Vail and Park City… which ski resort is better?
Or at least, which one is better for you?
I’ve got your answers. I used to live in Colorado and skied Vail nearly every weekend. And these days, my good friend has a place in Park City, which means I take an extended trip or two every year, for a true local’s tour.
In this post, I’m sharing all that insider info with you!
- General Thoughts: Vail vs. Park City
- SlopeLab Ratings
- Mountain Stats Comparison: Vail vs. Park City
- Ski Towns: Vail, Colorado vs. Park City, Utah
- Snow at Vail vs. Park City
- General Terrain Comparison
- Final Thoughts
- More Reading
General Thoughts: Vail vs. Park City
Both of these legendary mountains are owned by Vail Resorts, and each one is a crown jewel in the company’s impressive portfolio of destinations.
Here are my quick thoughts between the two:
- While Park City is a larger mountain, Vail actually has better terrain for the average beginner, intermediate, and advanced skier.
- Expert skiers will much prefer Park City for its endless double black bowl skiing.
- Those wanting to experience an authentic mountain town may prefer Park City.
- Those wanting the ultimate “resort experience” may be happier at Vail.
Let’s take a closer look at all the categories.
Here are my ratings for Park City and Vail, pulled from my rankings page of all the ski resorts I’ve ever skied:
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We’ll take a closer look at all those categories throughout this article.
Mountain Stats Comparison: Vail vs. Park City
wdt_ID Category Vail Park City 1
On paper, these are two pretty similar mountains, with the biggest difference being the overall size.
That said, for all but the most advanced and expert skiers willing to hike all over the place, the two mountains feel pretty similar in size. And as we’ll discuss later, bigger isn’t always better, since there’s several categories where Vail excels, despite being “smaller.”
Both Vail and Park City are located in the famous Rocky Mountains, but each one is in an entirely different range.
Vail sits in the heart of Colorado. It’s about 2 hours from downtown Denver or 2.5 hours from the Denver airport.
Park City is located one state over in Utah, just 45 minutes outside of Salt Lake City. While Park City is still in the Rockies, it’s technically part of Utah’s Wasatch Mountain Range, which is subject to different storm cycles than the Colorado resorts across the border.
Ease of Access
Depending on your flight situation, Park City is a little easier to get to.
At just 45 minutes from the curb of the airport to the base of the ski resort, Park City is one of the most convenient ski resorts in the country. You could book a morning flight, land in SLC, ditch the rental car and hop in an affordable uber, and be skiing by afternoon. Can’t beat that!
Vail is also pretty close to the airport, but it’s the last stop on Denver’s infamous stretch of “I-70 Resorts.” Plus, as the Denver population has exploded, so has traffic out of town and into the mountains. So not only is Vail nearly 2 hours farther from the airport than Park City, but the region’s bumper to bumper traffic jams often adds 30+ minutes to an already longer commute.
Of course, Vail does have a small regional airport just minutes from the mountain, but bewarned that Eagle Regional is one of the more troublesome airports in the country, according to the data.
Ski Towns: Vail, Colorado vs. Park City, Utah
Both Vail and Park’s City’s ski towns are legendary, but I prefer Park City’s for a few reasons.
Park City’s ski town resolves around its character as a historic mining town. To this day, the place carries that authentic charm with a whimsical main street area, which has now been converted to tons of independently owned bars, restaurants, and shopping. Oh, and did I mention the aptly named “Town Lift” runs right into the middle of main street?
By comparison, Vail’s ski town revolves mostly around the “Vail Village” – which was recently developed in the 1960s and 70s to serve the ski resort. As a result, I find it has a little more of an “amusement park” vibe than the authentic history of Park City. Either way though, Vail’s village has it all these days… Vail’s visitors can find endless restaurants, bars, shopping, and night life, plus some truly unique experiences, like a restaurant at the top of mountain, requiring a gondola and snowcat ride to reach!
Mountain Vibe & Atmosphere
Once upon a time, Park City felt like a very different place than Vail. But now that both places are owned by the same parent company, I find them to have a very similar vibe and atmosphere overall. Both mountains now feature “Epic” branding and similar clientele.
That said, Vail is clearly the more international destination. Every time I visit, I hear more languages spoken at Vail than anywhere else I’ve ever skied! Likewise, Vail’s reputation as the ultimate luxury in skiing means that the town itself feels more high-end and catered to pampering than Park City’s numerous bars, saloons, and other hangouts.
Neither mountain is undiscovered, but Vail is usually busier than Park City.
What can you say? Vail’s reputation as possibly THE world class mountain has been running strong for 60+ years, which means it’s one of the first places most skiers begin their trip planning.
Park City is also popular and has experienced unprecedented growth in recent years, but I find the lift lines are usually a little shorter than Vail.
Snow at Vail vs. Park City
On the whole, Vail gets more snow than Park City.
Vail averages over 350 inches of snow per year. That’s a number that’s only matched by a small section of Park City (Jupiter Bowl) whereas the rest of Park City’s sprawling resort averages closer to 250 inches.
Vail is also about 1,500 feet higher in elevation than Park City, which always helps preserve snow.
All ski resorts are beautiful, but I prefer Vail’s scenery over Park City’s.
Vail actually has my favorite scenery of all Denver’s “I-70” resorts… it’s far enough into the Rockies that the peaks start getting more dramatic and postcard worthy than it’s neighbors. (And Park City, for that matter.)
Compared to Vail, Park City’s views are a little less dramatic. The mountains appear more like large rolling hills than the towering Rockies at Vail.
General Terrain Comparison
Vail and Park City are two of the largest ski resorts in North America, so you can rest assured that each one has tons of whatever you’re looking for.
That said, after Park City’s recent combination with next door neighbor The Canyons, Park City is now several thousand acres larger than Vail. In fact, Park City is officially the largest ski resort in the United States!
Bigger isn’t always better though, so let’s take a closer look at the terrain comparison by ability level.
Vail vs. Park City for Beginners
I find Vail to be a better mountain for beginners.
Park City’s green terrain is a little more limited than Vail. On the Park City side of the resort, there’s basically only two green runs, and one of them is a crazy-busy main artery that skiers of all ability levels must take down to the base. As a result, it can be extremely stressful for beginners when more advanced skiers buzz by them at mach-speed on their way to wherever they’re trying to go. (In a hurry, of course.) The Canyons side of the mountain does have a more peaceful beginner-only section, but it’s pretty small and doesn’t have the best views.
By comparison, Vail has several parts of the mountain designated as beginner only, such as the Sourdough Express chairlift. Even for lifts that service multiple ability levels, there’s almost always an easier green track down that should give beginners some relief.
Vail’s beginner terrain is also special in that a lot of it runs right up to the highest peaks of the mountain, giving beginners that oh-so-addicting “top of the world” feeling that’s hooked so many of us over the years.
This is an extremely close category and will probably boil down to personal preference.
My personal preference? I like Vail’s blue terrain a little more than Park City’s.
Park City’s trail map is absolutely loaded with blue terrain, maybe more so than any other mountain. So, it definitely wins on sheer variety. That said, a lot of Park City’s blue runs are shorter than they appear on the map, or are otherwise mostly people-movers rather than serious runs. (This applies to the entire Colony area in the middle of the Canyons side of the map)
While Vail doesn’t have quite as many blue runs as Park City, I find that Vail’s blues are longer, faster, and just a little more fun overall. And for confident intermediates, Vail has several easier black runs that can be a great challenge.
While Park City is no slouch when it comes to black diamond skiing, Vail might have the best advanced terrain on the continent.
Vail’s frontside has plenty of fun black runs, but it’s Vail’s legendary “Back Bowls” and “Blue Sky Basin” which put the resort into a category of its own for the advanced skier. Hardcore skiers will complain that Vail isn’t steep enough, but this criticism is actually a dream come true for us mere mortal advanced skiers. The Back Bowls alone are single black diamond galore, with thousands of acres of moderately pitched bowl skiing. The options are seriously endless, and I’m not sure another mountain has this much high quality black diamond skiing in one place.
Park City also has tons of great black diamond skiing, but it’s a little more spread out, meaning advanced skiers may have to work a little harder to find it.
Vail vs. Park City for Experts
Expert skiers will probably like Park City more.
For one, Park City has the legendary “Jupiter Bowl” – a double-black-diamond-only area that feels like a separate resort entirely from the loads of casual skiing closer to the mountain village. From here, expert skiers can hike to hundreds of acres of steep, expert bowls. On the Canyons side of the resort, a similar experience can be found off Ninety-Nine 90 Express (double blacks only) and Murdoch Bowl (double black hiking terrain.)
Nothing at Vail really compares to this level of expert terrain. The criticism from experts that “Vail is too flat, bro!” holds some truth, especially when you look at the trail map and notice that double black terrain is almost entirely absent.
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Really, you can’t go wrong with either of these world-class mountains.
Personally, I prefer Vail’s skiing slightly, because I think it caters a little better to beginners, and as an intermediate/advanced skier myself, Vail’s huge back bowls and fun frontside groomers fit my style a little more. But I also know several expert skiers who favor Park City’s hike-to terrain.
That said, for off-mountain activities, I much prefer the Park City’s incredible ski town. And Park City’s ease of access can be a huge advantage.
Happy skiing, no matter which resort you choose!