Opening day at Miners Camp lodge
December 11, 2015
The new Miners Camp lodge at Park City opened a week ago Friday. It’s the replacement for the Snow Hut, and is now the heart of the interconnected Park City/Canyons. They are still testing and tweaking the gondola, with the opening coming soon — at this point as dependent on snow as much as mechanical stuff. They spent more than $50 million over the summer. A single project that big would be complicated enough. This was split over several projects and several contractors. They remodeled two lodges, nuked and replaced the Snow Hut, replaced two lifts, built the gondola over difficult terrain, improved some ski runs, graded some new ones, and plumbed in a bunch of new snow making.
About a million moving parts were brought together in a very short time. And it worked. Everybody involved was almost giddy with excitement and the relief of having pulled it off successfully. Everybody working at the new restaurant was eager to show it off, and seemed genuinely proud to be a part of it. They should be. It’s a great improvement to the resort.
My plan had been to arrive at the new lodge early enough to get first flush, but I suspect that honor went to one the employees who were there getting the kitchen fired up before I was out of bed. I had to commemorate opening day with lunch instead. That was definitely a better choice.
I remember when the Snow Hut opened. I don’t know the year, but it was a long time ago. It was built back in the days when on-mountain food consisted of hamburgers, hot dogs, canned chili, and fries. It was a simple menu, and could be cranked out in a simple kitchen. There was no arugula. Gluten hadn’t been discovered, let alone set free. Coffee was just coffee. As traffic at the resort grew, the Snow Hut was barely able to keep up with an average day. By the 1990s, the Snow Hut had developed a kind of endearing, retro funkiness. Sitting on the big deck on a sunny day was a pleasant break, though hardly a gourmet experience. As the decades went by, the "endearing" part wore off. The Snow Hut was well past its expiration date years ago. Trying to serve a complicated menu from a canned-chili kitchen never worked.
The new Miners Camp is beautiful. It’s not baroque like the lodges at Snow Basin. It’s a simple building, nicely done but not excessive. It’s brand new, but when you walk in, it is exactly the building that should have been there for 20 years. It’s immediately comfortable and almost instinctive. It feels new, but not strange. The ketchup is right where you expect it to be. It’s barely a week old, and it feels like it’s always been there. It’s a building design that Vail has used at other resorts, so they have been able to work out the bugs. It feels like a great balance of comfort and efficiency. Behind the almost homey-feeling dining room and serving area, there is an industrial-sized kitchen. Lunch during the holidays shouldn’t be a problem.
The menu has lots of options, including Utah lamb, salads (with arugula), classic burgers, and Mediterranean options. There’s something for everybody. I had a great meatloaf sandwich. The condiment bar included sautéed onions and mushrooms. It was all very civilized. It seems efficient enough that the civility will survive on a busy day. Lunch is no longer a contact sport.
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The group I was skiing with kept changing as some went down to work and others showed up late. I was in and out of the lodge several times when each new arrival wanted to go see it. There was a coffee stop, a brownie stop and finally a late lunch. Everybody was checking out the prices. If you aren’t paying attention, it’s very easy to drop $30 on lunch. A sandwich, drink, fries and dessert add up in a hurry. On the other hand, the sandwich I had was huge, and the extras weren’t necessary. The portions are "American" sized, and could easily be split. I powered through a quarter-acre brownie alone, but certainly could have shared it with the rest of the group.
The new lodge didn’t come cheap, and it will take a long time to amortize that cost selling one meal a day for just 90 days a year. When we’re paying less than $600 for a season pass, it’s got to come from somewhere. It’s a different business model, but I kind of like it. The decision on how much to eat, or whether to eat at all, is completely up to me. And besides, a brownie that good is worth $5.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.