Park City, Utah, which happens to be the home of backcountry.com’s headquarters, was recently named “The Best Town in America” by Outside Magazine. The article cites “small-town friendliness, absurdly easy access, and five-star culture” as among the reasons Park City deserves the award for best active town. Sounds good, right? Lots of people agree with you. With a median home price of $765,600, though, Park City is a challenging place to live for some of us. So before you pack your U-Haul and head to Utah, there are some things you need to know.
I’ve lived in Park City for seven years, and one point Outside Magazine made really resonated with me—it’s a challenge to stick around. Most everything is more expensive than in neighboring towns, affordable housing is hard-to-impossible to come by, and the job market is narrow and competitive. Not all of us are filthy rich, and we’ve had to put some serious work into carving out a life here. Why do we bother when Salt Lake City is right there?
Photo Credit: Re Wikstrom
For me, it’s the fresh air, proximity to world-class ski resorts, year-round trail access, and vibrant community. These are the things that have made living in a tiny studio bearable, gotten me through 18-hour work days during Sundance, and inspired me to stick it out when other paths have seemed easier. The most important thing I’ve learned through all of it is that you need to have serendipity on your team to get by. Here are some of the things you should do to woo her.
You’re going to have to bust your ass and get creative to stick around if you’re paying your own way. Most of us wear a few hats (some of them might have been flat-brimmed) to make ends meet. Even the Mayor, Dana Williams, hustles to get by—slinging espressos and playing gigs with his band. Working smarter is the ultimate goal, and there are unrivaled opportunities to do that here, but it may take many double-shifts at Sundance to get there.
Embrace Sundance & the tourists
It’s true that some of these people will drive like drunken toddlers, scream on their cell phones while waiting for their coffee, and make you wait in a 30-minute line to get some toilet paper from the store, but they fill the coffers. Winter tourism makes this town what it is, free buses and all. You can make enough money during the 11 days of Sundance to survive the off-season or pay for your wanderlust. And remember, you’re still a tourist yourself. It takes 10 years or more to earn the title of local. The next time you find yourself on a tirade about how ‘they’ can’t drive or don’t know how to ski, get off it.
Be nice & tip well
The lifties, servers, shop owners, bartenders, ski & snowboard instructors, baristas, bus drivers, cab drivers, and other resort or service industry employees make this town tick. Bring them warm treats on cold days, be nice (especially when you’re in a rush), and tip them well for their services. Be courteous to everyone in the lift lines, on the streets, and on the trails. It’s a small town and you’ll run into everyone out there. Also, don’t talk on your cell phone while interacting with others. It’s rude, and is one of the best ways to get people to dislike you.
Photo Credit: Re Wikstrom
Own an AWD or 4X4 vehicle
The city won’t shut down over a few feet of snow, and you’ll have to drive through it with the rest of us. You don’t want to cause an accident, miss out on first tracks, or lose your job because of steep hills and deep snow. The free bus will take care of you all winter if you’re on the right route, but if you ever want to make it to the hallowed Cottonwood Canyons, your Civic isn’t going to cut it.
Don’t take yourself too seriously
We know. You’re going to ski 100+ days this year, you’re going to beat the Strava record for the trail everyone rides, you’ll get into all the Sundance parties, you’ll shred with pro athletes, and you’re training for another ultra. We’re happy for you, seriously, we are—just remember where you are now. Lots of people are doing the same things, and you can quickly sound like your own hype-person. Talk about the things you love, but don’t feel like you have to prove yourself to anyone. Be yourself and have fun.
These all apply whether you’re visiting for a week, here for the season, or in it for the long haul. Of course, if you want to live here, the first thing you’ll need to do is find a place to stay. If you know anyone in town, talk to them (this will surface the best spots). If you don’t know anyone, start looking in the summer and try to lock something in before October. You’re going to have to start out with housemates or live in a hotel room studio unless you can afford $900+ a month rent for a 1bdr with a real kitchen. Accept it for now, and you’ll move on later. The classifieds on craigslist, KSL, and The Park Record have been the most helpful. Make sure it’s on the free bus route if you don’t have a winter-worthy vehicle, want to save some cash, or want to do your part to reduce emissions. Good luck out there.
Park City Mountain Resort’s Town Lift brings you straight to the goods.