Every year, I make it out to the West for a week or two of skiing. But somehow I had never gotten to Utah. Wanting to taste the “champagne powder” that Utah is so famous for, last summer I signed up for a March trip to Park City and Canyons.
Well, as anyone who has been watching the weather reports can tell you, any champagne to be found in Utah this past week would need to have come from a bottle. (And Utah being what it is, that might be hard to find, too.) Those weather reports would also have told you that it has been a great week for spring skiing in Utah, even if a bit early. The days were lovely with sun, but the highs were in the 50s at the base, and a record high was expected on the last day of my trip.
But I have gotten ahead of the story…
Utah is awash with ski areas, most quite near to Salt Lake City. I spent 3 days skiing at Park City (where I lodged) and one day at nearby Canyons. The Park City resort is located adjacent to the town of Park City, a half-hour’s drive from the Salt Lake City airport. Canyons can be reached from Park City via free shuttles that come by every 20 minutes.
Park city boasts a 3,100 foot vertical with 3,300 skiable acres. According to their brochure, they have 100 trails: 18 green, 44 blue, and 38 black. Boarders will enjoy their 400 foot superpipe with 17-foot walls and their two jib parks. Some of their runs provide night skiing. Their 14 lifts include 3 sixpacks. More info can be found at www.parkcitymountain.com. I rarely had to wait in a maze, and the wait was never long. (The most congested lift that I encountered was the Silverload sixpack near lunchtime.)
The high temperatures and lack of snow took their toll. While most runs were open and covered, some of what would have been double-diamond ridges were almost devoid of snow, and bare spots appeared in some of the bump runs. Because the nights did go below freezing, early morning conditions were hard, making anything but groomed runs difficult. Midday skiing was fine. Toward the end of the day, the bottom was mushy.
That all said, I had a good time. The terrain was varied and plentiful. The scenery had a beauty that can never by matched in the East. I had no difficulty challenging myself or cruising when I wanted to feel the rush of speed. Enough of the terrain was groomed every night to make skiing early plenty of fun. (I was there at 9:00 every day when the lifts started.) It was not difficult to get away from the crowds and, as I said, lift lines were rare.
I spent most of my time on the right half of the mountain, where there was an even split of blue and black runs, allowing me to alternate between cruising and bumps. I found the blacks perhaps a bit easier at Park City than at other western ski areas. I also enjoyed the McConkey’s bowl, which is mostly marked double black but also has some blue runs on it. Intermediate skiers will find it fun to start on the blues here and move into bowl bumps part way down, avoiding the more-demanding slope above.
I didn’t find as much glade skiing opportunities in Park City as I have found in other resorts. The biggest such area appeared to be rather dense, steeply-pitched, and marked double diamond; I didn’t try it.
I had all of my lunches on the mountain at the Snow Hut restaurant, one of several eateries on the hill. The food, prices, and atmosphere were typical of such establishments and quite satisfying.
Two nifty little things are worth reporting: First, the trail maps are sandwiched between two heavy paper ends such that pulling on the ends opens the map up in a single motion. A neat touch. Second, in addition to the normal trail signs, the trails are marked with signs that are meant to be read from the lifts, making it obvious what trail you are looking at as you go over. An example for all resorts to follow.
The town of Park City is very nice. It offers many restaurants, nice shops, and is a real town worth walking about. Those whose legs are no longer interested in much walking will find the frequent free buses helpful. The town is a nice mix of the historical and the modern. (In addition to historical things in town, the mountain had derelict mine structures which were nicely preserved and neat to look at.) There is a lift that leaves right from the center of town, and you can ski back to it over a little bridge.
The Canyons ski area rises 3,190 feet and encompasses 3,500 acres. They list 146 trails, of which 14% are green, 44% are blue, and 42% black. Sixteen lifts include a gondola, a cabriolet, and two surface lifts. See www.thecanyons.com for more details.
I spent only one day at Canyons (call it laziness; I could walk to the Park City lifts in 5 minutes from my condo). It was a nice place, but suffered the same conditions, of course. I skied the left half of the resort, mostly on blues. I liked the Dreamscape area, on the extreme left side, and spent the most time there. The runs in Dreamscape were all marked blue. I spent some time in the trees there and actually found untracked snow. Although the bubbles had gone out of this champagne, my skis glided silently along, submerged peacefully.
Most of my comments made about terrain on Park City mountain apply to Canyons. The skiing was as good as the conditions permitted, the scenery was great, and I much enjoyed the day.
The Red Pine Lodge restaurant, located centrally on the mountain, was a bit of a disappointment: it didn’t even carry any fresh baked goods, skipping the staple big cookies, brownies, and cake for prepackaged things. (Perhaps a minor complaint, but I take my mountainside dessert seriously!)
There’s nothing like skiing in the West. Despite the relative lack of snow and spring temperatures, I had a happy, relaxing, challenging time. And I look forward to the future when I might finally wallow in the Utah champagne.