It has been a ‘slow snow year’ for much of the USA – something to do with the jetstream apparently. Seems like most of the snow got sent to Whistler and Banff! So on my recent holiday to Utah I didn’t encounter any of that legendary Utah powder, but there was plenty to ski on, and lots to impress.
Our destination was Park City, and our mode of transport was Air France / Delta Airlines from Edinburgh, via Paris. A few words on this: we flew to Paris the evening before (free stopover if under 24 hours between flights) and stayed in an airport hotel, thus eliminating the 4am start that doing the journey in one-go would entail. There were positives and negatives to this: Charles de Gaulle Airport must be one of the least user friendly airports around: Finding our way to the free hotel shuttle pick up point was a bit like orienteering! Then, horror of horrors the next morning.. French queuing. The French don’t like to stand in line. Fact.
That makes a simple procedure like processing through airport security screening as tense as a world cup rugby scrum. However, as there are no direct flights to Salt lake City from the UK, the Paris routing offers a one stop option from UK regional airports and once clear of the melee our journey was very relaxing. The plane Delta are using on this route is an older aircraft. Downside: no seatback tv’s. Upside: more legroom and a 2-3-2 configuration with the function to pre-book seats (free of charge) that means you can avoid the ‘middle seat’ issue when travelling as a two.
Arrival into Salt Lake City is really straightforward. From plane to transfer van took a little over half an hour – there’s the advantage of taking an international flight into a predominantly domestic airport! And the transfer time to Park City was just 35 minutes! I think a lot of people are put off skiing in Utah because there’s no direct flight from the UK, but with such a short transfer you really make the time up.
We stayed at the Park City Peaks hotel. This is a great 3 star hotel that is very popular with Ski Independence clients for a number of reasons: it’s a great price, breakfast is included and the free shuttle buses to town and the three local ski areas pick up right outside the front door. You can add to that a great atmosphere, really comfy beds and high levels of service. It’s not a luxury hotel, and it does not try to be, but the staff definitely go the extra mile on service. We were greeted every morning by Cherie in the restaurant with warmth and enthusiasm and welcomed back from skiing at the front door every afternoon by the bellmen who relieved us of our skis. To the detriment of our waistlines, après ski activities were timed so we didn’t miss the cookies and hot chocolate delivered to each room daily!
So to the reason for our trip: the skiing. You’ve all been on tenterhooks, I’m sure, to know how my new ski boots performed. They were excellent – though it took a bit of getting used to skiing without my feet rolling around! We rented skis from Black Tie and once again, I was blown away by how good their service is! It’s so nice to have your skis delivered to you. I have a jinx that means whenever I go to a ski rental shop I time it so that I’m just behind the guy who wants to talk about every ski in the shop! Black Tie rentals save a lot of stress! Our equipment was excellent and we had no need to make any changes – but they give you a card with a mobile contact so you can call if you have any problems and they’ll come meet you on the mountain. Great service!
We only had a week in Utah – and we tried to pack in as much as possible so we skied at all three of the local mountains: Park City, Canyons and Deer Valley as well as a day in Snowbird. I was really surprised by how different the character of the mountains was: particularly being so close together.
Park City Mountain is accessed from the town at three bases. The ‘blue’ shuttle got us from the Peaks Hotel to the main base area in about 5 minutes. The ski area is divided into different zones and it’s easy to move about the mountain. It’s not huge, but there’s lots of variety. I liked the old mining buildings that are all over the space – a little bit spooky, but a bit different to the average ski resort view! There seems to be a reasonable amount of beginner terrain, and plenty of ‘extreme’ stuff that must be pretty good when there’s fresh snow – but not too appealing in crusty crud. Conditions means that we stuck to the groomed terrain and there’s lots of wide cruisers and nice mix of terrain around Thaynes and Motherlode – those are some fun runs! On mountain dining was very reasonable too.
Next day we headed for Deer Valley. For the last 5 years it has been voted the number one ski resort in North America by readers of Ski Magazine and I was keen to see what the fuss was about. I kind of expected to find people sucking up to us at every turn and lots of yes-men. At first I was a bit surprised to have to carry my skis the 10 metres from the bus to the slope without someone whisking them off me, but it soon became apparent that Ski Magazine readers are skiers and they don’t need to be mollycoddled (cue small amount of disappointment from my mum who loved to have her skis carried). What we encountered was a really well laid out mountain with an efficient lift system, great mix of terrain and zero chance of getting lost: they might not wipe your nose for you, but the ‘green army’ of mountain hosts are on hand at the top and bottom of every lift to help you find the best conditions. Alas, we had to use a degree of imagination to visualize how nice it would be to float down through the trees on a powder day.. but we still had a great time. Stein’s Way, from the top of Bald Mountain was a lot of fun, and the views are spectacular! A feature of Deer Valley is the on mountain lodging – it is there on a huge scale, with large 5 star hotels, luxury private residences and real estate showrooms. There is a sense of ‘this is how the other half live’ when you are just skiing there for the day, but I suspect it’s paradise for those in that ‘other half’! In any case, we were only made to feel like plebs on one occasion, by a very chatty kid on the chairlift who proclaimed the stunning St Regis Hotel to be ‘okay, but it’s just somewhere to stay’. Not sure they’ll go with that in the brochure! We didn’t really notice the controversial absence of snowboarders – make of that what you will…
Canyons is the largest of the three ski areas in the Park City area and it is about 10 minutes from the Peaks Hotel. The bus drops you at the bottom of the resort and you take a cabriolet lift up to the main base area. Brenda Lytle, the Sales Manager, kindly gave us a tour of the mountain and that gave us a real sense of the scale and layout – something that a trail map just doesn’t convey. We followed the sun across the face of the mountain and wound up at the top of Dream Peak at lunchtime. Good plan! The Cloud Dine restaurant makes delicious fresh to order wood fired pizza! The restaurant is quite a small temporary structure but there are plans afoot to expand and rebuild for next winter. There are also rumours of a planned gondola link with Solitude, in the next canyon, but it sounds like there’s a way to go with that before they break ground. That would make a great ski area truly epic! The Dreamscape side of Canyons is characterized by beautiful tree skiing and stunning private homes – it’s kind of fun weaving inbetween the multimillion dollar mansions in the Colony – it’s going to take a big win on Euromillions to get on the property ladder here!
You could happily spend your holiday exploring those three resorts, but if you want to go further afield then there are day trip options aplenty: we headed for Snowbird using the ‘Canyon Hop’ transportation service. Our driver Mikey was quite a character (and a talker!), and we learned all sorts of things about the local area, history and the Mormon culture during the 50 minute journey. Our 8am pick up from the Peaks Hotel saw us in Snowbird for first gondola and what a day we had! Considering it was 10 days since the slightest hint of a snowflake came from the sky, and temperatures were well within what we Scot’s regard as T-shirt weather, the snow was excellent. It’s a big old mountain: the cable car (they call it a tram, but that’s a dirty word up here in Edinburgh!) gets you straight up to the top of Hidden Peak where the views are truly breathtaking – as fine an alpine vista as you’ll find anywhere! We went straight for Mineral Basin, on the back side of the mountain, one of the best playgrounds I’ve ever found – It was awesome! Sadly our one day there only scratched the surface. We paused briefly to catch some of the action at the World Cup Free-Skiing event (that’s hurling yourself off cliffs, not skiing without a lift ticket!) but at 4pm, after a well earned ice-cream, we were reunited with Mikey for the journey home after a truly amazing day’s skiing!
Off the slopes we took it fairly easy – there is a misconception that skiing in Utah means foregoing après ski. Infact, while the Mormon influence is present, Park City is as much of a party town as you want it to be. Draught beer is weaker than normal (capped at 3.2% alcohol) but for those that like a bit more buzz with their beer, bottles at regular strength are available in bars. However, while drinking in moderation is tolerated (and even encouraged) it’s still illegal to be intoxicated… go figure. We found the choice of restaurants in the area almost overwhelming. From Vietnamese, sushi, burgers, Southwest, Cajun, French, Italian and Mexican to name but a few… we were spoilt. It’s a big town, but most shops and restaurants are centered around the historic Main Street – not a place for animal rights campaigners: lots of fur and guns for sale, but a great place to people watch! We also took the shuttle to Kimball Junction where there is a decent sized outlet shopping mall with bargains galore! Our suitcases were creaking on the way home, which was incidentally a perfectly pleasant journey.
Overall, a great holiday was had. There could have been more snow, but there’s a lot to be said for skiing in the sunshine!
For more information on any of the resorts Karen visited during her recent trip to Utah you can visit our website or speak directly to a member of the Ski Independence reservations team on 0131 243 8097.