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Spring Skiing in Utah

Alta and Snowbird

Ice skating, Snowbird

Ah, spring. For many people, it’s a time for daffodils, the Easter Bunny, and migrating birds. But skiers know that April is all about Alta – skiing, that is. Even if you’re a novice, now is the time to cash in those frequent flyer miles or call your travel agent because there is simply nothing like skiing without the slightest chill. So forget April in Paris. Travel with me now to Alta, Utah where we’ll discover how to squeeze the most out of your spring season before summer comes to melt it all away.

The sky in Utah goes on and on, stretched out like a giant canvas hovering overhead. The mountains and clouds are so like brushstrokes they’re almost surreal. And against the backdrop of this endless sky, sugar-covered trees shoot straight up the landscape. In the middle of all this scenery, some great skiing awaits. But don’t just take my word for it, Skiing Magazine rated Alta and Snowbird the #1 ski area in the country five years in a row. The weather is pleasant, sunny, and warm. A month ago people rushed in from a day of skiing seeking solace in a cup of soup or a hot toddy. In April, they reluctantly retreat from smooth, un-crowded slopes to sun themselves on one of several resort decks, ice cold beers in hand.

The Alta slopes are a skier’s paradise--there’s no snowboarding allowed. But at Snowbird, snowboarding is permitted. Regardless of whether your group prefers to hurtle themselves down the side of a mountain on skis or snowboards, the Alta-Snowbird one pass lets all of you enjoy the ride up together and then regroup later.

Locals say that April is a great time to visit. The mountain is "not crowded, rates drop, the powder is as fresh as in winter and everyone is smiling about something.” How true. The instructors at both resorts, even many of the employees, are skier’s skiers. They’re there because they love the mountains, the sport, and the spirit. It shows on their faces and in the easygoing way they effortlessly glide from slope to slope. Under their expert tutelage, great skiers can hone existing talents, good skiers can become great, and beginners can learn to let go of inhibitions.

Snowbird .

The mountains in Utah are so impressive that in the early 1900’s before lifts were invented, skiers hiked, yes, I said hiked, up the mountains to ski. Dubbed the “greatest snow on earth” the sprawling resorts can now (thankfully) boast seven lifts and four surface tows along with access to more than 2000 acres of powder and groomed runs. Plus, the season in Alta is seven months – longer than other Rocky Mountains resorts. While many luxury ski resorts are enjoyable, but can seem more like Los Angeles than Los Angeles itself, the Alta region suits those who want to have fun, relax, and experience a true ski destination whose slopes rather than its side attractions are the major draw.

During my visit I had an unexpected bird's eye view of the Freestyle Ski Competition.Thanks to Snowbird guide Laura Schaffer, a highly advanced skier herself, we were treated to front row seating for a live show of serious daredevil skiing. Television can not compare to watching some of these world-class athletes in person drop 30-plus feet and land squarely on the ground.

If you get hungry on the slopes, good eats are easy to come by. Several mountain restaurants offered more than chips and soda. We enjoyed salads, homemade soups, and burgers followed by chocolate cupcakes.

Where to Stay

Alta Lodge

Intimate and informal Alta Lodge is everything you’d expect from cozy ski accommodations. Lobby and guestrooms are comfortable. I stayed in the Swiss Room (no television) and woke up rested for the first time in literally months. Trust me when I say the best things were the view (the lodge is located at 8,600 feet) and the deep, deep sleep you get in the snug bed. At first the environment might be a bit jarring for people addicted to their BlackBerries, iPods and big screen TVs, but resist the urge to panic and just let go. If you must bring your laptop, the entire hotel is wireless. You can almost ski right from your room to Alta's lifts.

Superpipe, Snowbird

Sitting in front of the lobby fireplace with a cup of tea is a good way to cap off your skiing before heading up to the Sitzmark Club, the private premises used by guests and members. This “classic ski bar" in the original lodge building dates from 1939. Since the freestyle skiing competition was in town a veritable who’s who of adventure travelers and skiers was at the club. Following après ski, check out the hot pools, sauna, and sundeck.

One of the best side dishes I’ve ever had west of Tennessee is Chef Raddon’s braised red cabbage. For nearly 40 years Raddon has been feeding guests comfort food for dinner and traditional breakfast items for the stick-to-your-ribs energy needed for a day on the mountain. Be sure to try the delicious desserts and pastries prepared by Mrs. Raddon, pastry chef. Although the restaurant has private tables, family-style seating is more fun – it’s the perfect arrangement for making new friends. I met a group of women who have been coming to the lodge for decades. Friends since high school, all married with kids and careers, when schedules allow they meet at Alta Lodge for comradery and recharging.


Snowbird’s four lodges include The Iron Blosam, The Inn, The Lodge at Snowbird and The Cliff Lodge, where I stayed and where I spent every free minute when I wasn’t on the slopes or in the spa. While Alta Lodge was small and inviting, Cliff Lodge is large and winding, with restaurants, lounges, and big meeting spaces. Cliff Lodge also offers property-wide, high-speed, wireless access. No ski gear is allowed in the hotel so each guest is assigned a space in the locker rooms, which are conveniently close to the ski-in ski-out access point.

A few of the guest services could stand some improvement. One of the front desk receptionists at Snowbird spoke very little English, which made check-in, shall we say, a somewhat frustrating process. The door to my room lacked a safety bar. Because I prefer quality over quantity in massage therapy (i.e. targeted treatment of specific areas,) 10 minutes of the right massage is worth more to me than an hour of general kneading. If I'm being honest, I have to say that the therapist assigned to me seemed better suited for leisure massage rather than deep tissue therapy.

Although the indoor hot tub in the spa wasn't working, there were three other pools outdoors, which turned out to be a better option due to the bar-to-tub service and the socializing among the guests.

The Cliff Lodge offers a wide assortment of places to eat including romantic Aerie Restaurant and an adjacent lounge and sushi bar featuring live music twice a week during the season. I enjoyed the sushi bar for dinner and the Aerie for brunch–a tasty sampling of blintzes and salmon and egg dishes. Just what you want from a brunch, but wouldn't dream of preparing yourself. Mexican food lovers can try El Chanate Cantina, home of the state’s largest tequila selection..

Food for Thought

While the food at the Alta Lodge and the Cliff Lodge at Snowbird were pleasing, I wanted to venture off campus to get a taste of the area. To the eponymous restaurant in the Goldminer’s Daughter hotel I went. Like the other restaurants I'd enjoyed, it did not disappoint. I was introduced to skiers who have been coming to Alta for years. The enormous dining room has a massive fireplace and views of the mountain. Here you can sample regional trout – a real treat for those who love fish and like it fresh. Carefully paired side dishes complement the meal, but the star of show is the room itself, a happy place. No wonder there’s a saying about people always smiling in Alta, Utah.

Getting to Alta, Utah

If you’ve never been, Utah may seem far away, no matter where you live. But in reality it’s just as easy to get to as anyplace else and well worth the trip. Flights are available on 15 different airlines from just about every city imaginable. Alta is only 32 miles from the Salt Lake City International Airport, a 40-minute cab ride that often allows guests to ski on arrival or departure days.

Alta will be open for sking through April 15, 2007 and again on April 20, 21, and 22. Snowbird plans to remain open through April 30 with additional ski days through mid-May, weather permitting. The new season starts in October, 2007.

Alta Ski Area, P.O. Box 8007, Alta, UT 84092, Tel. 801-359-1078, 800-707-2582 http://www.alta.com
Snowbird, Highway 210. Little Cottonwood Canyon, Snowbird, UT 84092, 800-232-9542

--Kelly Gray

Spring 2007