During a 12-day trip to Utah to ski the resorts of Deer Valley, Park City, the Canyons, Snowbird, Alta, Solitude and Brighton, these are a few of the things that I learned. They are in no particular order, although I think it’s important to address the topic of Utah and alcohol first.
1) This is not a “dry” state. When I told people I was going to Utah to ski they mostly seemed to connect the American state with Mormonism and very strict rules about alcohol. There are a high number of Mormons living in Utah and numerous churches, plus the drink laws are sometimes odd when compared to our western laws, but alcohol is in plentiful supply.
2) However… the alcohol laws in Utah are stricter than the UK. For example, draft beer has a maximum alcohol content of 3.2% by weight and 4% by volume. And supermarkets are not allowed to sell booze with a higher alcohol content.
3) Then again, liquor stores can sell pretty much what they want. And the same laws do not apply to bottled booze. In fact, we were surprised to discover beers made in Utah being sold in most pubs, such as Wasatch and Squatters craft beers, with alcohol content as high as nine per cent. The G-Force’s favourites were Squatters Hop Rising and the Devastator.
4) And remember to take your passport when heading to a pub. Pub owners are required by law to check and record the ID of everyone entering their establishments. It doesn’t matter if you clearly look over 21. Even in our 40s we had to show our passports. (Strangely, the same did not seem to apply in the pubs in the ski resorts.)
5) But, anyway, we went to Utah to ski… and the skiing is magnificent. There are some 15 resorts in the state and many are less than an hour’s drive from Salt Lake City.
6) Salt Lake City has an average elevation of 4,327ft, which is just below the highest summit in Scotland. We flew to SLC, so this meant we were immediately located at a superb elevation for accessing the many ski resorts.
7) The ski resort summits rise up to 11,000ft and boast plentiful snow. In winter, the average snowfall per year is at least five metres, sometimes eight metres. Each week, we were told, some 2ft can fall.
8) The high altitude also means we suffered with shortness of breath and thirst, as well as occasional nausea and headaches.
9) The scenery takes your breath away (just like the altitude). Stunning high peaks, evergreens and the starkly beautiful aspens.
10) Aspens are actually weeds – and copses of them share the same root system. They look strange and have bizarre undergrowth.
11) Look out for bra trees. There are trees in all the resorts that have bras and brightly coloured necklaces hanging from their high branches. I’ve not idea why but they add amusement to a chairlift ride. I imagine that people throw their bras and necklaces from the chairlifts on to the trees.
12) The snow on Utah is dry and powdery, unlike the snow of the Alps, which tends to be wetter and icier. It is the most amazing kind of snow to ski on. Dry snow feels super smooth and promotes “hero” skiing.
13) Hero skiing is the type of skiing that is enjoyed on superb snow and flatters your ability. You look like a hero!
14) Even when the locals tell you that the snow isn’t that great – and that this is the least snowy winter for decades – the snow is still amazing.
15) The people of Utah are called Utahn or Utahan. Almost every Utahn that we met was wonderfully friendly, helpful and welcoming. People are refreshingly glass half full. And why not when they live in such a great outdoors playground?
16) People talk to each other. A lot. On buses, trams, in Cafés and pubs. They seem genuinely interested in each other and in tourists. Especially tourists with English and Scottish accents!
17) You can spot moose from the chairlifts at some resorts. We didn’t, but we looked.
18) There is a ski run called Courcheval in Park City Mountain Resort and in Courcheval there is one called Park City. There is some kind of twinning between the two resorts.
19) There is a black run called G Force in the Canyons resort.
20) Next year, Park City and Canyons will be linked by a gondola. This will create the largest North American ski resort.
21) The Americans love their mogul runs. There are lots of groomers (the name for groomed pistes) but also a lot of off-piste moguls to enjoy.
22) It seems that many, many skiers in Utah love a slightly bonkers ski helmet cover. I have never been so “chatted to”! Read my snow husky ski helmet blog.
23) Park city is an American Olympic training site and was the acclaimed venue for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games for Nordic jumping and the sliding sports of bobsled, luge and skeleton.
24) In pubs, restaurants, at chairlifts and on the radio, the typical music is old school American. Think Reo Speedwagon, Chicago and Foreigner etc style pop music. I loved it because it brought back so many memories of my school days and the music I listened to.
25) The diner called No Worries, at Parley’s Summit, just a 20-minute drive from Park City towards SLC serves fantastic breakfasts. We set ourselves up for the day with steak and egg.
26) Deer Valley and Alta do not allow snowboarders. I never thought I would say this, but it was bliss! I have taken up skiing this year after more than a decade of snowboarding and I am a complete convert. It was a delight not to have snowboarders carving me up and speeding past me at nerve-rackingly high speeds.
27) Deer Valley is renowned for its highly civilised skiing (it limits the number of skiers to 8,500 per day) and also for its fine dining in numerous restaurants, including Royal Street Cafe for lunch. It is a truly delightful resort, although it does attract lots of rich people. (I tell you this in case you prefer not to spend time with lots of rich people!). We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Lodges at Deer Valley, especially the Brass Tag restaurant and the superb help-yourself breakfasts.
28) Let Ski Butlers bring your rental skis and boots to your hotel room. It certainly beats roughing it in the queues and bustle of a ski rental shop. And if you need to change your boots or skis for any reason. (eg They aren’t comfy or extra powder snow arrives, they will change them for no extra fee or hassle.)
29) If you get the chance check out the luxurious Montage hotel in Deer Valley. OMG! My 90-minute sports massage was dreamy. The two swimming pools (one upstairs and outdoors) are fabbie. And the Burgers and Bourbon restaurant serves the bestest bourbon cocktails and bison burgers. Go treat yourself.
30) Park City Mountain Resort is big and fun. It has a popular freestyle park including an awesome half-pipe. The off-piste skiing is fantastic, including the renowned and black graded Jupiter runs and Blue Slip Bowl. The resort is super friendly and we happily skied here for three days.
31) A Powder Monkey is a section of off-piste that winds through the trees and via mini bowls and is superb fun for children and adults alike.
32) The Snowflower condos at Park City provide such easy access to the slopes. We skied almost to the locker room door.
33) Park City downtown is a funky place to hang out in the evening. Visit the No Name saloon and the High West distillery and bar, which you can ski to!
34) Sundance Film Festival brings the rich and famous to Park City every year. We missed it by a few days – but that’s because we’re too poor to book accommodation during the massive fest.
35) Park City was once the location of several very lucrative silver mines. In fact, Utah is famed for its many silver mines.
36) Canyons is just a short bus transfer away from PCMR. And the buses are free. Next year it will be linked to PCMR by gondola. The resort has five peaks and feels quite different to Park City. Once you get the hang of the peaks and pistes at Canyons and how to access them via the chairlifts the skiing is a delight.
37) I suggest you join one of the complimentary two-hour morning ski tours that take place each morning in the Canyons (and also Deer Valley). They are guided by a ski instructor and offer a more in-depth knowledge of the piste map, history and wildlife in the resorts.
38) The mountain “hosts” are brilliant. They are everywhere and usually stand at the large ski maps on the mountains. Ask them where best to ski for good groomers, great moguls or how to get back down the mountain at the end of your day.
39) For three days of our ski holiday we based ourselves in downtown Salt Lake City at the smart and very reasonable DoubleTree by Hilton. A Ski City Super Pass provides free bus transfers from the city to the four resorts of Snowbird, Alta, Solitude and Brighton. The journeys were between 30 mins and 45 mins. We loved the concept of staying in a big city with all its many attractions and then having easy access to the resorts each day.
40) The four local “city” resorts have a more laid back and less touristy feel to them than the resorts of Deer Valley and PCMR. This is where SLC residents tend to ski and some resorts, on a week day, are beautifully empty.
41) Solitude lives up to its name. I have no idea why more people do not flock to this stunning resort but it’s great that they don’t.
42) Snowbird’s Mineral basin is an amazing place to ski powder when the snow comes – and truly fabulous when the sun is splitting the sky. We know from experience!
43) There is a bourbon made in Utah called Knobs Creek! It amused us and it tasted good.