Hop Skip and a Slope

Just an hour's flight away, nine world-class resorts lure skiers to Utah

By Randall Shirley

At one time I thought having a ski resort near my home was great. One resort. Then I discovered UtahAmerica's choice for the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The dangerous thing about skiing Utah once is that you have to keep going back for more. After you grasp that there really are nine world
class resorts within an hour's drive of the Salt Lake Airport, you'll catch yourself calling in sick, catching a morning flight from John Wayne and skiing up to your eyeballs in light, dry Utah powder by noon. Some resorts get as much as 500 inches a year.

Cliché though it sounds, Utah's resorts truly offer something for everyone. Never been on skis? No worries. All of the resorts have ski instructors to make beginners feel like experts and experts feel like Jean-Claude Killy.

Been skiing for years? I triple-dog-dare you to try the double-black-diamond runs at Snowbird. Don't like to ski? Catch up on your novel in the deep-woods cabins of Sundance. Learn all about winter nature on Snowbird's "Ski With The Ranger" program. Need to ski and shop? At Park City you'll ski right into town and drop cash like snow all along historic Main Street.
If you have a hard time choosing a resort, don't despair. A unique service called Ski Utah Interconnect (801-534-1907) will guide you over the tops of several mountains to sample five different resorts in eight hours-Park City, Solitude, Brighton, Alta, and Snowbird. And though each "destination" resort hopes to hold you captive, my advice is to rent a car and explore.

To help you plan your escape, here's a look at the nine resorts near Salt Lake City. We'll go in a circle from the airport.

About an hour north of Salt Lake City and into the hills above Ogden, Snowbasin has long been one of Utah's best-kept secrets. Count on short lift lines and plan for a full day of great skiing. This is a ski mountain. If you need pampering and want to see and be seen, go elsewhere.

As a bonus for skiing Snowbasin: should Utah actually land the 2002 Olympics, this will be the site for the downhill events. As you watch on television, it'll be a grand opportunity to tell your friends, "Been there, done that."

There is no on-site lodging, so unless you have friends in Ogden there's not much reason to spend the night.

The facts: 20% beginner, 50% intermediate, 30% advanced. 1,800 skiable acres, 2,400-foot vertical drop. Snowboards OK. Full day adult, $25; Child $18; over 65, $15. 801-399-1135.

Wolf Mountain
Wolf Mountain is into environmental awareness with an endangered-species twist. After skiing its 61 species-named trails you'll know that flying squirrels, ferrets, and rats are all endangered (don't tell the New Yorkers!).
If snowboarding is your thing, Wolf Mountain is for you. They have a night-lit park for boarders.

With the lowest ticket price in the Park City area, it's great skiing value. The resort's steak house has country dancing for those who can still high-step after a day on the mountain. Yee Haaah!

The Facts: 24% beginner, 34% intermediate, 42% advanced. 1,400 skiable acres, 2,200-foot vertical drop. Snowboards OK. Full-day adult, $25; child, $15; over 70, free! 800-754-1636.

Park City
Rather than a town built for skiing, Park City is skiing built around a town. The Old-West charm of this 1872 silver-mining town is still visible in the facades of today's boutiques. Plan on eating well here. Food ranges from nouvelle Californian to ribs to Vietnamese.

Park City claims the most skiable acres of any Utah resort. Skiing and the town are tightly connected
a lift goes directly from lower Main Street. This is another 2002 Olympic venuethe giant slalom races would be held here.

Lodging and evening activities about in Park City
plenty of clubs, dancing, even live theatre. It's a festive ski atmosphere throughout the season. Religious? Catch their nondenominational mountaintop service. Plan well ahead for reservations in this winter Mecca, as it gets very busy.

The Facts: 16% beginner, 45% intermediate, 39% advanced. 2,200 skiable acres, 3,100 vertical drop. Night skiing available. Women's clinic. Full-day adult, $45; child $20; seniors (65-69) $22; over 70 free. For more information, call 800-222-7275.

Deer Valley
Get ready to sit in the lap of skier's luxury, but be prepared to pay for it! Deer Valley is one of the most lavish ski resorts in the world. Pop your skis off for lunch and a valet appears to stash them for you. Can't decide what to have for lunch? They'll let you taste until you make up your mind.

The skiing here is different, too. Runs flow through the trees like streams, rather than the standard vertical cuts of most resorts. It feels like the Polo Store of skiing. They've set limits on capacity, so the slopes are never crowded.

Lodging, dining, and shopping are magnificent in Deer Valley, if a bit pricey. Look for massive, open-feeling lodges with lots of rough logs and sandstone. The sumptuous Stein Eriksen Lodge will spoil you rotten.

The Facts: 15% beginner, 50% intermediate, 35% advanced, 2,200-foot vertical drop. Women's clinic. Full-day adult, $47; child, $26; over 65, $32. For more information, call 800-424-3337.

There's nowhere quite like Sundance. It's a full-service resort with top-notch lodging and dining, yet you feel you're simply in magnificent mountains with a few cabins peppered among the pines. The place is a perfect blend of nature and ski resort.

Owner Robert Redford maintains an impressive home across the canyon from the ski runs. In my many sojourns at the resort I've yet to run into the Sundance Kid himself, but his movie memorabilia is scattered on public area walls.

Skiing is on the lower slopes of imposing Mount Timpanogas, with the most breathtaking scenery of the Utah resorts. Sundance has limited their mountain capacity to ensure uncrowded slopes.

We can't leave Sundance without mentioning the Sundance Film Festival. This fest is open to independent filmmakers, and has launched some excellent films (sex, lies, and videotape; Like Water for Chocolate). The events actually take place in Park City and Salt Lake City during mid-January, but visitors to Sundance will find weekend showings in the resort's intimate screening room.

The Facts: 20% beginner, 40% intermediate, 40% advanced. 2,150-foot vertical drop. 45- skiable acres. Cross-country available. Full-day adult, $29; child, $19; over 65 free. 800-892-1600. For films festival information call 801-328-3456.

This is the Utah resort that started it all in 1939. Set at the top of majestic Little Cottonwood Canyon, Alta is a ski resort in the most traditional sense. Several independent lodges, restaurants, and sports shops cluster to form Alta Town.

Alta is incredibly user-friendly. It's an optimal place for a full day of varied skiing, generally with smaller crowds than Park City (Alta also has capacity limits). The mountain seems to have been designed for skiers, and the slopes offer the variety true skiers want. This is a place where you can ski a different trail each run and enjoy every schuss.
Après ski options are along the dinner/drink/hot tub lines.

The Facts: 25% beginner, 40% intermediate, 35% expert. 2,100-foot vertical drop, 2,200 skiable acres. Full-day adult, $25; beginner lifts only $18. For more information, call 801-742-3333.

Snowbird is spectacular, if a bit reminiscent of the over-indulgent Eighties. It's the Texas of skiing: Everything seems bigger.

Snowbird boasts mountain terrain that God never intended us to ski, so they mark it with two (or three) black diamonds and send expert skiers over the edge. (I love this mountain!) Since most of the landscape is for better skiers, send the less advanced skiers in your party to Alta and let the truly daring challenge the Bird (Snowbird is just down the road from Alta). Each tram car totes 125 skiers across 8,395 feet in eight minutes.

The mountain is vertical, and so is the stunning, concrete Cliff Lodge. Stay at Snowbird and you have access to the Cliff Spa, with rooftop pool and hot tub. Lodging and dining are first-class. A handful of shopping boutiques will send you home with the "necessities."

The Facts: 20% beginner, 30% intermediate, 50% advanced-expert. 3,100-foot vertical drop, 2,000 skiable acres. Snowboards OK. Women's clinic. Full-day adult (with tram) $40; child or 62-69 $26; over 70 free. For more information, call 801-742-2222.

Brighton is nestled at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon. It makes no grandiose claims, and is completely relaxed. They are proud to be a learner's mountain. I recommend you give their ski school a try. The bonus about this resort is that the beginner and intermediate runs extend to the very top of the mountain (there are still plenty of advanced runs, too). Kids under 10 ski free every day (two per paying adult).

Once you've learned to ski at Brighton, you'll probably have to go elsewhere for lodging. There are only 20 rooms available in Big Cottonwood Canyon.

The Facts: 21% beginner, 40% intermediate, 39% advanced. 1,745-foot vertical drop, 850 skiable acres. Snowboards OK. Full-day adult, child (up to two under 10 per paying adult) free; over 70, free. 800-873-5512.

Downhill from Brighton you'll find Solitude. There's no lodging and hardly a crowd. What you get is plenty of comfortable intermediate skiing. Solitude is a great place to practice your style with hardly anyone watching. And they've got a handful of double-diamond runs to challenge the best of us.

Solitude also offers the "kids ski free" plan
as at Brighton, two kids ski free per paying adult. It's a great way to take the whole family for a day on the slopes. If you've been wanting to get off your NordicTrack and try the real thing, try Solitude's Nordic Center.

Solitude has one option that's worth flying to Utah for: the yurt. They tuck a Mongolian-style tent deep in the winter forest, then a guide leads you to the cozy yurt for a five-course, gourmet meal, all served on fine china and silver. You choose between cross-country skis and snowshoes for the trek. Happy hiking and bon appetit.

The Facts: 20% beginner, 50% intermediate, 30% advanced-expert. 2,030-foot vertical drop, 1,200 skiable acres. Snowboards OK on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Full-day adult, $29; children (up to two under 10 with paying adult) free; juniors (11-13) and seniors (60-70) $20. Over 70 free. 800-748-4754.

For more information on skiing Utah, call Ski Utah at 1-800-SKI-UTAH, or land a great package deal through your favorite airline or travel agent.

This article appeared in the January 1995, issue of Orange Coast. Note that prices and amenities have changed considerably since original publication.

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