I’ve never been dog sledding. It’s never been on my agenda or come close to circling my brain stem. If I had a bucket list, yelling "mush" at team of yelping huskies like Yukon Cornelius wouldn’t even be crossed out in its margins. Yet, there I was, stomping on a metal brake from the back of a six-person sled, barreling through the snow-covered meadows of the Wasatch Mountain Range in Park City, Utah, grinning like some jerk who just won the lottery and wasn’t going to tell his spouse.
As a guest of Canyons Resort and its marquee hotel, Waldorf Astoria Park City, I was in town to scout the different paths to the Sundance Film Festival, to check the December powder, try out the brand new 2,111-foot zipline tour, and dine at some of the city’s hottest restaurants. Dog sledding was on the itinerary, too, but so was a private Scotch tasting at the infamous High West Distillery. Some things sound immediately more important.
To get to Canyons Resort’s 4,000 acres of varied terrain, all you have to do is fly to Salt Lake City and drive 35 minutes out of its eerie smog. Then it’s mountains, mountains, farms, and mountains. For me, the first evening was all about clasping my hands behind my back and strolling through Waldorf Astoria’s property–an award-winning spa, a fitness facility with a Kinesis Studio wing, a pool and two hot tubs steaming in the back courtyard–but it was also about the throbbing elevation headache. When your hotel sits 6,700 feet above sea level, pack Advil and pound water. Or vice versa.
Once my head cleared, I descended to the hotel’s ground floor to the world debut of Slopes by Talisker, an upscale restaurant headed by Salt Lake magazine’s “Best Chef in Utah of 2011,” John Murcko, who is hell-bent on using locally sourced and seasonal ingredients to offer dishes like the Yukon Territory Arctic Char with spicy tomato jam and artichoke puree, a Pistachio Venison with elderberries, and a Berkshire Pork Tenderloin sitting atop caramelized onions and a cranberry gastrique. An extensive wine menu and knowledgeable spirits team ensures everything is paired perfectly, just in time for this winter’s film festival.
The next morning I was introduced to over two dozen huskies and malamutes all howling to be patted and scratched, to be told they were definitely good boys and girls. After a few minutes of wiping away the slobber from my ski pants and some detailed instructions on how to lean and apply the brake, I found myself being pulled past a frozen reservoir while two malamute puppies jogged in our wake. I was a time traveling Jack London, keeping my eyes peeled for moose and avalanches. It was truly exhilarating. On our way back to base, we stopped for spiked hot chocolate and I actually felt hair sprout around my nipples. How was dog sledding never on my agenda?
A few hours later I’m dangling my legs over the Orange Bubble Express, America’s most technologically advanced and first heated chair lift. A warm skier is vertical skier, after all. December’s snowfall has been almost non-existent, but a dozen or so runs at Canyons Resort have been painted white by snow machines. On Canyons’ retainer, former Olympian Kaylin Richardson acts as our guide, handing out much-appreciated compliments like Altoids. I carve a few gentle turns and check out the panoramic mountain views.
Then it’s off to the hot tubs before making our way to Park City’s historic Main Street and the only ski-in gastro-distillery in the world: High West Distillery. Small-batch, mountain-crafted, award-winning whiskeys and vodkas, all sipped (slugged) in a rustic building that was once a livery stable in the late 1890s. With a sufficiently warmed throat, I floated through plates at Talisker on Main, Salt Lake magazine’s Best Restaurant in Park City of 2011. Everything was sublime.
On my last day, I squeezed in a morning of skiing before strapping myself to a 2,111-foot long wire to stare down the side of Lookout Peak. What exactly do you think about when zipping 45 miles per hour, 140 feet above a canyon floor dotted with trees and rocks and skiers and snow shoers? Becoming a superhero; yes. Figuring out how to make that superhero storyline into a Sundance film; maybe. This month’s iPhone bill, Monday’s interview, Mitt Romney’s Joker-like smile; not a chance. My mind raced faster than my body, and by the time my feet hit solid ground, I felt refreshed and ready to sew myself a cape, find a director, and hammer out a storyboard.
Things came to a close with an insider’s look at The Farm, a modern fine-dining spot literally at the foot of the slopes that only serves ingredients pulled from within 200 miles of Park City. Exposed wood, textures and tile matched the unobstructed view of the outside elements. Chef Murcko prepared several signature dishes in the open kitchen while discussing his career, and later, while sitting at the table devouring Chopped Creminelli Salad, Roast Pumpkin Soup, and Silver Bean Espresso Rubbed Beef Tenderloin, I tried my damnedest to slow time, or at least figure out a way to deliver my scraps to my team of huskies.