Skiing with Mormons: New Utah pistes give a proper taste of local life

It may be closed on Sundays so everyone can go to church, but Cherry Peak has bags more charm than your average ski resort

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The Independent Travel

Why does America’s first completely new lift-served ski area in 12 years stay closed on Sundays, the busiest day for most resorts?  

In Utah, Park City, Deer Valley, Alta and Snowbird, which have many out-of-state visitors, follow the norm of making the big money at weekends.

But at Cherry Peak Ski Resort – in the Mormon heartland east of Richmond in Utah’s far north, near the Idaho border – many Utahn skiers and snowboarders are in church on Sundays.

What’s more, Cherry Peak founder John Chadwick recruited his staff from the local area, and about 83 per cent of the population of neighbouring towns Logan and Richmond are Mormon. Chadwick does not want staff to feel pressured to go against the teachings of their church. So on Sundays, the ski area remains closed.  

However, to make up for lost time, most of Cherry Peak’s trails are lit for night skiing six evenings per week. This helps anyone keen to complete a Utah Yeti, a brilliantly varied experience that involves hitting every one of Utah’s 14 ski areas – quite feasible in a two-week trip, spending roughly a day in each. Such a task would take you into some wildly contrasting environments; from swish hotel rooms and brutalist architecture (Snowbird) to more homely cosy lodges and intimate communal meals (Alta). 

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Taking the ski lift at Cherry Peak (Chris Pearson/Ski Utah)

By Utah standards, Cherry Peak’s estimated annual snowfall average of 322 inches of delightful dry powder is unexceptional, but it does match Aspen, Colorado and puts it in the top 10 per cent of resorts worldwide by snowfall. I would like to say that the plentiful night skiing adds an extra reason to visit, but it’s actually not my favourite pursuit: night skiing usually offers a very cold experience, necessitating hot chocolate stops. Besides, a few years ago when I was skiing on a poorly lit trail at night in upstate New York, I hit a small squirrel and killed it: another good reason to stick to daylight.

So why would you bother to make a visit to Cherry Peak?

The reason, I'd argue, is the personable charm on offer here that you just don’t get in big ski resorts.

Cherry Peak is entirely driven by the vision and ambition of Chadwick. In 1967, his family bought mountain land, and he started back-country skiing there as a child.

“I thought about having a ski resort my whole life, but only got serious 16 years ago,” he explains, adding that his good friend, the Argentinian ski racer Ramon Birkner, convinced him Cherry Peak Ski Resort could be more than a dream.

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John Chadwick, founder of Cherry Peak Ski Resort (Chris Pearson/Ski Utah)

Eleven years ago, he bought much of the land from other family members and last December saw a soft launch with the installation of two lifts and an attractive traditional day lodge. This summer, a third lift has been added, pushing higher towards Cherry Peak itself and opening up some single black trails. 

Chadwick is into everything at Cherry Peak to an extent which appears exhausting. A hewn pioneer figure, fully embedded within his local community – and so unlike the faceless boardroom moguls of an international ski resort – he is happy to take on piste-bashing or to staff the front desk and seemed to know all his customers.  

Afterwards, I drove to Logan. The crossroads where America’s mountain west meets modest Mormon town culture, it’s a hub for farming communities, with small museums, easy access to plentiful outdoor recreation and a prime position on the scenic Highway 89 from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone.

It has chain hotels but, for something completely different, I sampled the Anniversary Inn, which offers adult-only accommodation in 33 themed suites across seven buildings set in a small campus.  

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The Swiss Family Robinson Suite at the Anniversary Inn, Logan (Anniversary Inn/Facebook)

These themes range from ‘Swiss Family Robinson’, its second storey simulating a treehouse loft and a hot tub boasting a rock waterfall, to the ‘Pyramids of Egypt’ – a room with a pharaoh on the bedhead and snake taps on the bath. Couples who stay more than one night often ask to switch rooms to vary their experience. During my visit, designer Natalie Scott was refreshing a ‘Fire and Ice’ suite, which had icicles dangling from the ceiling, and is shared with stuffed penguins and murals of polar bears. 

Eight miles north-east of Cherry Peak, but 46 miles by road, lies Beaver Mountain, America’s oldest ski area to be run continuously by one family. The Seeholzers have been at Ski the Beav since 1939. It is much larger than Cherry Peak, averaging six feet more snow each winter. However, Beaver Mountain is 40 minutes’ drive out of Logan, all canyon road. Largely for this reason, the newcomer has a larger night skiing operation.

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Cherry Peak itself, which Utah's newest ski resort is named for (Chris Pearson/Ski Utah)

Late next morning I headed up Logan Canyon to see how Beaver Mountain was coping with the new competition.

Here I met local skier, Wayne Rich, 93 years young, found at Beaver Mountain on most winter days, often meeting up with half a dozen friends to do 12 runs before lunch. Such is their enthusiasm they are often the first ones on the lift at 9am. Wayne served with the Army Air Corps in England, France and Germany in World War II before taking up skiing in 1945. His longevity emanates from a happy disposition and easy-going enthusiasm.

Wherever you ski in North America, people will talk to you on chairlifts – a British accent is an automatic introduction, should you choose to engage.

However, in the large international resorts, you are more likely to be riding with lawyers, doctors, engineers, financiers, or accountants who are visitors to the area, just as you are. At Beaver Mountain and Cherry Peak – respectively one of the oldest and newest ski resorts in America – you are guaranteed to meet genuine local people, on the slopes and in the lodge.

And isn't that what travel is all about?

Travel essentials

Getting there

Delta Air Lines recently started non-stop services from London Heathrow to Salt Lake City, which run four times weekly this coming winter. Return fares start at around £796.

There are plentiful car hire choices at the airport. Rentals are next to the terminals rather than a shuttle ride away.

Logan is 86 miles away, mostly via interstate/dual carriageway. Cherry Peak lies a further 17 miles north, and Beaver Mountain 29 miles north-east, of Logan.

Visiting there

All-day adult weekday lift tickets at Cherry Peak are US$39; Saturdays and holidays are $42. Ski and boot rental package is $25 per day (skicherrypeak.com).

Beaver Mountain, which has four times the skiable area of Cherry Peak, charges $48 for an all-day adult lift ticket. Adult rental packages are $26 per day for a basic package (skithebeav.com).

Staying there

Anniversary Inn Logan is one of four locations, with two in Salt Lake City and one in Boise, Idaho. Logan is the original site and the only one with the suites in several buildings. Prices start at around $163 per night, including local tax, complimentary cider and cheesecake, and a light breakfast (anniversaryinn.com). 

For Logan’s 12 hotels and two other B&Bs consult Cache Valley Visitors’ Bureau (explorelogan.com).

More information

skiutah.com

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