America is hardly short of ski resorts. Between the states of Colorado, California and Utah alone there are literally dozens, making choosing one a tricky proposition.
Park City would suggest that decision has become a lot easier. Its three resorts – Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR), Canyons and Deer Valley – have always had a lot going for them. For a start, they're only a 35-minute drive from Salt Lake City airport, making them some of the most accessible resorts in the country. Thanks to some dateline wizardry, you can leave Australia in the morning and be skiing that afternoon.
Then there's the snow. Some ski experts rate Utah's powder second only to Japan's. It might not get as much (around nine metres a year) but what it does is light, dry and a joy to ski.
And then there's the welcome. I found Park City to be one of the friendliest ski towns I've visited. Without exception, every waiter, shop assistant and lift operator was genuine, hospitable and happy to be there.
North America's largest ski fields owner, Vail Resorts, bought Canyons and PCMR in 2014 and spent $US50 million ($72 million) on upgrades prior to the current season, with new restaurants and improved infrastructure, and a high-speed gondola between the two resorts, creating America's largest single ski area with a thigh-burning 2954 hectares of terrain.
So if you're not already a Park City convert, here's what you need to know.
Canyons is the largest of the three resorts with 1619 hectares of skiable terrain, 182 trails, 19 lifts and three terrain parks – even leaving aside the extra terrain with the PCMR connection, there's more than enough here to keep most people happy for days.
The new gondola also provides easier access to additional terrain via a new unload point at Pine Cone Ridge and allows skiers and boarders to dive into Iron Mountain at Canyons and Thaynes Canyon in PCMR.
Canyons has a buzzing base area with a central amphitheatre and stage surrounded by a halo of restaurants and bars. When we visited on a Saturday there was a party atmosphere with a band playing, people dancing in their ski boots and others around fire pits enjoying cold beers and free WiFi. There's even a balloon artist for the kids.
Canyons and PCMR have Vail Resorts' Epic Mix system; an impressive technology that tracks things like how many vertical metres you've skied and which lifts you've taken, via your ski pass. This information can then be accessed, shared and compared with your fellow skiers via a smartphone app. Be warned: apres ski will never be the same again.
Staying there: The Waldorf Astoria is a master-class in refined elegance with spacious rooms and an indulgent Asian-inspired spa. See parkcitywaldorfastoria.com.
Eating there: Named one of Utah's 25 Best Restaurants in 2015, The Farm offers a seasonal menu specialising in sustainable local produce. See canyonsresort.com.
More info: See canyonsresort.com.
PARK CITY MOUNTAIN RESORT
PCMR has been the biggest benefactor of Vail Resorts' upgrades; not only can skiers and boarders access neighbouring Canyons via the new eight-person, high-speed gondola, but PCMR's existing infrastructure has also been improved, helping reduce bottlenecks and lift lines.
King Con chairlift has been upgraded from a four-person to a high-speed, six-person lift and Motherlode upgraded from a fixed-grip triple to a high-speed, four-person lift. Height phobics will be delighted to hear that Town Lift – the chairlift that whisks you up the mountain from the heart of Park City – has had a safety bar added; it was an unwelcome test of nerves first thing in the morning.
PCMR also has more dining options, with a new 500-seat Miner's Camp restaurant at the base of Silverlode lift plus improvements to the existing Summit House restaurant.
PCMR isn't that much smaller than Canyons (1335 hectares of skiable terrain, 114 runs and 16 lifts) but it has a more intimate feel. The terrain isn't as spread out and because everyone gets funnelled into a handful of runs towards the end of the day, it can get busy. The new infrastructure should help to alleviate that.
What won't change is its convenience. If you're staying in Park City and don't want to take a shuttle to Canyons or Deer Valley, PCMR is a few minutes' walk away. The other advantage of being in town is having access to a greater selection of restaurants, bars and cultural options such as art galleries, cinemas and museums.
Even if you decide to base yourself at Canyons or Deer Valley, be sure to take a post-dinner stroll along Park City's Main Street. With its timber-fronted heritage buildings, public artwork and festive fairy lights, it's a delightful spot for an evening promenade.
Staying there: Ideally located on Main Street, Main & SKY offers modern, luxurious all-suite accommodation with stylish bathrooms and outdoor hot tubs. See skyparkcity.com.
Eating there: Riverhorse on Main has won a slew of awards for its upscale American fare which it skilfully pairs with fine wines and live music. See riverhorseparkcity.com.
More info: See parkcitymountain.com.
DEER VALLEY RESORT
It wasn't until halfway through my first morning at Deer Valley that I realised something was missing: snowboarders. The resort is one of only two in Utah that is solely for skiers. As one Deer Valley employee put it, "It's not that we have anything against snowboarders, we just feel that people should have a choice."
It's a choice that has served it well. The resort was voted the US's best ski resort at the 2014 World Ski Awards and is consistently ranked number one for service, on-mountain food and grooming by the readers of SKI Magazine.
Deer Valley has three high-end, ski-in/ski-out resorts – the Montage, the St Regis and the Stein Eriksen Lodge.
The Montage is the most family-friendly, with a comprehensive children's program for kids aged 5-12 plus casual dining options such as Daly's Pub with billiards, arcade games and a bowling alley. Looking for a more sophisticated, urban feel? Check out the St Regis with its butler service, slope-side ice bar and nightly champagne sabring. For sheer star-power, though, you can't beat Stein Eriksen Lodge, which is Utah's only Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond hotel. Flawless service, an opulent spa and an award-winning restaurant helped it claim World's Best Ski Hotel at the 2014 World Ski Awards.
Deer Valley might be Park City's smallest resort (819 hectares of terrain, 21 lifts and a 914-metre vertical drop), but thanks to a strict limit on the number of lift passes sold each day, it never feels crowded.
The terrain is more suited to intermediate rather than advanced skiers, which is just as well because you'll spend half your time gawping at the proliferation of extravagant homes lining the slopes. The resort is a magnet for celebrities but don't expect to bump into one in the lift queue. As one local put it, "If celebrities want to be seen, they go to Aspen. If they want to go on holiday, they come here."
Staying there: Ideally located halfway up the mountain, Stein Eriksen Lodge is a rustic haven of leather sofas, open fireplaces and flagstone floors. See steinlodge.com.
Eating there: For killer burgers and Utah's largest range of bourbon, check out Burgers & Bourbon at the Montage. See montagehotels.com.
More info: See deervalley.com.
Qantas flies to Salt Lake City via Los Angeles and Dallas/Fort Worth. Phone 13 13 13, see qantas.com.au.
The Epic Pass provides unlimited access to 12 US ski resorts (including PCMR and Canyons but not Deer Valley) during the 2015-16 winter ski season and, for the first time, Australia's Perisher resort in 2016 (buy a 2016 pass for Perisher and it'll give you Vail Resorts skiing in 2016-17). Cost $US769, see epicpass.com. International visitors can also buy a TRIP pass which provides access to all three Park City resorts for $US84 a day. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details. Lift passes at Deer Valley start at $US120 a day. See deervalley.com.
Rob McFarland was a guest of Park City Chamber & Visitors Bureau.
FIVE MORE WINTER ACTIVITIES IN PARK CITY
Yoga. On a paddleboard. In a volcanic crater filled with bath-warm mineral water. What's not to like?
MAKE YOUR OWN SKI POLES
Former US ski team member Bryon Friedman set out to find an alternative material for ski poles that was durable and sustainable. He found it in bamboo. Make your own customised set at Soul Poles. See soulpoles.com.
Reach speeds of up to 100 km/h as you hurtle down the bobsled track used during the 2002 Winter Olympics. See utaholympiclegacy.org.
GO FLY FISHING
For a change of pace, try your hand at trout fishing from the snow-covered banks of the Provo River. See allseasonsadventures.com.
TRY NORDIC SKIING
Learn the graceful art of cross-country skiing with expert guides from White Pine Touring. See whitepinetouring.com.