People loved going to the mountains in winter long before there was such a thing as skiing, and you don’t have to slap on boots and skis to have a great time in the nation’s best ski towns. But this is especially true in Utah, where there as many great things to do off the slopes as there are great ski resorts, a dozen of which ring Salt Lake City with easy access no matter where you are staying.
Winter activities in Utah to help you stay active
One big reason Utah offers so many alternative activities is the Olympics. The 2002 Winter Games were held here, and many of the facilities have been preserved for public use. The unique Olympic Park in Park City wows visitors summer and winter with its museum, guided facility tours that include a visit to the top of the ski jump, and public bobsled rides. Bobsled rides are conducted by a professional bobsled pilot and carry three guests through the 15 turns of the nearly-mile-long course, hitting speeds up to 80mph and forces of 5Gs. There are also three very extensive ropes courses (the Discovery, Canyon and Summit Adventure Centers), which are open all winter long, along with an extreme zip line and multi-leg zip line tour.
A separate facility in Salt Lake, the Utah Olympic Oval offers fewer adrenaline-pumping activities but has a unique two-hour Learn to Curl sessions most Fridays. It’s one of the only venues in the country where you can learn this sport, sort of like bocce or shuffleboard on ice. “The Fastest Ice on Earth”, the oval here was home to the Long Track Speed Skating competitions, and the 400-meter track is open several days a week for public skating sessions.
Park City is a sports-oriented town, so there is no shortage of gyms, spas, and non-skiing active options, from indoor tennis to swimming to yoga. If you like to stay in shape while you travel, Boom Cycle Room offers musically driven indoor spin classes, and the unique Cryo Lodge is the place for the suddenly “hot” freezing therapy trend that claims to have a revitalizing anti-inflammatory effect, in its Whole Body Cryosauna. Park City Spa Yoga offers very reasonably priced private yoga classes and packages for small groups who want a personalized class together and use of the spa facility.
Sundance Film Festival
Park City is home to the annual Sundance Film Festival, the most important festival in the US for independent films. For Sundance, held the last week of January, the town is always sold out but the slopes virtually empty, and if you come for the festival, every day is jam-packed with screenings and parties. If you’re thinking of visiting but not coming specifically for Sundance, it’s a good time to avoid Park City, as it is the busiest time of the year, even more so than Christmas week.
Art & culture
Park City itself is a big attraction, and while the historic area may have traded silver mining for white gold—deep, dry Utah powder—as its main source of revenue, it did not lose any of its Old West charm in the process. There are more than 100 independent boutiques in town, including many art galleries, museum-quality works at Meyer Gallery, Montgomery-Lee Fine Art and the Mountain Trails Gallery. There are outdoor gear stores, souvenir shops and in a nod to its cowboy roots, Park City is still a great place to shop for fine cowboy boots, belts, and leather goods, especially at nationally renowned bespoke Burns Cowboy Shop or the more affordable Park City Clothing Company.
The Park City Museum on Main Street only offers it free historic walking tours in the summertime, but the museum itself is open year-round and well worth a look, capturing the rich history of the area form the town’s founding in 1868 to the present.
There are more than 50 eateries in town, from casual to fine dining, some of the best restaurants in all of Utah, plus two microbreweries and one of the nation’s most award craft whiskey distilleries High West, which also operates an excellent restaurant.
Park City Food Tours offer a historic walking tour of the Main Street area with a culinary twist, stopping at four or five locally owned eateries to sample the works of top town chefs along the way. The three-hour tours are all owner-run, have been hugely popular with participants, and get rave reviews. They always start at the top of Main Street, moving downhill the whole way, using the free historic trolley to return, so the physical part is pretty low key. The eating, on the other hand, is a challenge, as it can get substantial and easily serves as your dinner. Tours are offered Tuesday and Thursdays from 4-7PM, with at least one-day advance ticket purchase required, and the Tuesday one is adult only. Both offer an alcoholic beverage pairing option or you can purchase cocktails or wine as you go.
Salt Lake City
As many of Utah’s ski resorts are either day operations with no lodging (Snowbasin, Powder Mountain) or are self-contained with no town (Alta, Snowboard, Brighton, Solitude), most of the action, dining and best non-skiing activates are in Park City, though larger Salt Lake City has the State’s single most vested attraction, Temple Square, home base of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Free guided tours are offered on the hour, 9 am-8 pm daily and include looks inside the magnificent temple and the performance venue of the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Choir rehearsals are open to the public almost every Thursdays evening (7:30-9:30 pm) and are a very popular attraction.
The other top spot for live performances is the historic Egyptian Theater in Park City, an iconic landmark of the town and important venue for the Sundance Film Festival, but the rest of the winter it serves as the town’s cultural hub and puts on a non-stop slate of live theater, movies, comedy performances, music, and dance. Park City Live is the town’s other major music venue, located in the historical War Veteran’s Memorial Building on Main Street.
A local’s favorite and a bit of a hidden gem, the Silver Star Café remains off the tourist radar because of its location, in a retail plaza serving nearby condos at the base of Park City ski resort’s Silver Star lift. It’s one of the region’s best (if not the best) restaurants, was featured on the TV show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (host Guy Fieri came for the signature Osso Bucco pork shank), and features innovative craft cocktails, but it also has long history of carefully curated live music, with acts coming hundreds of miles to perform here.