Utah’s Summertime Playground

June 24, 2008
Filed under Destinations

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Utah's Summertime Playground For many years we had trekked to Park City, Utah, for its world-famous snow skiing. We had wondered, as we shushed down the powdery slopes, what it would be like in the summer. It was time to find out.

Not so surprising, everything that we remembered being white was green, but far from being a sleepy ski town in the off-season, Park City was full of more activities than we had time for. But no snow! We knew skiing was out — or was it?

The extraordinary Utah Olympic Park and its three-story Joe Quinney Winter Sports Center, home of the Alf Engen Ski Museum and the Intermountain Ski Hall of Fame, were in full swing. This was the site of many events during the 2002 Winter Olympics.

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We took the full tour, with stops at the 1,335-meter bobsled/luge/skeleton track, one of the fastest in the world. We stood on the observation deck above two of the six intimidating Nordic jumps, the highest altitude in the world. Even in the summer, there’s almost always someone practicing on the artificial turf, and it was thrilling to see a competitor rocketing down at 55 mph and flying a distance of up to two and a half football fields.

We stood around the freestyle skiing practice pool to watch Olympic-bound athletes spin and twist through the air. For a quick thrill, we screamed down the Xtreme Zipline, the steepest in the world, which plummets 1,450 feet in 55 seconds. For the maximum rush, we took a ride in the “tourist” bobsled with a professional driver, banking around corners at 80 mph with four G’s of force. No snow. No problem. In the summer the sleds are fitted with special wheels. It’s an experience we’ll never forget.

We had left our skis at home, but we knew there would be someplace to mountain-bike. Deer Valley transforms itself from a world-class ski resort to a bicycler’s paradise, rated by Mountain Bike Action as one of the 10 best mountain-bike destinations. Never mind riding uphill. Bikers and bikes are whisked up the mountain on the ski lifts where they are met by an array of exciting options, including 50 miles of panoramic trails, from beginner to very expert. Being beginners, we decided the prudent course was to take a lesson. There was much to learn about braking and turning on these all downhill runs. It was a definite confidence-builder.

Utah's Summertime Playground

Riding down a hill is exciting, but some of the hundreds of miles of bike trails in the Park City area go up, too. To gain some additional techniques for general riding, we enrolled in White Pine Touring Center’s Mountain Biking 101. Here we learned both downhill and uphill techniques, gear selection and how and when to dismount if you’re in over your head.

Park City Mountain Resort is the second of three ski areas in the valley, and it has developed some amazing summer fun for the whole family. The most exciting was the Alpine Coaster. Individual two-person toboggans speed down a set of rails, dropping 4,000 feet as the track swoops and banks through aspen glades and pine forests. There was also a climbing wall, miniature golf and a kids amusement park with rides and games.

Speaking of climbing walls, while we were learning how to mountain-bike, Charlie Sturgis, founder of White Pine Touring, invited us to join one of the rock-climbing classes. All the necessary equipment was supplied, and the instruction was first-class. We scaled walls we might have thought impossible, but with the proper technique, we felt like Spiderman. We were safely held with a rope and harness, and an expert always belayed us.

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For something a little less challenging, early one morning we met Keith Lundskog, owner and chief pilot of Wasatch Ballooning, for a sunrise flight over the valley. Taking off from a field near the Heber airport, we floated peacefully into the start of another beautiful day.

Already being in Heber, just a few minutes from Park City, we heard that the Championship Sheepdog Trials were being held just up the hill at Soldier Hollow. It was amazing to see these extraordinarily intelligent border collies work with herds of obstinately unpredictable sheep.

It was dinner time, and we had planned ahead. Climbing aboard a vintage car on the Heber Valley Railroad, the old steam engine No. 618 belched smoke and chugged down Provo Canyon along the sparkling river. On the way home, we stopped at a private siding where we enjoyed a delicious barbecue dinner and live music before heading back to town.

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The Provo River has been endorsed as a “blue ribbon fishery,” so we decided to unpack our Sage rods and wet a line. Not knowing the best spots, we contacted Rocky Mountain Outfitters, and in the company of certified guide John Patching Sr., we were catching nice rainbow trout almost as soon as our flies hit the water. We kept a couple to lay on the grill back at camp. There’s nothing as tasty as a trout you just caught yourself.

For our trip, home base was the Park City RV Resort, just minutes from all the action. Huge pull-through sites can accommodate long trailers and big rigs, though we preferred a quiet site down by the little creek that borders the resort. Every amenity that we could imagine was available, from a new pool and jacuzzi to wireless Internet.

There are endless hiking trails in the Wasatch Mountains surrounding Park City, but there’s a faster and easier way up to the top than walking. Karen Hardy wrangles the string of horses for Rocky Mountain Outfitters, and she knew a ridge where we could get a good view of the slopes we have so often skied down. Early fall colors were already touching the hillsides. As we stood gazing across the valley at the green slopes of Deer Valley and Park City, we couldn’t help thinking, skiing is wonderful, but for a great outdoor adventure, who needs snow?

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