A 40th Anniversary Utah Road Trip
Ski holidays were happily back on the agenda in Winter 2021/22 and after so many cancelled or postponed travel plans, a ski trip this season offered the opportunity to do things differently. Whether that meant staying for longer, venturing further afield or adding on a luxury mini break, clients were seeking rich experiences that were truly worth the wait.
For one Ski Independence client, combining their 40th wedding anniversary celebration with a 3 year absence from the slopes meant revisiting the bucket list. The brief? To tick off another iconic ski destination and then take in one of the great USA National Park routes on the same trip. So with the help of our team of Ski Specialists, the planning of their Park City skiing and Utah road trip was about to commence…
The holiday surpassed our expectations! We had a brilliant time – particularly the Utah-Nevada road trip. I just want to repeat my heartfelt thanks for all the support you provided…
By Jonathan Berman
Why Ski Independence
We were first introduced to Ski Independence 15 years ago when arranging a silver wedding anniversary trip to Canada (spot the theme here?). You’ve been our go-to operator ever since. What I appreciate, apart from your knowledge and care, is that it feels personal. You were very kind when we had to cancel our 2019 trip for health reasons, in allowing us to roll the deposit on to the next year’s booking – even though you didn’t need to do that.
I actually enjoy the booking process – knowing that I can have all the discussions I need in order to be sure we’ve booked what we want, and that you take the time to ensure we’re happy. This year you went above and beyond, with all the advice and guidance you pulled together concerning the road trip element. Without your input, and that of your friend in the US, we wouldn’t have considered Capitol Reefs – which turned out to be our favourite park (see below).
And then we come on to the little hiccup at the start. It helped enormously having a friendly and calm voice on the end of a phone (once you’d worked out how to make the technology work for us!). Knowing you were doing what you could to get us back on course was so reassuring – and arranging the hotel for us took a huge weight off my mind. I know it’s not something you can easily advertise, “When it all goes horribly wrong we’re here to sort things out” isn’t really a good strap-line but its probably one of the things that really distinguishes the great from the average!
The Ski Resort – Park City Canyons
We had a great time – it was so good to back on skis after a 3-year hiatus (even if it took an extra couple of days for our skis to catch up with us – although two days of rental skis makes you realise how nice it is having your own).
The snow conditions weren’t quite the fabled Utah powder we’d hoped for but we still had great skiing in Park City. As the days went on it got steadily warmer, till by the middle of the trip we had spring conditions – 10C and slush by early afternoon! But that was OK – being there for two weeks meant we were happy to stop early on some days (and our knees appreciated it).
We felt the skiing was better in Canyons, perhaps partly because it was easier to stay high as the weather warmed up. In the event we didn’t try to get to some of the other local resorts because of the conditions – the spring conditions meant we wanted to be skiing from the moment the lifts opened, to get the best of the snow. But we hadn’t built our expectations around those other resorts so not a problem. I should add that a couple of storms came through in our last few days so we did get some good conditions – including the ‘few inches of fresh snow on top of groomed pistes’ which Ali loves!
The room in The Grand Summit was superb – spacious, well fitted-out, and comfortable. The hotel is also really well located with instant access to the Red Pine Gondola. And its the first time we’ve seen elk from our hotel room window! The restaurant in the hotel – the Red Tail Grill – was more of a slope-side bar which served food and although we had some very pleasant meals there the menu was limited and you wouldn’t want to eat there too many times over a two-week holiday. Downtown Park City is a 15 minute drive away by car and there are all kinds of food & drinks options available there. We really appreciated the ski-in/ski-out ease of the Grand Summit and, as mentioned above, we liked the skiing on the Canyons side.
The Road Trip – Utah’s National Parks
We have to say that this was the highlight of the trip – not that we didn’t enjoy the skiing, but the experience of driving through the National Parks was absolutely memorable.
Capitol Reefs Park was our favourite. It was relatively uncrowded (it seems to be the least visited of the ‘big five’ parks). The Cassidy Arch walk was a highlight, but turning every corner revealed a new view (and photo – between us we seem to have taken about 1800 photos over the course of the trip 😱).
Torrey is definitely the right place to stay, but there’s a slight challenge around dates which quickly became apparent. We were right at the start of the season – the Broken Spur Inn and Steakhouse had only opened for the season the week before we arrived… but the the restaurant wouldn’t open till the following weekend. It was a lovely ’typical’ US motel – very friendly and comfortable, with a buffet breakfast in the dining room (which sported a life-sized cardboard cut-out of John Wayne!). We would definitely recommend it (the hotel, not the cardboard cut-out).
We then took Utah Highway 12 from Torrey to Bryce Canyon. It’s about 120 miles, skirts Grande Staircase Escalante, and is probable the most scenic drive we’ve ever found. Absolutely spectacular. But worth noting that pass at 9,600 feet and hence that the road could be closed occasionally at this time of year.
We had a half-day in Bryce Canyon – just enough to drive through, take a couple of strolls and get a feel for it. Another delightful park, and different from Capitol Reefs. Then on to Springdale (Zion).
Springdale is much bigger than Torrey, but still had a slight feel that it had suffered a bit from the pandemic. We were there over the weekend, which meant it was inevitably busier than Capitol Reefs, and it was the first weekend of Spring Break. The Park Shuttle bus service was operating at weekends (you have to park in the Visitors Centre and then take the Shuttle – cars are banned from the ’Scenic Drive’ when the shuttle is operating). This was actually good, as the parking on the scenic drive for access to some of the walks is very limited.
We’d highly recommend the walk to Scout’s Lookout. It’s part of the Angel’s Landing walk but misses the last 0.5 miles that resemble a via ferrata. Think ’the walk down from the Aiguille du Midi cable car station to the start of the Vallée Blanche above Chamonix…’. Much to Ali’s relief, that last part up to Angel’s Landing was closed for repairs, so she had an excuse not to do it – but Scout’s Lookout is great, and if you continue another 10-15 minutes on the West Rim Trail you get just as good a view. Also worth doing the walk to Watchman’s Lookout, which is slightly easier but still provides great views.
Again Zion had a different feel from both Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reefs. There was still snow on the ground in many places – it’s worth having spikes that you can pull over your walking boots. We didn’t use ours, but could easily have needed to. That’s the disadvantage of visiting at this time of year, whereas the advantages are, for us, overwhelming – not only fewer people, but also cooler weather. It was often close to 0 degrees at the start of the day, but could quickly get up to 15 degrees by late morning, and feel much warmer in the sun. I would really have struggled with some of the steeper walks if we’d been there in the height of summer.
And then on towards Grand Canyon. Rather than going there directly, we’d booked a half-day rafting trip with Wilderness Rafting in Page, Az. About a 2.5hr drive from Zion, it’s a 5hr trip from the Powell Dam, 15 miles down the Colorado to Lees Landing, which is the formal beginning of the Grand Canyon. Really memorable trip. Our ‘captain’ was a very knowledgeable young Navajo woman who gave us a really interesting perspective. Well worth doing.
The Grand Canyon absolutely lives up to it’s billing, and we’re really glad we visited it – everyone should do so at least once. We’d recommend taking the Red Route shuttle bus west along the Rim Trail, get off at the Abyss stop, and then walk back along the Rim Trail back to the Village.
And then finally the journey to Las Vegas. Yet again, the scenery delivered and a highlight for me was on the drive from Grand Canyon, when we were able to travel about 100 miles on Route 66 (sunny day, windows down, us singing Chuck Berry songs – probably a scary mental image to leave you with…).
I hadn’t realised that Route 66 ran so far south (should have done – the Chuck Berry song mentions Flagstaff Arizona). As we were on I40 we saw the signs and detoured onto 66 for the bit between Seligman and Kingman (less direct than I40 but who cares). Almost deserted, classic Americana. Every beat up diner or filling station had an old 50’s car or two out front. Perfect. And we stopped off at the Hoover Dam – a remarkable piece of civil engineering.
I think we were probably very fortunate with our weather throughout the road trip – mostly warm weather and blue skies, but I suspect that it would still look good in any weather. As for navigation, using Google Maps on my phone was fine but be aware – journeys take much longer than you might expect because of the frequent stops at ’scenic views’!
So, in summary – an absolutely brilliant holiday and the trip definitely fulfilled the 40th Anniversary requirements of being memorable, for all the right reasons. We’re definitely planning another, longer, trip to the National Parks and we’re looking forward in a couple of months or so to starting the conversation about next season.
What did you do this winter season to mark your first ski holiday after a break away? Do you have any grand plans for the 2022/23 season? Let us know in the comments below.
Speak to a Ski Specialist on 0131 243 8097 or request a tailor-made quotation