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Ski Utah…or Don’t

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By Hope S. Philbrick

What are couples to do if one partner loves to ski but the other person doesn’t? Of course separate vacations are one option (and, until this year, what Dean and I chose), but Ski Utah has another suggestion: Travel together and while one person enjoys world-class skiing in what’s billed as “the greatest snow on earth” the other person can enjoy various other amenities and activities the region has to offer.

I’ve been married to an avid skier for 15 years, but until this February we never vacationed together at a ski resort. It’s not that I refused to go; it just didn’t seem to make sense to spend the extra money for me since I don’t ski. (When I was six years old I broke my leg in three places running across an icy playground and I’ve never been too eager to replicate the experience.) So Dean went alone. But this year, lured by curiosity and cost-saving “hot deals,” we decided to visit Utah’s ski region together. It’s something we should have done long ago.

In less than an hour it’s possible to drive to any of the 11 different ski resorts located in the Wasatch Mountains surrounding the Salt Lake City International Airport. This makes it easy to make the most of your first day of travel.

Courtesy Alta Ski AreaGorgeous Mt. Superior. Courtesy Alta Ski Area

As an example, we departed Atlanta on a 6:30 a.m. non-stop Delta flight and were checked into our room at the Goldminer’s Daughter Lodge in Alta before Noon. (I’d called ahead and requested early check-in; we lucked out and the folks who’d occupied the room the previous night departed early that morning.) After grabbing a quick lunch together in the Saloon, Dean hit the slopes. I went back to the room, plugged in my laptop and then decided against work in favor of a nap. Ahhh, vacation!

For the next two days I accomplished not very much while Dean swooshed down black-diamond runs. It’s been years since I’ve so thoroughly relaxed and in that dreamy state I had an epiphany: Doing nothing is highly underrated. Even if accompanying Dean on ski trips is merely a way to give myself permission to veg out, that alone is reason enough for me to sign up for as many as possible. I heartily recommend downtime as a viable vacation option. But, thinking of you, dear readers, I did eventually motivate myself to get up and explore other options plus a few different resorts, just in case you’re the restless type.

While surrounded by the spectacular vista of snow-covered pine trees, steep mountains and clear blue skies, an overwhelming urge to get outdoors takes hold. (Wear the right gear and you’ll stay surprisingly warm.) Beyond downhill skiing, options include snowboarding, cross-country skiing, tubing or sledding, hiking, snowmobiling, ice skating and even dog sledding.

Vista at the start of the snowshoe trail from Brighton to Solitude. Photo by Hope S. PhilbrickVista at the start of the snowshoe trail from Brighton to Solitude. Photo by Hope S. Philbrick

I opted for snowshoeing, and chose a 1.5-mile route from Brighton to Solitude. A worker at the Nordic Center at Solitude Mountain Resort outfitted me with the necessary gear, handed me a map and pointed at a trail outside the door. As a beginner, didn’t I need a lesson? “Just walk,” he said. Sure enough, it’s that easy.

The air was clean and crisp. The only sounds were chirping birds, snow falling from trees and the crunchy-squeak of snow underfoot. I can’t remember ever being so completely alone (though I was comforted in the knowledge that my cell phone did have service if I needed it). I took pictures and stepped at my own pace. It was a great experience.

Another day I wandered along the quaint Main Street of Park City, which boasts dozens of interesting boutiques and restaurants and thus provides a compelling daytime excursion for the non-skier. The new Park City Museum boasts several well-executed, diverse exhibits to showcase the city’s frontier days, law enforcement history, silver mining industry, transition into a ski town, role in theater (this is home of the annual Sundance Film Festival, after all), saloons and more. The high-tech display of past criminals is unforgettable and the wall model of a mine will certainly ramp up your appreciation of ore.

It’s possible to ski-in/ski-out of the High West Distillery & Saloon, so you could potentially meet your skiing spouse there for lunch or après ski dinner and cocktails. Or just head there on your own for an insightful behind-the-scenes tour of Utah’s first distillery since Prohibition. High West is housed in two buildings (a livery stable and a Victorian house) that date from Park City’s mining period and are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

At Utah Olympic Park it’s free to peruse the Alf Engen Ski Museum and 2002 Eccles Olympic Winter Games museum. Exhibits about avalanches and the unique composition of Utah snow are especially interesting. Most days it’s possible to watch national and international competitions (and aspiring youths) train at the facility. Guided tours are also available. For $200, daredevils can also experience riding in the 4-person “Comet” bobsled down the Olympic track reaching speeds up to 80 mph. Billed as “the most intense minute of your life,” you’ll gain new appreciation for the sport.

Also fast-paced, the Alpine Coaster at Park City Mountain Resort is like a one-car roller coaster. What’s unique is the ability to control the speed of your individual toboggan-like car. The slow ride up the course provides an opportunity to enjoy the scenery; on the ride down apply the brake or go as fast as possible. The 4,000-foot long course is comprised of graceful curves, switchback bends and moderate hills.

Skiers get a lift at The Canyons in Park City, Utah. Credit: Hope S. PhilbrickSkiers get a lift at The Canyons in Park City, Utah. Photo by Hope S. Philbrick

When I first agreed to this ski trip, I envisioned sitting in the resort hot tub and basking in the luxury of a day at the spa. It’s certainly possible to realize this dream at most of Utah’s ski resorts. At The Canyons Grand Summit Spa & Health Club the hot stone massage is a wonderful treatment choice. It left me feeling thoroughly de-stressed and energized. Arriving early provided time to savor the sauna, steam room and heated indoor/outdoor pool.

Of course, one option for any non-skier while visiting a ski resort is to take ski lessons. All the Utah ski resorts that we visited offered ski lessons for individuals and groups. This trip, I specifically avoided that option in favor of researching non-ski activities. But after several days spent watching skiers thoroughly enjoy themselves, I may be persuaded to take a few ski lessons on my next visit to Utah’s ski region.

One Skier’s Perspective of Two Ski Resorts: Alta & Deer Valley

The tagline for Ski Utah is “the greatest snow on earth.” That’s quite a boast. Since I don’t ski and thus can’t vouch for the honesty of that claim, I asked my husband for his opinion. Dean has skied around the world, from Minnesota to Austria, Colorado to Vermont and beyond. His take: “Skiing in Utah is awesome.”

Dean ends a run at Deer Valley in Park City, Utah. Photo by Hope S. PhilbrickDean ends a run at Deer Valley in Park City, Utah. Photo by Hope S. Philbrick

“Alta has a good mix of runs,” says Dean. “The way it’s laid out, skiers of different skill levels could ride the lift together then ski down on separate runs and meet up at the bottom. Alta is one of only three ski resorts in the world that does not allow snowboarding, so it’s a more pure way to experience the way ski resorts used to be. The intermediate group ski lesson that I took was great. Skiing is very technical so no matter your skill level taking a lesson is helpful; the instructors evaluate what you’re doing, break it down and give you something to work on. I could feel myself getting more efficient in my turns. I especially liked the examples the instructor used, such as ‘Ski like the snow: If it’s powder, ski soft. If it’s icy, be aggressive.’”

He goes on to say, “I’m not surprised Deer Valley has been rated the No. 1 ski resort in the world by Ski Magazine for three years in a row. The groomed runs were amazing. Coincidentally, it’s another resort that doesn’t allow snowboarding. It happened that I started skiing just when a free mountain guide tour was getting ready to start, so I joined the group. I thought it was really fun to ski down with a guide and get a history lesson about the resort and Park City.”

There are 13 different ski resorts in Utah; visit www.SkiUtah.com for a complete comparison with details on average snowfall, vertical drop, skiable acres, number of runs, lift price and more.

If You Go

Where2Stay

Opt for a ski lodge for the most convenient access to skiing:

Goldminer’s Daughter Lodge
Alta
800.453.4573
www.skigmd.com

Just 25 miles from Salt Lake City, this ski-in/ski-out lodging option is located in the heart of the Alta ski area in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest. Pleasantly rustic, it’s ideal for skiers and anyone who wants to enjoy the winter wonder of a national mountain park. Rates from $140/night include breakfast and dinner.

The Escala Lodges
The Canyons, Park City
866.604.4171
www.thecanyons.com/escalahome

This ski-in/ski-out property is located in the Resort Village of Utah’s largest ski and summer resort. It’s new and ultra-luxurious. With easy access to downtown Park City via free bus service, this resort blends pampering and convenience. Rates at Escala start at $185/night during spring/summer, $500/night before Dec. 24 and $700/night during winter. The Canyons boasts several other lodging options as well, including Sundial Lodge where rates start at $119/night spring/summer, $256/night before Dec. 24 and $294/night during winter. Special packages are often available.

Opt for a Salt Lake City hotel to mix downtown shopping, dining and sightseeing with skiing, or if you’d prefer to rent a car and visit a different ski resort each day:

Hotel Monaco
Salt Lake City
801.595.0000
www.monaco-saltlakecity.com

Eye-popping décor and top-notch service make this a hotel to remember. Rates from $129/night.

Sheraton
Salt Lake City
801.401.2000
www.starwoodhotels.com/sheraton/search/hotel_detail.html?propertyID=1327

This hotel recently underwent a $14 million renovation, so rooms are cozy and attractive. Rates from $89/night.

What2Do (Beyond Skiing)

Alpine Coaster at the Park City Mountain Resort
435.649.8111
www.parkcitymountain.com/winter/activities/alpine_coaster

The Canyons Grand Summit Spa & Health Club
435.615.8035
www.thecanyons.com/health_club.html

Nordic Center at Solitude Mountain Resort
801.536-.774
www.skisolitude.com/winter/nordic_center.php

Park City Museum
435.649.7457
www.parkcityhistory.org

Utah Olympic Park
435.658.4200
www.olyparks.com

Where2Eat

Alpine House
The Canyon’s Resort Village in Park City
435.615.4828
www.thecanyons.com/dining.html?dinid=10451

The menu bills the upscale fare as “small bites,” but the servings might be considered small only by those famished after a day spent skiing.

Eating Establishment
Park City
435.649.8284
www.theeatingestablishment.net

Breakfast may be a skier’s most important meal, but the food here will inspire even a non-skier to jump out of bed.

The Thanksgiving Sandwich with sweet potato fries at High West Distillery & Saloon in Park City, Utah. Photo by Hope S. PhilbrickThe Thanksgiving Sandwich with sweet potato fries at High West Distillery & Saloon in Park City, Utah. Photo by Hope S. Philbrick

High West Distillery & Saloon
Park City
435.649.8300
www.highwest.com

Relax and refuel with hearty fare like the Thanksgiving Sandwich and tasty cocktails featuring spirits distilled on-site.

Log Haven
Salt Lake City (20 minutes from downtown)
801.272.8255
www.log-haven.com

Consistently awarded “Most Romantic Restaurant” by various Utah publications, the ambiance, upscale service and food quality are the definition of destination dining.

Pago
Salt Lake City
801.532.0777
www.pagoslc.com

Farm-to-table neighborhood dining at its delicious best.

Talisker on Main
Park City
435.658.5479
www.taliskeronmain.com

Exceptional surroundings, service and cuisine. Opt for the elk whenever it’s available and don’t skip dessert unless you’re aching to deprive yourself of something truly special.

Top of the Lodge
Goldminer’s Daughter Lodge in Alta
801.742.2300
www.skigmd.com/restaurants

Enjoy tasty fare in pleasant surroundings. Don’t miss the carrot and ginger soup when it’s available.

How2Save

Park City resorts (Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort and The Canyons) offer a free half-day lift ticket to guests who fly into Salt Lake City on day of arrival. Ask for details when booking your reservation.

Ski ‘N See offers discounts on rentals and lift tickets to most Utah resorts. The store has several locations throughout the Wasatch Front.
www.skinsee.com

4MoreInfo

Ski Utah
Check out their “Hot Deals”, too.
www.skiutah.com

Top photo: The Supreme Lift at Alta. Courtesy of Alta Ski Area.

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