Trail of the Unexpected: Utah - where one ski resort just ain't enough
Saturday 25 October 2008
How kind of them. It's my first ever visit to Utah, and the nice people at Park City have closed the resort especially for me. At least, that's what it feels like as I strap in and set off down another deserted run. The lifts opened two hours ago, yet I have yet to see another soul. Not that I'm complaining. With a layer of fresh powder sitting on top of the groomed stuff, I'm on a mission to christen as many untracked pistes as possible before someone shows up. If they ever do, that is. With four other resorts to choose from just down the road, there's no guarantee.
For those used to skiing just one resort a season, the town of Park City is a dream come true: five years' worth of skiing holidays all within 40 minutes' drive of your condominium. And you can even choose the terrain of your preferred discipline: two of the resorts – Deer Valley and Alta – are unashamedly for skiers only.
For me, this proved a little tricky. Despite bleating on about how I'd like to do more skiing each season, I normally go straight for the safety blanket of the single plank. Not this time, though. With no choice but to leave the board behind, I'd lined up with a group of other beginners at Deer Valley.
This is one of the best places to learn to ski. Its owners liken it to a fine hotel (with all the pampering you'd expect) and group lessons are limited to just four people, so you get plenty of attention from your instructor. It certainly worked for me; by teatime I was happily snow-ploughing down my first green runs, with big plans to tackle a blue later in the week.
For this I headed over to Alta, located about 40 minutes away in Little Cottonwood Canyon. This is a much more old-school resort; people have been skiing here for 70 years, and there's a reassuringly traditional feel about the place. While my lack of skill limited me to the beginner runs, there's some spectacular off-piste stuff here for those who are brave enough. The philosophy at Alta is "ski what you see", so if cliff drops and steep tree runs are your thing, you might end up forgetting about the other resorts on the list.
Personally, I was keen to get back on board. I'd had my fill of "spreading the butter" with my skis – as my instructor Scott kept encouraging me to do in a bid to perfect my turns. Snowbird, located right next door to Alta, is renowned for providing some of the best powder in North America – and it welcomes snowboarders.
When the snow is good, the place to be is Mineral Basin, right at the top of the mountain. The absence of trees up here provides uninterrupted views of the surrounding peaks, which spill away into the distance like lumps of coal sprinkled with icing sugar.
Having spent the day practising my powder turns and re-acclimatising to facing sideways down the mountain, I made my way over to the canyons on day four to indulge myself. It all started out calmly enough – the morning spent cruising on blues to get my legs working. But after persuading my guide, Kelley, to take me down a tree run known as the Abyss, I should have guessed what was coming. Half way down, I arrived at the top of a cliff. Below was a scary chute that was way out of my league, and it required some gentle coaxing from Kelley for me to traverse out of harm's way.
Finally, I visited Park City – my fifth resort in as many days – to top off the week by dropping into the steep bowl off the side of the Silverlode chair. My confidence was riding high, but I only managed a few cocky turns before hurtling head first towards an awkwardly placed tree. Fortunately, my pants acted as a rather effective brake, ensuring that I avoided the need for painkillers by a matter of inches. Good thing there was no one around to watch.
Self-catering studios (001 435 649 6175; parkcitylodging.com) are available from $85pp p/n (£50).
For more information visit skiutah.com
Population 2 million Area 10 times the size of Wales Capital Salt Lake City Date in Union 4 January 1896 Flower Sego lily Motto "Industry" Nickname Beehive State
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