There’s a subtle distinction between being a tourist and being a traveler. As a tourist, you visit. You tour the most popular attractions, check off the obvious must-sees and must-dos. It’s a temporary experience. But as a traveler, you immerse. You sink yourself deep into the culture of the location. Sure, it may also be temporary, but you experience it differently—not through a tourist’s wide-eyes of wonder, but through a different lens, one that’s filtered by the knowledge of locals, a little harder around the edges with an air of underground knowledge you can only get from being a native. It’s kind of like having an older, wiser sibling who shows you the way through life. What you’re left with is a snapshot of the way life can be, a little moment you can tuck away in your pocket and keep with you forever.
I know all about this distinction because I live in New York City, but like most, I’m not a native. I moved 11 years ago, so it’s safe to say I’m considered a “real” New Yorker by New York standards (plus I’m jadedAF, and I know all the subway lines by heart). But prior to turning into a fast walker who never makes eye contact, I used to tour the city as a kid, bopping around from Time Square to the Fashion District, eating in chain restaurants, visiting the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, and loving every hectic minute of it. See, there’s nothing wrong with checking off the tourist boxes. You have to do it in some places. But aren’t the best travel moments the ones in which you immerse yourself in a new area, eat at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that turns out to be better than any Zagat-rated spot, get lost down a quaint side alley, or people watch lazily at a local café? (The answer is yes, duh)
With this in mind, on a recent mountain bike trip to Park City, Utah, we wanted to get a true experience of the area—not the tourist’s guidebook version, but a little taste of what it’d be like to live in the old mining town full of outdoor adventure. The best place to start: Go in the mid to late summer or early fall (we’re telling you now so you have time to plan ahead #adulting).
Obviously Park City is a ski bum’s dream, which is why visiting during the warmer months is a great way to get a taste of what the off-season is like. For a short time in September, the aspen trees explode with color. The team at White Pine Touring (which yes, despite the word ‘tour’ in the title is everything but touristy) and local professional freeride mountain biker Eric Porter showed us around. These guys are the real deal. They’re not the fake-smile, robo-tour guides; they live and breathe outdoor sports in this area. They’re like the big brothers you always wanted to show you how to have fun in Park City. Here’s the rundown:
Where to stay:
If you want a home-away-from-home, opt for a rental or AirBnB over a cookie-cutter hotel room. Check out Park City Lodging for listings. We landed one right on main street complete with a kitchen because there’s no better feeling than making your own coffee the morning before all-day rides.
What to pack:
BYOBike, if you like, but I chose to do a demo rental from Park City Bike Demos. It made it a lot easier not to have to haul a mountain bike on a plane. We kitted up every day in some of our favorite gear from Sombrio, one of the few brands that makes mountain bike apparel for women that’s actually cute and doesn’t make you look like a dude; Gore Bike Wear, which can’t be beat for performance and comfort; and pads from G-Form. For a long time, I refused to wear pads. I thought it made me look like a wimp, and I could never find a pair that felt comfortable. But before Park City, we spent five days in Moab, and I had a pretty bad crash. After that, I slipped on the G-Form pads and immediately felt more confident. In the head game that is mountain biking, confidence is key. The pads are super light and breathable (so they don’t feel bulky or hot around your knees or elbows). Plus, all the locals had pads on, too so I knew it wasn’t a big deal. PC’s extensive trails can get gnarly, after all, so it’s best to be prepared.
What to do:
Ride, duh. But seriously, Ride, eat, rinse, repeat. The White Pine guides showed us some of the best of the 400+ miles of Gold Level singletrack and trails in the area. We warmed-up on some lift-served trails at Park City Mountain. The next day, we shuttled to the WOW (Wasatch Over Wasatch) Trail, which was by far my favorite. It dropped us a short pedal away from Porter’s home where we messed around on the pump track he has in his backyard (sorry folks, that one is not open to the public). The last day, we whipped around the Deer Valley Resort flow trails and the unmodified singletrack that weaves through natural terrain like the Flagstaff Loop and Road to Ruby trails.
Where to eat and drink:
Now to the good stuff. We spent all day riding and each night taste-testing the best of Party City starting with dinner at Silver Star Café. Nestled in an old silver mine, you get a taste of history and an even better taste of the food you’ll find in PC. The live music helps set the scene. The next night, we hit up High West Saloon because the whiskey is world-class, but they also serve a unique selection of wine, beer, and handcrafted cocktails. The western mountain cuisine is carefully selected to pair well with your drink of choice. I highly recommend the Pretzel & Beer Cheese and every single dessert on the menu.
Next, we hit up Shabu, a small Japanese place tucked into the bottom floor on Main Street. Having grown up on the east coast, I have a very strict rule about never ordering fish in the mountains. Besides, now that I’m a “real” New Yorker, I’m a massive sushi snob—the kind of if-it’s-not-Nobu-I-won’t-eat-it sushi snob. Shabu in Park City proved me so, so wrong. Do not leave without the Wagyu Beef Hot Rock and the Yellowtail Jalapeño. I still dream about it.
While riding at Deer Valley, we did breakfast at the Deer Valley Grocery and Sunday brunch at The Glitretind at Stein Eriksen Lodge. This place is bougie, but no one cared when we all walked in wearing dirty mountain biking gear. Put the bacon on everything. Finally, we closed out with Riverhorse on Main, a slightly “fancier” establishment that’s perfect for a date night.