Skiing Utah: Getting Away with Girls on Skis
Picabo with the gang
Skiing Utah: A Four-Day Women-Only Getaway
By Cathie Arquilla
When people say they are going out west to ski Utah, easterners think, "Oooooh, aaahh isn’t that for serious skiers who mean it, terrain chock full of double black diamonds, narrow steep chutes (between boulders), big mountain skiing?"
All true, but Utah is also host to oodles of intermediate and beginner runs which allow the novice or more accomplished skier to feel the rush of breezing downhill. I’m a strong skier and I can manage most of what a resort has to offer, but I wanted a ski vacation which was relaxing –- perhaps that’s an oxymoron.
But on a four-day, women-only ski getaway, I soaked up the peace and grandeur of Utah’s forest and mountain while listening to the background music of my skis swishing downhill. It was relaxing and my female companions made it doubly so. With the exception of an occasional male guide or van driver, it was just us gals and we skied mostly solid blue squares (intermediate runs), but as our delightful Park City hostess Picabo Street pointed out, “There’s no shame in that!”
We women were of differing ages and ski abilities, but we shared the common denominator of loving the sport and being crunched for time. In just four days, including travel, we covered three resorts –- Alta, Solitude and Park City Mountain Resort. We had the benefit of a Ski Utah guide, but anyone can use the tools of this detailed website to custom design a Utah ski trip to accommodate every desire.
Take Delta’s early morning non-stop to Salt Lake City from JFK and you can exchange your airline seat for a chairlift and be down the mountain by 1 p.m. -- and that is having rented your skies and eaten lunch first! So east coast skiers on a tight schedule can ski both on their arrival and departure day.
Alta: It’s about skiing
While ascending the slopes of Alta, I marveled at the whole concept of air travel, time change, and just how awesome these mountains were. Vistas beyond the resort boundaries looked like mountains of newly sifted powdered sugar while runs up close made me whisper, “Yahoo!” in anticipation of going down them.
Having rediscovered my downhill legs that first afternoon, I felt prepared to tour Alta, the mountain, the next day. As it says in one brochure, “Alta’s best kept secret is great beginner and intermediate terrain,” and we cruised most of it. The mountain was non-threatening and I felt relaxed. At one point I noticed I was having so much fun that my teeth were drying out from smiling as I headed down mountain.Alta is known as the “skiers mountain.” Aren’t they all? Yes, but, Alta is for skiers who are passionate about skiing and less interested in resort amenities. Besides that, snowboarding is not allowed at Alta.
A European Flavor
The general feel of the resort is low-key, with a charming, old-school European sort of flavor. It was founded in the late 1930s, a time when skiing was in its infancy in this country. Discovering a forestry area that reminded one founder of the Swiss Alps, Alta’s pioneers modeled the resort after European ski travel.
The year 1938 marked Alta’s first ski season and the same families own the resort today! Their approach to development is conservative with an eye toward keeping Alta as pristine as possible. Our group fully appreciated the beauty, charm and inviting atmosphere of this traditional resort.
On the deck of The Goldminer’s Daughter, one of Alta’s base lodges, relaxing in the sun with a beer, we compared notes and shared some skiing stats. Alta offers something called a Oneticket, a pass to both Alta and Snowbird, an adjoining resort, that gives you more terrain than you can shake a ski pole at.As with any group outing, at the beginning of our trip we were met with a few small mishaps that were wonderfully “handled” by my fellow double-X chromosomes. My skies where swiped (later recovered), Note to self: Separate your skis, even rentals, when you go inside. One friend's boot buckle was misbehaving. We didn’t have correct change for lockers etc. All of which meant delayed time on the slopes, but blessedly, my companions didn’t seem to care.
Don’t miss the view at the top of the Sugarloaf lift. From there, you get a three-sixty outlook that includes the slopes of Snowbird and the Valley of Salt Lake. There is a “Ski Free After 3:00” lift called Sunnyside –- great for beginners. The Interconnect is also something to know about. It is a Ski Utah tour, which “connects” up to six different resorts. If you are a hearty backcountry skier, seeking a thrill and love to explore, the Interconnect is for you.
Lodging at Alta is straightforward, and I enjoyed the basic accommodations at the Alta Peruvian Lodge. Just down the road from Alta’s other ski-in-ski-out lodges, the Peruvian was so “Alpine” I expected to see “Heidi” around every corner.
Packages include breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Sleeping is rustic –- Murphy beds, bunks, daybeds, no TV and if you’re not fussy, a bathroom down the hall is an option. But the Lodge does offer some niceties as well as some skiing necessities. Guests can enjoy a heated pool, sauna and hot tubs. Ski Rental and Repair shop are on-site and could come in very handy.
The breakfast buffet was appropriately ample, offering American, and some European favorites. Made to order omelets, waffles, sausage, bacon and eggs might be welcome sustenance prior to the Alta Stairmaster –- climbing on foot to reach fresh powder or daring drop.The no-name “bar,” complete with mounted buffalo head, antlers, and a carved wooden Indian, would make any wannabe cowgirl feel ass-kicking awesome. And for the cowgirl who wants to stay connected there is WIFI.
Alta’s lodges are all privately owned and operate separately from one another and from the resort. I gather each lodge has it’s indie feel, the Peruvian felt family friendly, personable and very authentic. One mother who was staying at the Lodge told me of her husband who as a graduate student, washed dishes at night in exchange for sleeping on the floor of a public room known as the Alf Engen room.
Pioneer Alf Engen, a Norwegian, was instrumental in the development of Alta’s trail design, snow safety and ski instruction. Today guests can cozy up in the Alf Engen room for a movie shown each night at nine.
Solitude: It’s just that
As its name implies, Solitude feels as if you are skiing in the privacy of your own backyard –- with a few invited guests. Their slogan is “Solitude Mountain Resort, If you only knew”…so let me tell you.
Solitude offers 20% beginner, 50% intermediate and 30% advanced runs. For the expert who wants to experience backcountry skiing in-bounds there is Honeycomb Canyon. Imagine powder-filled chutes and tree runs.
Coming off the mountain at Solitude
The day I skied Solitude the crowds were non-existent. My group and I had the shared the experience of feeling like the mountain was our very own. We got chatty and silly and felt at ease even while skiing some of the more challenging runs. I skied 9,675 vertical feet before lunch! I know this because Solitude’s lift tickets are electronic and you can discover your “mileage” après ski if you log onto their website and plug in your lift ticket ID number.
The resort is touted as “great for families” and through Solitude Village Lodging you can book anywhere from a studio to a three-bedroom condo. With immediate access to the mountain, these condos keep hauling equipment to a minimum –- just what you want when skiing with kids. But frankly, the romance, sophistication, and style of Solitude’s village, with its nod to Bavaria, would tempt me to leave the kids at home.
I stayed at The Inn at Solitude and it was especially dreamy. Sinking into an ultra suede comforter, atop a big plush bed, in a well-appointed room, is pure luxury, especially when you’re wiped from a day of skiing.
When there, don’t miss the St. Bernard’s (yes, like the the dog) restaurant. Soupe a l’Oignon Gratinee, Confit de Canard, Yellow fig Crème Brulee, Plat du Fromage were as rich, and French, and gastronomic as they sound! The resort also offers a dining experience called The Yurt. Amble along a torch-lit path through the woods on cross-county skis or snowshoes. You’re headed to a five-course dinner cooked on site in a fancy tent –- a yurt.
Park City Mountain Resort: Once a miners mountain now a skier’s park.
Seafood Buffet at Deer Valley
Like having a double espresso, it was a bit of a jolt approaching Park City from the solitude of Solitude. Yet anticipating the bustle of most cities can be intoxicating and we welcomed the buzz of Park City. Much the way New York City’s Soho was once a collection of small factories, Park City was once a mining town. There is still some legacy of the miner, but when approaching Deer Valley’s posh Resort, mining is the last thing on your mind.
The snippet of Deer Valley we experienced was dining at the Seafood Buffet. The name does not do this bountiful, artfully presented, “buffet” justice. Crab legs, sushi, oysters, shrimp, mussels and clams, are yours just for starters. Follow this up with seafood empanadas, bourbon ribs, grilled tuna, or sea bass with a berry glaze. Whether tart or chocolate lover, there is a dessert for every sweet tooth. I had an apple brown betty, which I combined with homemade ginger snaps –- heavenly.
I had skied Park City as a kid and I was anxious to reacquaint myself with this vast resort, but I was also little nervous. We would be skiing this mountain with two-time Olympic medalist Picabo Street as our guide!
Like a godfather giving a tour of the old neighborhood, Picabo gave us an overview of Park City that was personal, emotional and nostalgic. Pointing out vestiges of old mining shacks and equipment, Picabo discussed marketing strategies for this, Utah’s first ski resort. Like Park City, the town, she’s encouraging Park City Mountain Resort to capitalize on its western history and flavor of an old mining village.
Three days of unseasonably warm weather had made the terrain at Park City quite hard and slick and I was feeling a bit “off balance” –- not what you want when skiing, especially when skiing with one of the greatest downhill skier in history. However, Picabo’s disarming style and lighthearted nature put me ease and notwithstanding the conditions, I felt light on my skies that day.
Picabo shares a bit of park history.
She showed us the Jupiter Bowl. While this advanced area would represent extreme skiing for most of us, I’m sure it’s a piece of cake for this gold medalist. She referred to it as a fun place to “get rowdy.”
We also paused at the top of the run, Payday. As a tweenager I remember skiing Payday while singing loudly and badly, a really silly song which started something like, “Hotdoggin it up…”
Picabo told us of her first win on Payday. Payday was also the first run she attempted to ski down after her most serious ski injury. During a World cup downhill race in Switzerland, Picabo wiped out, breaking her left femur in nine places and tearing the ACL in her right knee.
Convalescing took a year and several months (She can tell you the exact time, down to the day.) Picabo recounted the moving experience of skiing Payday after such a bad accident. Emotional flood gates burst open, she collapsed in tears experiencing tons of feelings to be whole, healthy and back on skis. I think we’ve all had our Payday moments. Overcoming adversity, whether physical or emotional, is a heady feeling indeed.
Undoubtedly Park City offers the most ski options in Utah. The Canyon Resort, Deer Valley Resort, and Park City Mountain Resort provide limitless possibilities for every skier. And while skiing these resorts you can also enjoy the cool quotient of Park City itself. If you want to eat lunch on Main Street and return to the mountain just after, one simply rides a chairlift to the heart of downtown and back.
Skiing out west, specifically Utah’s Alta, Solitude and Park City Mountain resort is something every avid skier should do. No matter whom you choose to ski with, the beauty and majesty of these mountains will be a magnificent backdrop to a good time.
Alta speaks to me of family, easy access to a mountain with reasonable terrain and no-nonsense skiing. The tranquility of Solitude, with its personal touch, charming village and lack of crowds is for lovers and I’d like to share this tucked-away resort with my husband. Park City Resort felt upbeat and dynamic, a spirited resort with a something-for-everybody flair.
So whether you choose to ski with women or men, kids or grandparents, you’re welcome to ski Utah and these resorts are sure to please.
Check it out:
SkiUtah.com: Excellent resource for Utah ski travel and more.
Kate has a crab claw.
Shallow Shaft Restaurant: 801-742-2177 The only restaurant separate and apart from Alta’s lodges. Rustic with a contemporary menu, try the Rock Shrimp Corn Fritters, Crab Stuffed Mushrooms or Utah Trout Cakes.
Alta.com: A detailed website providing resort info and vacation planning.
Goldminer’s Daughter Day Spa: 801-742-2300 The Ski Boots Revenge foot massage sounds awesome.
www.skisolitude.com: Solitude’s comprehensive website
Solitudes’s Creekside Restaurant 801-536-5787: Casual and family-friendly. Don’t miss the Crisp Fried Calamari served with smoked tomato aioli. Or try the Creekside Ceasar, tossed with caper berries, asiago, and balsamic anchovy dressing it is something different.
St Bernard’s 801-536-5508: Located inside The Inn at Solitude reservations are strongly encouraged during holiday periods.
The desserts were fabulous.
Newpark Resort 800-245-6417: Beautifully designed, these brand new fully equipped spacious condos and townhouses are minutes away from Park City’s three resorts and downtown Main Street. Shuttle services to and from the resorts are complementary, but reservations are required.
Stein Eriksen Lodge 800-453-1302: At Deer Valley Resort this premier hotel offers the ultimate in hospitality, fine dining and spa services.
The Spur Bar & Grill 435-615-1618: Located down an alley at 350½ Main Street, Park City. Imagine a country western bar serving up live music any baby boomer would love; Neil Young, Crosby Still & Nash, Joni Mitchell –- you get the picture.
Bacchus Wine Bar 435-940-9463: Recommended café with sensible prices serving specialty food.
No Name Saloon and Grill 435-649-6667: A local’s hangout with reasonable American fare.
Cathie Arquilla is proud to be a veteran GoNOMAD writer. Both travel writer and fashion stylist, not only can Cathie tell us why to go, but what to wear! Happiest while experiencing a local scene, its grit or glamour, Cathie’s writing brings readers to a place and encourages them to go there too. She lives just outside of New York City. To find out more about this renaissance gal with dual careers visit her website.