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Salt Lake skiing: powder and proximity.

An exhilarating descent through knee-deep powder brings you to the base of another lift--at a different ski area from where you started.

By day's end, you've sampled miles of undeveloped alpine terrain between five ski areas in three canyons. Exhaustion tempers your sense of accomplishment. Why undertake such a wearying journey? Among possible answers, perhaps most persuasive is, because you can.

This guided inter-resort tour (detailed on page 28) is only one way to survey a collection of downhill ski areas remarkable not only for their proximity to one another, but also for their accessibility from a major city and its attendant amenities, such as an airport, hotels, and cultural attractions.

Within 30 miles of downtown Salt Lake City lie seven downhill ski resorts, each with its own distinctive personality. At one, you might stand next to an Arab sheikh in the lift line, while at another you're more likely to share a chair with a local high-schooler who learned to ski at the same area. One offers groomed cruising runs cut through a fir forest; another is known for wide-open, powder-filled bowls.

Of course, many ski vacationers park themselves at one resort and ski there for the duration. It's possible, however, to plan a trip that allows you to take full advantage of the uniquely close-at-hand variety that Salt Lake City offers. The information and suggestions that follow will help you put together this type of vacation.

Utah is famous for its dependable and ample supply of dust-dry powder snow. During the past few drought years, when the Sierra has lacked even its characteristic "cement," Californians have been flocking to Utah in record numbers.



Salt Lake City is more than just a convenient transfer point for skiers flying in from out of state. It also makes an excellent base camp for ski expeditions up the canyons that finger into the Wasatch Range from Salt Lake Valley. At 4,330 feet in elevation, it's about 3,500 feet lower than the average base elevation of the seven nearby ski areas, and often as much as 20[degrees] warmer.

If sampling a variety of ski areas is your goal, staying in the city rather than at one of the resorts can cut your number of canyon ascents and descents in half. Salt Lake City also has the closet concentration of beds to the Big Cottonwood Canyon resorts, which have little lodging.

Downtown hotels cater to skiers by offering such services as ski rental fittings in your room, as well as selling lift tickets at the front desk, which allows you to avoid lines at resort ticket windows. Also, room rates tend to be significantly lower than at mountain inns. The gap widens even more on weekends, when rates drop downtown and rise in the mountains.

From the moment you arrive in Salt Lake City, your hotel choice can affect how you get around. Many hotels offer free shuttles from the airport to the hotel. More important, several are on or near routes of the Utah Transit Authority's ski buses, which can eliminate the need to rent a car or negotiate treacherous mountain roads.

Each morning, public buses (specially designed for safe mountain driving) make a circuit through downtown to collect passengers, who strap skis into racks on each bus. Buses then head to the ski areas in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons. After lifts close in late afternoon, buses file back down the canyons. A one-way trip, from Temple Square to base lodge, takes about 70 minutes and costs $4 (exact fare required). Buses run as often as every 10 minutes during peak hours (8 to 9 a.m., 3 to 5:30 p.m.).

Although public transportation won't take you from downtown to the three ski areas near Park City, a private company's more luxurious buses will. Comfortably appointed coaches round up passengers at downtown hotels each morning, taking them to a transfer point where they board a bus for one of the three canyons. The trip to Park City Ski Area takes an hour ($13 round trip).

Although Park City lacks some of the features that make Salt Lake City a unique urban base camp, it is quite possible to use the historic mining town as a base from which to sample the region, even without a car.

Accommodations in Park City are plentiful and run from bed-and-breakfasts to full-service hotels. A private bus company offers scheduled Canyon Jumper service; skiers staying in Park City can go to resorts in Big or Little Cottonwood Canyon in the morning and return in the afternoon ($18 round trip).

This month, Park City steals part of the cultural spotlight from Salt Lake City as it hosts the prestigious Sundance (former U.S.) Film Festival. From January 16 through 26, the town's theaters will offer 40 screenings every day, affording skiers plenty of opportunities to rest their slope-weary legs while bathing in the glow of both new and classic films.



Wherever you stay, if you want to ski at two areas in the same canyon in one day, you can use intra-canyon transportation between neighboring resorts.

In Little Cottonwood Canyon, frequent UTA buses shuttle between Alta and Snowbird ($2). Skiers don't even need to get out of their bindings to get between Solitude and Brighton; they can ski from one to the other on the Sol-Bright Trail (a Big Cottonwood Pass for both areas' lifts costs $35.)

Park City runs free shuttles to the Park City and Deer Valley ski areas.


Looking at the travel options available to Salt Lake City, you begin to understand why it deserves its billing as the crossroads of the West.

All major West Coast airports offer several nonstop flights a day to Salt Lake City (most flights are on Delta, which uses the city as its Western hub). Salt Lake's airport consistently ranks high in on-time service ratings; skiers are unlikely to encounter the delays and other frustrations that are commonplace at Denver's Stapleton airport, the West's other major skiing gateway.

Two ski rental shops in the airport can outfit you while you wait for your luggage, though recent improvements to the baggage-handling system should shorten your wait; simply return your rentals when you fly out.

Salt Lake is also a hub for rail travel from both the West Coast and Denver. Amtrak trains offer a leisurely alternative to flying; the trip from Los Angeles takes about 16 hours, from San Francisco 18 hours, and from Seattle 24 hours.

Unfortunately, eastbound trains tend to arrive in Salt Lake between 4 and 5 a.m. Most hotels will let you check into your room, if it's available, after 6 a.m. without charging for an extra night.

Finally, those who prefer to steer their own fate and their own car can take advantage of the interstate highways that converge in Salt Lake City. The driving distance from L.A. is 750 miles, from San Francisco 725, and from Portland 825, so plan on at least 12 hours of actual driving time.




Unless otherwise noted, the area code is 801 and addresses are in Salt Lake City.

Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau, 180 S. West Temple, 84101; 521-2822 or (800) 541-4955. Can provide listings of city hotels, restaurants, and cultural organizations.

Park City Convention & Visitors Bureau, Box 1630, Park City 84060; 649-6100 or (800) 453-1360. Distributes a vacation planner with detailed listings of hotels.

Ski Utah, 307 W. 200 South, Suite 1003, 84101; 534-1907. Sponsors Interconnect Adventure Tours: experienced guides lead 6 to 14 skiers over backcountry routes connecting four or five ski areas. Skiers should be at least strong intermediates with some powder skiing experience, and be prepared for some long and tiring traverses. The 8-hour tourst cost $95 per person (lunch included). Call or write to make required reservations.

Utah Transit Authority, Box 30810, 84130; 262-5626. Ask for ski bus schedule and route maps.

Lewis Bros. Stages, Box 510247, 84151; 369-8677 or (800) 826-5844. Call for times and routes of the Downtown Ski Express or Canyon Jumper.

Sundance Film Festival, Box 16450, 84116; 328-3456. Write or call for schedule of film screenings.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Mahoney, David
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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