a large population of gays and lesbians. And ladies, if you like the sporty, outdoorsy type, you’ll find plenty of beautiful, athletic women here, straight and gay. Don’t be surprised if that statuesque woman you see hiking is actually a gold medal-winning snowboarder.
That could totally be a hot gay Olympian waddling up the slopes.
There’s a little bit of Austria in Utah
Park City offers lodging that runs the gamut from wallet friendly to budget busting, but one of the most charming properties in the area is the ski-in/ski-out Goldener Hirsch Inn, in the photogenic Silver Lake area of Deer Valley, with its festively lit and snow-covered evergreen trees.
The boutique-like Goldener is tucked discreetly into the side of the mountain between several other properties and tastefully appointed with authentic Austrian alpine furnishings and décor. The very high level of professional, friendly, attentive service, belies the fact that the property offers only 20 units. It also boasts an award-winning restaurant and bar-lounge known for its après-ski home-cured charcuterie platter, fresh-baked pretzel bagels, and calories-be-damned cheese fondue. Novice skiers or boarders (or just lazy ones) can have a staff member properly snap their boots and adjust their ski gear. They’ll even gather up and store your equipment for the night. One of their nicest rooms is 303, with full-on views of the ski slopes and lifts.
You can fire walk (and eat)
Skiing, boarding or just walking in the thinner area of Park City can help you work up a hearty appetite. There’s no better place to satisfy your hunger than Fireside Dining at Empire Canyon Lodge, featuring four European-style courses served from roaring stone fireplaces, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday evenings from 6 to 9 p.m.
Start at the Swiss raclette cheese station, where the server hands you a plate of freshly melted cheese. Head to the nearby accompaniment bar for house-prepared potatoes, onions, pickles, cured meats and more. Don’t miss the fresh-baked breads and house-made mustards and chutneys. (If it’s available, the cherry chutney is a crowd favorite.) A second fireplace offers a slew of meaty stews. A third has a slow-roasted leg of lamb, a house specialty.
Final stop is the dessert station, with chocolate, caramel and white chocolate Grand Marnier fondues (and lots of items for dipping). Along with dinner you can reserve a wintry 10-minute ride in a horse-drawn sleigh; it is $30 per sleigh, which holds 6 people. (Don’t worry: you’ll be swaddled in warm blankets). More adventurous types may wish to consider a trek to dinner on snowshoes, also available when you reserve dinner. With all the calories you’ll burn doing that, take at least two laps round the fireplaces.
You’ll enjoy an avalanche of options
While all beautiful, the three primary ski areas of Park City are all very different.
Deer Valley Resort, with its six easily accessible peaks, does not allow snowboarding so it has, perhaps the purest ski vibe of any of the three resorts.
Park City Mountain Resort allows both skiing and snowboarding, which grants its slightly younger, groovier vibe.
The Canyons Resort is the local favorite and it may be where you’ll stumble into young Olympic hopefuls just skiing or boarding on their day off. The Canyons may also be the most affordable, with its frequent deals and offers, including during Spring Gruv, usually held the end of March through early April.
If you want to guarantee seeing Olympic hopefuls and Olympic athletes, including medal-winners, head to Utah Olympic Park. Winter or summer you can watch athletes perform gravity-defying jumps (in the summer they ski jump into pools of bubbly water).
Be sure to check out the small but well-curated Alf Engen Ski Museum and Eccles 2002 Olympic Winter Games Museum.
Park City specializes in pick-me-ups — slopeside or in town
After a full day of slaloming down the slopes of The Canyons Resort, you’re ready for a much-needed après-ski break.
The recently-opened Alpine House services Canyons Club members only for breakfast and lunch, but opens to all at 4:30 p.m. for a fantastic service with lots of beer and wine choices and plenty of plates for sharing. The dining room, with its contemporary lodge décor, is airy. The service is not: It’s attentive, friendly, and professional.
If you’re on Main Street late afternoon, try après-ski at a chic new restaurant, Talisker on Main, The Talisker Club’s first-ever non-member dining establishment. During the winter, the outdoor space is transformed into a winter paradise with frozen fountains and furniture carved out of ice next to a blazing fireplace — a truly unique spot to check out or, if it’s not too cold, for an after-ski drink on Main Street.
Pampering yourself has never been easier
Muscles you didn’t even know you had will take a beating with all that schussing.
Pamper yourself at the new Spa at the Stein Ericksen Lodge, which underwent a top-to-bottom renovation resulting in over four times as much space. With a gorgeous warm-wood motif used throughout, a wide selection of exercise equipment, and interesting new treatments, like the Après Ski Muscle Strain Therapy and Soak, it was designed to banish the effects of a full day on the slopes. For a more classic deep-tissue or sports massage, ask for Brian.
If budget allows or you’ve got lots of Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints to burn, check into the brand new St. Regis Deer Crest Resort, oozing luxury from every corner, including the pampering Remède Spa, with its private ski beach, split-level infinity swimming pool and state-of-the art Athletic Club. The St. Regis also features its own funicular for accessing the ski resort.
The Wild West lives again
The High West Distillery, a welcome addition to Park City’s dining scene, recently opened to huge acclaim.
The first distillery opened in the state of Utah since the 1870s, it’s already won awards for its homemade whiskey (Rendezvous Rye) and vodka (Vodka 7,000 for 7,000 feet in altitude). The restaurant, whose owners proclaim it “the only ski-in gastro-distillery in the world,” is situated on two floors in a building meticulously restored using nearly 80% reclaimed materials, including a gorgeous bar-top; fashioned from a thick slab of hard wood found in a nearby lake. Try a flight of Rendezvous Rye to sample a range of distinctive High West whiskey.
SDGLN welcomes Ed Salvato as a regular contributor. Salvato has been called “the world’s foremost expert in gay travel.” You might remember him as editor in chief of OUT & ABOUT and The Out Traveler. He also oversaw travel as senior online editor for Gay.com, PlanetOut.com and Advocate.com. He has logged over a million miles visiting countless destinations on six continents. Antarctica is next on his list. Reach him at Ed@EdSalvato.com.
This article was originally published at TripOutGayTravel.com.