I'm seated at a table in one of the finest restaurants in one of the finest hotels in all of the western United States, and yet they're giving away food… practically. From a table outside in the warm sunshine, beside a musician softly strumming American staples (Lyin' Eyes, anyone?), I look out across a green valley bordered by aspens and pines as a waiter serves me the first of my three courses (lobster corn chowder). The bill for all of it (the Eagles are served up free) comes to $30.
And yet, just a few kilometres down valley, Justin Bieber luxuriates in his new summer abode in Park City ("I love the mountains and the beautiful scenery in Park City, and I'm looking for a change," he told a US celebrity website), basketball demi-god Michael Jordan is teeing off at his private golf resort and Will Smith wonders which of the 10 bedrooms in his palatial ski retreat he'll sleep in tonight.
While Robert Redford and the film festival he started – the Sundance Film Festival, which has run every winter in Park City since 1981 – have showcased Park City's winter attributes across the globe (not to mention the 2002 Winter Olympics) bringing skiers, snowboarders and celebrity selfie-hunters to town in their thousands, no one comes here much at all in summer. There's no traffic jams and reservations are easy to come by even in the most fashionable restaurants – like Redford's own establishment, Zoom, smack-bang in the middle of town. A few hundred kilometres west of here, California bumps its prices up for a high season which lasts from June through October; but Park City cuts the price of its hotel rooms to as low as a fifth of its high season winter rate. The hotel I'm presently dining at – the Montage at Deer Valley – offers hotel rooms from $US345 ($472) a night. In winter, the tariff is as much as $US1500 ($2050) a night for the same room.
But I'm not here so much for the bargains as I am for the fact that every local I met in the winter I spent living in Park City told me the same thing: they came here for the winters, but ended up staying for the summers. Locals seem to endure winter just so they can be here for summer: surely there's something worth investigating in that? While I was happy riding the planet's most heralded snow through winter, I longed to see what was hiding underneath all that white powder. And I longed to be in Park City when the hordes of over-eager skiers here for Sundance (January), or President's Day Weekend (February), or Spring Break (March) had long departed, and when the aspens grew their pretty green leaves back so they could shake like hula dancers each time the wind blew through them. But most of all I longed to come when the temperature rose above the chilly winter sub-zero average, and hovered instead around the late-20s for four months straight.
Park City is the United States' prettiest silver mining heritage town – no matter what season you're calling in. There are 64 buildings mostly on the town's main street (called Main Street, just to keep it simple) on the National Registry Of Historical Places. In the 1860s fortune hunters came to the area looking for silver. Salons, luxurious hotels and stores were built to service the silver boom; and many of these grand old structures still stand today.
I hit historical Main Street just in time for the Park Silly markets, held each Sunday from June to September. There are group yoga classes in the street and buskers (Bieber is not among them) playing beside farmers selling local produce and locals eating fresh-imported Maine lobster rolls and sipping Bloody Marys. Cottonwood fluff blows across Main Street, gathering in gutters like summer snow, and flowers bloom in all shades of purple, yellow, red and white. American flags flutter in the breeze, hung proud from the grandiose verandahs of 150-year-old homes. Above me, ski runs carved from a mountainside of pine and spruce jut right out of the backs of the sprawling, multimillion-dollar heritage homes above town; one ski run even slices across the bottom of town, ending at a chairlift just 20 metres from where I'm standing on Main Street.
In among all the frivolity, locals ride mountain bikes to and fro: there's little use for cars around Park City in these warmer months. There's a restless energy around the place I recognise, but where in winter it oozed from anxious skiers dashing down Main Street on their way to fresh snow on the slopes, now it's from mountain bikers crossing town in a race to ride 650 kilometres of world-class trails. Park City was named the world's first Gold Level Ride Centre Destination by the International Mountain Bike Association last year, making it the single-most desirable mountain bike destination on the planet. There's all types of trails across the region, but some of the best lift-accessed downhill tracks can be found at Deer Valley.
There are three chairlifts in summer accessing 110 kilometres of twisting, turning single-track trails. There's no prettier alpine landscape outside Switzerland: grass-covered mountains roll on in every direction, while green valleys lie below, littered with wildflowers. In among this pretty mountain scene, steep runs are etched into sheer mountain faces. I ride switch-back trails under a perfect blue sky, through forests of aspens, and over bumps and jumps. Some trails are far too technical for me, but others meander their way through this privileged real estate, passing some of the most expensive homes in the United States – but a full-day lift ticket here costs just $40. For lunch I eat crab rolls looking out across the mountains at the Royal Street Cafe, then I stop for apres drinks a few metres up the mountain at one of the country's top ranked ski hotels, Stein Eriksen Lodge. My beer is served on a sprawling, sun-drenched deck by waiters resplendent in tailored European-made suits.
The action isn't all high adrenalin in summer, however. The biking trails that criss-cross this part of Utah are suitable for hiking too. And there's 15 championship golf courses all within 30 minutes of town, some designed by the biggest names in golf, like Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye. I tee off on the region's newest course, Canyons Golf Course. It threads its way across the base of the Canyons Village ski area five minutes drive from Main Street, rising and plummeting across 200 metres of altitude variation. There's swallows doing circle-work in the blue sky above me, while a chipmunk dashes across the fairway trying to avoid my ball as I tee off towards the Wasatch mountains. It's a tough, tight course that could bring even a pro unstuck; from elevated tees I hit down onto tiny targets below me, framed by the Uinta Mountains. The chairlift runs right above me on some holes, and fairways are lined with endless bunkers, some tee shots call for blind faith as I drive around dog-legs and out into oblivion. It's one of the more picturesque courses I've played, but then, I'm as happy playing the town's municipal course, whose fairways are lined with spruce and aspen trees and which carves its way between stunning homes close to Main Street, and which offers visitors $10 unlimited golf from 3pm through summer (and $30 for 18 holes the rest of the time).
There's also fly fishing – the nearby Provo, Green and Weber rivers are world-renowned blue ribbon trout streams and many of the hotels in town offer fly fishing packages in summer, while hot-air ballooning tours operate year-round 20 minutes away in the Heber Valley.
But for all the adventure pursuits in Park City's summertime, I find I'm most content doing nothing much at all. One evening I sit on the grass at Deer Valley's Outdoor Amphitheatre in the twilight with a picnic basket and a bottle of wine watching Smokey Robinson play to a few hundred locals, on another I taste local wines (and who knew Utah made wine?) at one of Park City's summertime wine festivals; but mostly I like to wander up and down the 150-year-old streetscape on Main St in the warm, lingering dusk, watching hawks circle in the pines above town and watching locals go about their business. During the Sundance Film Festival I was besieged on this same street by visitors desperate to find their favourite Hollywood hero, but in summer there's none of that distraction. Sure, Bieber's around here somewhere, in a 12-bedroom mansion among all those pines no doubt, and Michael Jordan is a regular in a sports bar on the edge of town near Wholefoods, and Forbes magazine just nominated Park City as one of its top 16 destinations to visit in 2016 – alongside Paris and Rio. But for now, Park City's summer charms remain a secret Robert Redford has no intention of sharing with the world.
Qantas offers direct flights from Sydney and Melbourne to LA and onward connections to Salt Lake City with codeshare partner American Airlines, see www.qantas.com.au, then take a 35-minute transfer to Park City, see www.allresort.com
Stay in a family condo just a few metres from historic Main St from $US220 a night at Park Station, see parkcitylodging.com, or stay in one of the ski world's finest hotels, the Montage at Deer Valley from $US345 a night, see montagehotels.com/DeerValley
THINGS TO DO
For a full list of activities on offer, restaurants, hotels, bars and cafes, see www.visitparkcity.com
Craig Tansley travelled courtesy of Visit Park City and Park City Area Lodging Association .