Photo: Jon Whittle

The Canyons – Park City is the local ski hill. Watch them make a run for the big time.

by Roger Toll
The challenges of building a ski resort are the stuff of myth — and the giants who created the early American resorts are now cast in bronze, standing near base lodges. Rebuilding a ski resort, however, presents a whole new set of challenges, especially when the job involves re-imagining a carefree, come-as-you-are locals’ mountain into one of North America’s most prestigious ski resorts — without sacrificing the very qualities that make it so special in the first place.

And yet, after 18 months of intense analyses, discussions, and planning followed by a harried summer of construction, The Canyons — Park City’s perennial third-tier resort — is drawing back the curtain on the initial phase of a multiyear effort to rocket itself into the uppermost tier of North American ski resorts. It’s a hopeful reinvigoration of a locals’ hangout known more for its appeal to snowboarders and pedal-to-the-metal skiers than to the kind of wealthy destination visitors who frequent neighboring Deer Valley. And it’s a whole new approach to The Canyons, the mountain that could never seem to catch a break.

Perhaps the real question, though, is not whether The Canyons – Park City will succeed, it’s why it hasn’t before. The location is hard to beat: Park City is not only blessed with Utah’s deep, dry snow, it’s also a quick 30 minutes from Salt Lake City’s airport, making it convenient for destination visitors as well locals.

Then there are the natural assets of The Canyons itself: a series of ridge lines that drop perpendicularly from a common crest stretching two miles along a wide arc of mountain terrain. This makes for spectacular vistas and a fantastic bounty of skiing, with terrain — 4,000 acres of it — for every comer, from novices to experts.

But even with so much natural potential, The Canyons has endured a long, mogul-filled road to glory. The story began in 1968, when the ski area first opened as Park City West. By 1975 it had dropped the “City,” and as Park West it became known as the cutting-edge, “happening” mountain of the Wasatch Front. This being the era of freestyle skiing — hot-dogging, ballet, moguls, flips — the resort even offered a “Get-Hot” program that taught freestyle basics to wannabes. The price was right too, with inexpensive programs geared to young locals and youth groups from California, Wyoming, and other nearby states. In 1979, Park West was the first Utah resort to allow telemark skiers on its slopes and, in 1995 (the year it was renamed Wolf Mountain), the first in Park City to welcome snowboarders.