When the winter winds blow and snow accumulates on your doorstep, there are basically two things to do: either stay inside with furry rabbit slippers and a cuppa hot chocolate, or hit the slopes. I was tempted to do the former, but I opted to do the latter, and am I glad I did.
If you are ready to ditch the slippers, then pack your ski threads and head to Utah, where life’s a slope.
All Utah ski resorts are not created equally. Just like people, each area has its own unique personality and style. Alta Ski Area, for example, currently celebrating 71 years of great skiing, is legendary for its pure alpine ski experience. It’s Switzerland in the U.S.A.. Park City Mountain Resort screams “youth” and “adventure” offering high-thrills terrain parks for freestyling snowboarders and skiers.
Utah is proud of having the ‘Greatest Snow on Earth’….and for being an über-friendly destination with 13 ski areas to choose from. Seven of them are less than an hour away from the Salt Lake City International Airport. Whether you’re like me — a middle-aged skier returning to the sport after years off the boards — a beginner or seasoned slope vet, Ski Utah has something to rock your world.
The Inside Scoop: Here’s a little known secret: While the stars are shining in Park City, home to the famed Sundance Film festival each January, you’ll slalom and snow plow down the slopes and terrain parks at Park City Mountain Resort and marvel at the lack of crowds. “Don’t let the movie stars and their fancy après ski wear fool ya,” one local told me. “Festival is one of the best times to hit the slopes. There’s practically no one there.”
Fuel up: Before hitting the slopes, skiers like to boost their energy levels with a Main Street Omlette at The Eating Establishment. Don’t worry if you’ve been partying half the night because breakfast is served til 4 PM. And, if you can wrangle a dinner invite to The Cellars at Club Lespri, you’ll be privy to one of the finest dining experiences in Park City. I’m sorry to report that it’s members only, so you’ll either need to stay at Club Lespri or flash a big smile at a member.
Hang out: If you think shuffling is for cruise ships, think again. Join the eclectic crowd at the No Name Saloon for a raucous game of shuffleboard.
The Inside Scoop: If you want a taste of classic Utah ski culture, head up Little Cottonwood Canyon to Alta Ski Area, where the crowd comes back year after year and the powder is legendary. The tradition-rich ski scene is giving Europe a run for its Euro. If you have visions of fluffy powder, you are correct, but be warned: this is no place for the faint. If the skiing and setting hadn’t been so awesome, I might’ve let the sans-sissy-bar chairlifts keep me off the slopes.
Sleep: Simple and rustic, the Alta Lodge is a rare kind of ski-in/ski-out mountain inn that inspires generations of families to return year after year. Yearning to be pampered? The Rustler Lodge offers a spa and deluxe slope-side rooms.
Fuel up: The best place to fuel-up at Alta Ski Area is slope-side, either at one of the mountain eateries or your lodge. Remember, it’s all about the powder here.
Hang out: Sipping a whisky at the “Sitz”—local speak for the Alta Lodge Sitzmark Club bar—is one of the sweetest ways to end your perfect ski day. It’s all about the cozy camaraderie, and even the finest Scotch takes a back seat to schmoozing.
The Inside Scoop: This resort is a haven for in-the-know skiers and snowboarders lured by its off-the-beaten-path seclusion, high-speed quads and varied terrain. Though only about 50 miles from Park City and Salt Lake City, you almost never have to line up for a lift. There are wide-open runs and the isolated setting make Solitude a hidden treat.
Sleep: Forget simple and rustic. Think elegant and luxurious. You can choose to stay at a village condominium, resort lodge, vacation home or the Inn at Solitude.
Fuel up: Pizza and ice cream for breakfast? You bet your ski boots. But eater beware: you’ll be craving the breakfast pizza and crepes with ice cream they serve at The Stone Haus Pizzeria & Creamery months after you return home.
Hang out: The nightly movies, family game room and outdoor hot tubs at Club Solitude are the après ski gathering points for catching up on the daily news.
4. Ogden Valley
The Inside Scoop: The truth is, within a day of arriving in the Ogden Valley, 45 minutes out of Salt Lake, I found myself thinking “I could live here.” Three ski resorts — Snowbasin, Powder Mountain and Wolf Mountain — and affordable lift tickets, from $32 to $63, attract skiers, and an outdoorsy life in a scenic mountain valley, attracts everyone else. Beginning with the Sun Valley purchase and lavish refurbishment of Snowbasin for the 2002 winter Olympics, the scenic mountain-ringed valley has spawned a bit of development over the past few years but it’s miraculously managed to hold on to its pastoral vibe.
Sleep: A luxury vacation home at Wolf Creek, a master planned mountain resort community, makes a surprisingly budget-friendly base-camp for families. Focused on family fun and value, skiers and snowboarders can hit the slopes at Wolf Creek Mountain Ski Resort from as little as $10 per person.
Fuel up: As if 2,820 skiable acres, 2,959-feet of vertical rise and Olympic downhill runs weren’t enough, Snowbasin backs that up with three elegantly-over-the-top mountainside lodges offering gourmet cuisine. And, if it feels a bit crazy to be clunking around on custom-weave English carpets in ski boots, sitting your Gore-Tex-ski-pants-adorned butt down on fine Italian leather seat cushions, or eating off fine china in a ski parka, get over it. This is Snowbasin style.
Whether you’re a vet, a lapsed skier, a ski virgin or a skier on a slope-improvement quest, the secret to getting the most out of your snow time is to learn from an expert. Take it from me: When disco was all the rage, and I was in tip-top shape, I was decent skier. But after a l7-year hiatus, I was a little skittish about getting my ski legs back. With professional instruction, a potentially exhausting and frustrating vacation turned into the best ski experience I’ve ever had.
Each of Utah’s 13 mountain resorts offers a menu of different levels of instruction, from specialized clinics hosted by well-known pros and group lessons for never-evers to children’s camps and instruction for physically-challenged skiers and riders. The following is just a sampling of some of the more unique instructional programs offered.
Alta Ski Area: Powder hounds from around the world satiate their hunger for the steep and deep without going too far out on a limb in Alta’s Powder Tracks All-Inclusive Ski Clinics, Jan. 9 - 14, 2010. Based at the venerable Alta Lodge, this instructional package includes five nights lodging, five full breakfasts and gourmet dinners, four days instruction, four days lift tickets and high-end demo skis and boots for $2,541 per person, double occupancy. (801) 742-3500, www.altalodge.com
Park City Mountain Resort: Families that ski together stay together. Learn from a pro how turn your kids on to skiing with a Mom, Dad and the Kids semi-private class. This two-hour lesson works toward improving the kids’ skiing and giving Mom and Pop tips for their own successful sloping. 800-222-7275, www.parkcitymountain.com
Snowbasin: While other skiers are still snoring, you can be the early bird who catches the worm with Snowbasin’s First Tracks Clinics. After boarding the gondola at 7:45 a.m., enjoy a hearty breakfast at the top of the mountain at the Needles Lodge. Then hit the slopes, bagging 9,000 feet of skiing or snowboarding before 9 a.m. (801) 620-1016, www.snowbasin.com
Solitude Mountain Resort: For those ready to venture beyond the lift line, Solitude features guided excursions into the Wasatch backcountry for advanced skiers or snowboarders. Tours cost $150 per person and include lift ticket, use of an avalanche transceiver, backpack, free heel adapters (or snowshoes), climbing skins, snacks and lunch from Solitude’s renowned Creekside Restaurant. (801) 536-5730, www.skisolitude.com
Wolf Mountain: Kids rule at Wolf Mountain, which features an impressive array of ski and snowboard instruction for all ages and ability levels including private and group lessons, the Wednesday After School Program, Cub Camp (ages 5 and under) and Wolf Pack (ages 5 - 8). (801) 866-0234, www.wolfmountainden.com