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Ski Lines: Vacation time in Utah

Ski Lines: Vacation time in Utah

Phil Johnson's weekly ski column
Ski Lines: Vacation time in Utah
A ski vacation took Daily Gazette columnist Phil Johnson to Utah last week.
Photographer: Photo courtesy Dino Vournas

It has become a personal tradition: a new year skiing road trip that divides the winter between the early-season holidays and the best days of February and March.

Last week, I was in Salt Lake City on a four-day, four-area trip that included revisiting the Snowbird resort and making my debut at Alta, Brighton and Solitude. All were in great shape, with up to 100 inches of base and full operation. While it had been several days since the last snowfall there, the cover at each of the areas was top to bottom, end to end.  

What about Utah’s famous fresh powder snow?

None of that on this trip.

But before you think disappointment, consider this: four days of cloudless blue skies, temperatures in the 30s each day, no wind and immaculately groomed trails.
Immaculate grooming? Isn’t that an Eastern phenomenon? 

That’s what I thought, too. Not anymore. There were an abundance of prepared trails at each of the four places I skied. The grooming was outstanding: seamless corduroy on a variety of terrain, top to bottom.

In Utah? Who knew? 

The Salt Lake area has a matchless selection of ski area options. The skiing on my trip was all in the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. The access can be tough if there is a big snowfall or avalanche conditions, but most of the time it is an easy commute from Salt Lake City. On-mountain lodging is widely available, but for those who want to try different areas, convenient options for staying in the city are plentiful and there is a dedicated bus service to the areas each day. 

Salt Lake is a big place. It hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics and recently was named by the U.S. Olympic Committee as its candidate to host the games in 2030. It is a logical choice, given its modern infrastructure, easy access by air and existing facilities that have been maintained since the last games. And, of course, reliable ski conditions.  

In addition to the areas where I skied, there are those in nearby Park City, including the Park City Resort and Deer Valley, and to the north in Ogden where the 2002 alpine events were held at Snow Basin. All of these ski areas, plus Robert Redford’s Sundance resort, are an easy commute from Salt Lake. 

On my trip, I knew what to expect at Snowbird, the biggest of the four areas I would ski. Because I had some knowledge of the place, it was the easiest for me to make the transition given a two-hour time difference and as much as a 10,000-foot elevation change. This can be an issue, especially on the first day of a trip, but this time it was no problem. It is a sprawling resort with a surface conveyance almost 900 feet long through a mountain tunnel to the Mineral Basin area, a unique and memorable feature. 

Now, I confess that when I go to a new area that requires a plane ride to reach, I am a little anxious, not fully knowing what to expect. I have done it enough times so that shouldn’t be an issue, but it is there.

The second day of the trip was spent at Brighton. The area was new to me — and I loved it. 

The feel reminded me of our Gore area, which I consider a compliment. There is a modest base center and a wide variety of trail options, most of them tree-lined so flat light is not a problem. Here, like the others, the grooming was excellent and even though there was no new snow to conquer, there was plenty of fine skiing. This area may not have the star appeal of some of its neighbors, but I was delighted by the variety and beauty of the place. 

The third day was Alta. Like Brighton, Alta dates back to the 1930s, when it was a wide-open silver mining town. Even if you haven’t been there, chances are, if you are a skier, you know about the place. It has the Mad River Glen-type cachet where people who ski it talk about conquests more than cruising. It doesn’t have to be that way at all. Sure, there are plenty of open slopes and challenging chutes, but there are also a surprising number of beautifully groomed runs, gentle to steep, over a wide area that can keep skiers engaged even when it hasn’t snowed in a few days. And the place is not a throwback. It has a variety of modern facilities and accommodations. 

Given the combination of great weather and light mid-week crowds, a fourth consecutive day on the slopes can remind you of all the physical workouts you skipped or cut short over the previous few months. The Solitude ski area was to be the wind down, the easy cruise lay-out to wrap up the trip. 

No way! 

Solitude, like its neighbor Brighton, is often overlooked by outsiders, but more than rewarding for those who come. It, too, is smaller than Snowbird, but there is plenty to keep interest high for day commuters or those who want to stay slopeside in a mountain village like the one at our Stratton in Vermont. Sharing the mountain with us were competitors in the World Championship in Border Cross and Skier Cross, those demolition derby-like Olympic events that were worth a few minutes time to confirm that there are some competitions that don’t inspire an urge to participate. 

Even the plane rides to Salt Lake and back home were flawless this time, almost as perfect as the weather during the days we were there. 

We all remember times when the word was, “you should have been there yesterday.” 

On this trip, I was there “yesterday.”

SECTIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

The Section II championships in both Alpine and Nordic skiing will be next week in North Creek. The Alpine slalom and giant slalom races will be Monday at Gore. Hunter Montgomery of Queensbury, Tre Rossi of Stillwater and Patrick Leonard of Shenendehowa have been the boys’ racers to beat this winter. On the girls’ side, the competition has been close between Maddie Montgomery of Queensbury, Hannah Klingebeil of Schuylerville and Melissa Taggert from Shenendehowa. 

On Wednesday, the Nordic racers compete at the North Creek Ski Bowl. Paul Lindsey of Lake George  and Erik Schreiner of Hadley-Luzerne have been on top in the boys’ races this winter, while Bailey Gengel from Queensbury and Madison Relyea from Mayfield have topped the girls’ competition.
The top 12 in each event will comprise the Section II team in the state championships in two weeks. 

MOM’S DAY OFF AT BROMLEY 

If you are looking for a place to ski today, try Bromley near Manchester, Vt., where it is the 17th annual Mom’s Day Off fundraiser in support of women’s cancer care.

Moms pay $25 for a lift ticket, with all proceeds going to Vermont Regional Cancer Center in Bennington.

BOBSLED AND SKELETON WORLD CUP RACES AT LAKE PLACID

The last of this season’s World Cup events in Lake Placid will be the bobsled and skeleton competition next Friday at Saturday at Mount Van Hoevenberg. Olympian Codie Bascue from Whitehall will pilot one of the men’s sleds in the two- and four-man bobsled competition. Check www.whiteface.com for competition details and start times at track.

Phil Johnson can be reached at [email protected].

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