TO THE MORMAN BORN
Famous for polygamy, Mormons have long since claimed the state of Utah as their special breeding ground. If the thought of 3.1% alcohol deters you from visiting, think again. Gripping my bible I venture in to check things out.
|Keeping the faith|
Astride a snow swept powdery ridge 10,000 feet above sea level, I thought good and hard about the Mormons. Maybe the deep aqua blue sky stirred some religious thoughts. Maybe it was these Wasatch Mountains, fanned out before my eyes, and cruelly buckled by tectonic forces sweeping down to Mormon Headquarters in Salt Lake City. Nah, it was Sunday morning, a time Mormons aren’t allowed to ski, they should be in church, and us heathen folk had this mountain all to ourselves, Giddy up. Hearts pounding like unfit marathon runners, avalanche beacon reassuringly patted like guide dogs. So many ways to go straight to hell and I’m lovin’ every one of them.
Leaping off the ridge with immoral glee, virgin untracked fields of white greet and delight. So easy to lift and turn, each ski like an obedient puppet in this light, aerated creation of God. No gluggy wet mess here, just squeaky, fluffy delirium inducing glory.
Drive 40 minutes south of Salt Lake City you stumble upon the little resort village of the Canyons. Gigantic timber houses stand proudly against white backdrops along the route, a noticeable lack of gaudy neon lights lift spirits. Originally Wolf Mountain, The Canyons was officially opened in 1995 to satisfy voracious skiing appetites it encompasses 3.500 acres boasting 5 bowls. Nineteen high-speed lifts cover 9 craggy white peaks and 3,190 vertical feet (compared to 1165 at Perisher) ensures the faint hearted need not apply. This is not a tourist mountain in the snow-dome and key ring souvenirs kind of way. 146 groomed and off-piste runs present a plethora of ski opportunity for intermediate to advanced levels, so if you’re having trouble braking or travelling in the snowplough position you’d better book into ski school or stay in bed. Sure, there’s green and blue marked runs, but like a bread roll on a restaurant side plate you wouldn’t go to the Canyons especially for that. This is serious stuff.
If you can ski Perisher or Thredbo okay-to-pretty well call your airline coz your head will need a seat of its own on the way home if you can manage some of these runs. Its one thing to exclaim in wondrous high-pitched awe how leafy the Evergreen trees and Aspens are from the comfort of the chairlift. It is a whole new ball game when you’re dodging between the trees on a run marked officially on the map with no other way down. Ski patrol would have your privates for breakfast if you simulated that in Thredbo.
Diamond runs Shadows, Gallery, Grande, Deshutes, Diamond Ridge offer fluffy snow-filled chutes, forests of trees to dodge between and bumps to make your bouncy bits bob. And the air is so still, so quiet. Makes you almost want to become a Mormon and give up sex.
NOT A SHOPPERS PARADISE
If you fancy yourself as more of a shopping-and-dining-skier you may experience temporary pangs of disappointment. Despite its ranking as the fifth largest ski resort in America, The Canyons is no Vail, Whistler or Aspen which all boast an abundance of restaurants, bars and shops and caters more to the ‘all-rounder’ skier. No, this tiny resort village is lucky to have 10 stores catering to your needs although it is growing each year. If you’re vegan or vegetarian you may as well whistle, likewise if you’re gluten-intolerant, the Canyons’ six restaurants may not cater to your tastebuds for your entire vacation. Not to say the food isn’t fabulous in it’s ski-town way, hey, I’m a buffalo-wing addict so I’m all good. Likewise the steaks are to die-for.
|Light and fluffy|
The Sundial Lodge is one of only five 3-4 star hotels nestled at the base of the gondola. With its lizard motifs, oranges, mustards and browns the hotel has a distinct ‘Cowboys and Indians’ feel and certainly geared towards self-catering groups. Rates start cheap if you prefer lack of room service, in-house movies or included breakfast, but all good if you’re looking to save money. We spent our honeymoon here, had I been the type to look for flowers and a romantic sleep-in I would have got a big shock. ‘You’re here for the skiing, baby. Get your goggles on and buckle up those boots’. It’s that type of place.
The Summit Hotel is a whole lot of money well-spent, the best feature being right next to the gondola. The ski school meeting point is right next to the hotel and the daycare is inside the hotel. Too good to be true. We’ll be definately heading back to the Summit. That pool is too big, too warm and too good to be missed.
|Old mining equipment, Park City|
Ten minutes down the highway in the complementary shuttle bus is the glamorous silver mining town Park City, established 1881. This is neither the town nor the time to wear your dribble stained jumper to pop out for a quick bite. Old world charm, old money and hierarchy are the smells emitting from beautiful movie-set Main Street. Robert Redford’s Zoom occupies the town’s converted tasteful old train station and offers sumptuous mouth watering Ribs and Salmon dishes. The atmosphere cosy and snug, the open kitchen ensuring the chefs kept on task for your every culinary need. Unless you fancy standing around in the cold it is best to book a few days ahead with all these popular spots. Chimaya, Blind Dog, Prime Steak, Easy Street and Wahso boast outstanding mouth watering menus, great wines and warm, inviting dens. The lighting is dark and deliciously low should you feel overcome with romantic or matrimonial desires. Not the place to take your mum.
Park City Ski Resort shares the ‘Greatest Snow on Earth’ and caters to the shopper-diner-skier more successfully than The Canyons; skiers may sashay from slope to store in mere steps. Intermediate skiers can amuse themselves ad nausea on 3,300 acres of impeccably groomed runs on Chance, King Con, Seldom Seen and Fool’s Gold, weaving around decrepit mining shacks and mine shafts from the days of mining glory. With a vertical rise of 3,100 feet, a quick hike ‘out of bounds’ for intermediates to experts is the norm for couples, solo voyagers and locals alike. Keen beans can be seen dawn to dusk trekking along ominous white Pinecone Ridge. A few powder runs ridge to Thaynes Canyon unforgettable, slyly slotted in before a boozy lunch provides fodder for the brag book.
For Princesses in fluffy Louis Vuitton one-piece suits there is always Deer Valley. A tectonic uplift or two east of Park City Resort, it is the shining jewel in the crown for skiers who live by the motto ‘If you can’t ski you may as well look good’. A vertical rise of 3,000 feet spread over 1,750 acres it affords a famously snotty limit of 5,000 lucky daily tickets. If you’ve slept in and missed the quota best to snap manicured fingers at valet car park attendants to ferry you back to the Millon dollar shack.
Despite the name, you are more likely to catch sight of a rabbit than a deer during the winter months although the celebrity skiers are most certainly thick on the ground. Owen Wilson’s iconic bent nose was observed shivering in the lift queue by yours truly, when pressed as to his skiing ability he assured listeners in that nasal drawl “Oh I can get dowwwn”.
When one tires of shousing past three storey mansions with breathtaking views over Jordanelle Reservoir, one can revive in the well-to-do Stein Erickson Hotel. Conveniently located at the top of Success, Champion and Know you Don’t blue runs, this elegant Norwegian inspired world-class hotel is named after Stein Erickson, a former USA Olympic Gold medallist. If you cannot afford to impress your princess with $1000 plus nightly room, the skier’s buffet near the lobby should suffice. Despite exorbitant prices for juicy burgers, sandwiches and generous salads the waiters are quite used to splitting the meals and the bills with a pitying wink.
|Adrenalin junkie perfection|
An hour west of The Canyons nestled between precariously steep snowy cliffs lie the extreme-skiing villages of Snowbird and Alta. Rows of 6 storey solemn concrete bunkers line the base of these avalanche-prone cliffs. If you couldn’t help but remark aloud what a marvellous view these housing commission residents had you may be excused. These unfortunate engineering examples are the hotels of the village The Inn, The Lodge, The Cliff and the Ironbark. built to withstand frequent avalanches. Not a place to have a dirty weekend if five star accommodation was on your mind, still, the outdoor spa and pool with spectacular backdrop may serve as aphrodisiac.
Just a leisurely five minute walk from the hotels clearly stuck in a 1970s time warp, gets you onto the Snowbird Aerial Tramway. The brightly coloured tram lifting 125 parker-clad skiers squished tightly together gives you eight heart-stopping minutes to consider your mortality as it makes its 8,395-foot long journey. At the peak of the 3,240 feet vertical drop a choice of eleven lifts over 2 cliff faces is laid out before you, or should I say, below you. The view over the Wasatch Mountains and Salt Lake City is nothing less than breathtaking, as is the altitude, it seems. Top to bottom runs Chip’s Run, Gad Chutes, Mach Schnell and Mark Malu Fork give a long winded, unnatural thrill and run after run in Mineral Basin guarantees a smile on the dial.
Alta, one lift over from Mineral Basin boasts a total ban on snowboarding. An over-representation of home knitted jumper wearing over-seventy year olds might provide clues to that unique ruling. Never will you see so many oldies skiing in one place yet the resort itself presented so many different and varied ways to die. Figure that one, Sherlock Holmes. Riding one of seven chairlifts over the 2,200 ski able acres it is best for one’s mind not to wander, as there is not a safety bar in sight. Grasping the bar of the chair with one hand is a heathen’s only chance of salvation should your mind or body momentarily stray. No small feat for the vague. The cliff between Collins and Sugarloaf lifts allows the adventurous to test their ability on the plethora of natural chutes, pipes and black diamond runs. Number 9 Express, Big Dipper, Rock N’ Roll and Upper Sleepy Hollow, a treat for both intermediates and advanced skiers. Alta’s Alfies Restaurant proves an unsuspecting minefield for those with a hankering for beer. If Utah State Government’s 3% alcohol laws don’t deter and you are not put off by bar counter warnings of the dangers of alcohol you can pat yourself on the back and attempt to get drunk. Read: Attempt.
|Guilty as charged|
|Symmetry in motion|
So, you’ve tested your mettle on the powder- Utah’s famed ‘Greatest Snow on Earth’. You’ve nailed the black diamonds, swerved the trees, survived the hikes and generally treated your body like an amusement park. You’re feeling pretty cocky, got your plane seats booked for you and your ego and you’ve got an afternoon free, what to do, what to do. Alta’s Gold Miner’s Daughter Restaurant has mouth-watering pizza, goes down well with a drink. These Mormons aren’t so bad you’re thinking. Oh, just one last thing- they don’t serve wine there. Foetal position is good. Find a happy place.
The Westin and The Canyons Grand Summit Hotels, just metres from the gondola – lavishly cosy walking in from the cold. Reasonable rooms, café downstairs, self-contained apartments. The Sundial, a short walk to gondola, desert themed functional expanse of a hotel.
$80.10 to $324 US per night per couple. Includes breakfast and one-day free ski.
The Canyons Central Reservation 1-866-604-4171
The Canyons 4000 The Canyons Resort Drive Park City, UT 84098
TRICKS FOR YOUNG PLAYERS
Ski with an insider on Wednesdays and Saturdays 7.15am before the crowds. Breakfast included. Reservations essential. $50
Aesthetically challenged self-contained lodgings set against a spectacular winter wonderland backdrop.
AUS $1005+ for 6 nights accommodation in a studio or hotel room.
Flight Centre Kirribilli phone 9448 7144
Fax: 9448 7155
1/21 Broughton St Kirribilli NSW 2061
Lodgings and Ground Transfer Reservations: 1-800-640-2002
TRICKS FOR YOUNG PLAYERS
Allergic to chairlifts? Ski the backcountry dropped out of a helicopter.
$500 per day per person
Wasatch Powderbird Guides 1800-WPG-HELI
PO BOX 920 057 Snowbird, Utah 84092
Be the first to make the first tracks of the day. Intermediate to advanced skiers can ski or snowboard before the regular mountain opening Christmas to April.
Snowbird Mountain School 801-933-2435
PO BOX 929 000 Snowbird, UT 84092-9000