Rocky Mountain Perfection
Spectacular Scenery, Incredible Snow
By Kurt Repanshek
Photo courtesy of Telluride Ski & Golf
Skiing might have been born in Norway, where the sport goes back 4,000 years to when it was merely a means of transportation, but it truly has come of age in the Rocky Mountains.
Here, along North America’s crooked spine, are steep, jagged peaks that dangle precipitous chutes over somewhat gentler mountains that are forested in pine, spruce, fir, aspen, oak and maple. Rising in places to 14,000 feet, this barrier of crags snags eastbound storms and hordes their snows in couloirs, bowls, forests and canyons. Most of this snow falls light and fluffy, much like eiderdown. So much falls—upwards of 45 feet on average in places—that Rocky Mountain resorts can, and occasionally do, offer skiing right through the spring and into summer.
Whether you descend the mountains in Utah, Colorado or Montana, skiing and riding in the Rockies is akin to gliding through downy feathers. When done masterfully, the sensation of powder skiing is almost one of weightlessness. To achieve such grace, there’s no better place to hone your skills than the Rockies.
The Canyons: The Perfect Playground for Mastering Skills
To help you perfect floating through powder, The Canyons Resort in Utah offers more than 3,700 skiable acres rippling across eight mountains. Though arguably the nation’s most accessible resort—flights from either coast can deliver you to the Salt Lake City International Airport roughly a half hour away—The Canyons seems ensconced in a remote mountain milieu.
Set at 6,800 feet, the resort village is framed by a crescent-shaped arm of the Wasatch Range. Seventeen lifts, including the Flight of the Canyons gondola that whisks you more than a mile to mid-mountain, are needed to explore this vast empire. As one of the five largest ski and snowboard resorts in the country, The Canyons offers a landscape of peaks; dizzying chutes; powder-clutching bowls; quiet glades where all you hear is your breath and the “whoosh” of your turns; and long, white stretches that weave, dip and roll down the resort’s nearly 3,200-foot vertical fall.
Photo courtesy of The Canyons Resort
Need help with those turns or powder stashes? Former U.S. Olympian Holly Flanders has long offered women-only classes that help her students not only become more comfortable on the mountain, but also enable them to expand their limits. And with a resort of cruisers, bump runs, bowls and chutes that climb to 9,990 feet, there is plenty of room for improvement.
Part ski lesson, part tech talk and part bonding session, these popular, three-day workshops move from on-the-mountain technique drills and free skiing to après-ski video sessions—complete with hors d’oeuvres, of course—as Flanders focuses on building your skills and confidence.
Brant Moles, a world extreme ski champion, helps all genders become comfortable negotiating The Canyons’ steeps, like Red Pine Chutes, Deshutes and Magic Lines, to name just a few of the runs that drop out of sight. Many gaze into these tight pitches, but relatively few actually jump into them. However, Moles gives you the courage and the skills to make the leap. Although definitely not for novices, these three-day courses let you soak up some of the tips and techniques that have made Moles a world champion when it comes to dancing down vertigo-inducing chutes.
Days end in the resort’s self-contained village with its shops, eateries and hotels. Whether you stay in the Grand Summit Hotel, the Escala Lodges or the Dakota Mountain Lodge—a newly debuted Waldorf Astoria property—you are just minutes from the lifts and shops, a closeness that reinforces the charm of the mountains.
Photo courtesy of Deer Valley Resort
Just 36 miles from the Salt Lake City International Airport lies the historic mining town of Park City and Deer Valley Resort. While the 2002 Olympic Winter Games brought much attention to Deer Valley, it was a premier ski destination long before the games arrived.
Deer Valley continues to be the epitome of winter’s grace and customer satisfaction. Long renowned for its superb on-mountain details—impeccable grooming, a well-conceived lift layout and ever-present staff to carry your gear, hand you a tissue or simply answer your questions—this season the resort extends that attention into the lodging business by managing select properties.
With one call to Deer Valley Resort Lodging and Reservations, you can tap into a large room inventory, book your airfare, ground transportation and ski lessons, or even reserve a seat at the Seafood Buffet. The move into managing lodging was a welcome challenge for the resort, which prides itself on handling your ski vacation from the moment you book your reservation to that last run on the mountain.
Where you make that run could be the most difficult decision of your vacation, as there are six mountains, not one, and 100 runs that create the Deer Valley experience. Do you cut through the trees on Flagstaff Mountain to Ontario Bowl, traverse the lip of Empire Bowl and then drop into Daly Chutes, or descend Bald Mountain on Stein’s Way, an intoxicating cruiser?
Photo courtesy of SLCIA
Thanks to the nearby Salt Lake City International Airport, you can drop into any number of fall lines in the Wasatch Range much sooner than you might expect. Grab a window seat on your flight and you might even get a preview, as airliners arrive parallel to, and often cross, the craggy Wasatch Range. Once on the ground, you’re just a 35-minute drive from the Park City resorts.
With nearly 800 regularly scheduled flights a day, these destination resorts are within a two-and-a-half-hour flight of half the U.S. population. Daily service from Delta, American, Continental, United, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, US Airways and their affiliates means you shouldn’t have to scramble to find a seat.
Surprisingly, snow-related delays likely won’t affect your arrival or departure. While the Wasatch Range itself accumulates 500+ inches of snow each winter, the international airport down below averages right around 62 inches. So skilled are its snow removal teams that they’ve garnered 11 international awards for their snow and ice removal prowess. And the awards were rightly bestowed. Though the airport received nearly 4 feet of snow last winter, operations were suspended for less than 90 minutes due to snowy conditions.
How does Salt Lake City International, the nation’s 25th-busiest airport with nearly 21 million passengers in 2008, match up with other ski-gateway airports in terms of performance? From November 2008 through May 2009, the airport saw more than 84% of its flights arrive on time, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Once you’re on the ground at Salt Lake City International, Interstates 15 and 80, and the many public and private transportation options, make it a quick and easy task to get from the airport to those powder stashes. Plan carefully enough and you can leave home in the morning and still notch some runs before dinner.
Photo courtesy of Ben Eng
You really should consider dropping into the Telluride Ski Resort in southwestern Colorado this winter. And that’s more than simply a figure of speech. With the much-anticipated opening of the gates to Gold Hill Chutes 2 through 5, you can literally drop into a 1,600-vertical-foot fall line.
The opening of these chutes is the latest step in an expansion that has seen Telluride add more than 400 acres of lift-serve terrain in the past three years, with the opening of Palmyra Park, Black Iron Bowl and Gold Hill Chutes 1 and 6 through 10, and last winter’s opening of Revelation Bowl.
The terrain in the San Juan Range will test your lungs, too, as the resort boasts one of the largest vertical drops in North America at 4,425 feet, top to bottom, with 3,845 feet serviced by lifts to give you an occasional breather. And you’ll need a breather after the heart-pounding Gold Hill Chutes. Panoramic views of classic Colorado—peaks topping 14,000 feet, towering over box canyons and bowls—give way to the task at hand: negotiating the rock faces, couloirs and tight, rock-lined chutes that descend 1,600 feet into Prospect Basin.
Don’t misunderstand, though. Telluride isn’t an experts-only resort. A generous 23% of the resort’s 2,000+ acres are geared toward beginners, and 36% are popular with intermediate skiers and riders, leaving 41% for the black-diamond crowd. So if you’re not up for the Gold Hill Chutes, you can log long laps cruising Upper and Lower See Forever with its great views of the craggy landscape or, on powder days, tear things up on Bushwacker. Riders and skiers still getting their “snow legs” can hone their technique on Galloping Goose, a gentle, 4.6-mile-long run perfect for improving your skills.
And Utah isn’t the only ski destination with great air service. Telluride welcomes flights from nine U.S. cities. Daily nonstop service to Montrose/Telluride Airport arrives from Chicago, Denver, Dallas, Houston and Salt Lake City, plus Newark (weekly), Atlanta and Los Angeles (both twice weekly), while the Telluride Regional Airport services four nonstop flights a day from Denver, and two daily from Phoenix.
Once at Telluride, you won’t be in a rush to leave. A wide range of accommodations within the resort’s two towns—Mountain Village and historic Telluride—complement the skiing, along with a rich venue of eateries. Alpino Vino offers a European flair with fine wines, cheeses and antipasti selections right on the mountain. Set at 11,966 feet atop Gold Hill, this restaurant lets you gaze out upon the slopes and relive your day’s conquests.
Photo courtesy of Big Sky Chamber of Commerce
When you glance at a trail map of more than 230 named runs spread across 5,512 acres, what do you do? Well, after you quit smiling, you get down to ticking them off as you work your way across two neighboring Montana resorts that together offer the “Biggest Skiing in America.”
Tucked into the Madison Range, just 48 miles north of the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park, the Big Sky and Moonlight Basin ski resorts offer an interconnect lift pass that gains you entrance to the most skiable acreage you’ll find under one pass. There are 25 lifts to help negotiate the 110 miles and 4,350 vertical feet of runs, bowls and chutes.
When the time comes to take a break from alpine skiing, you can head to nearby Lone Mountain Resort, which has 80 kilometers of groomed cross-country trails, or try your hand at one of the fastest-growing winter activities, fly fishing, in the Gallatin River.
And when the day is done, you can either retreat to a rustic mountain lodge fronting the Gallatin River, check into one of the lodges in the village at Big Sky, or settle into a penthouse suite at Moonlight Lodge at Moonlight Basin.
Find Your Perfect Vacation in the Rockies
It really doesn’t matter whether you point your boards into a fall line in the Wasatch Range, the Madison Range or the San Juan Mountains. What does matter is that you descend at least one of these classic Rocky Mountain backdrops. Wrap yourself in cold smoke as you settle into the powder and ride it to the bottom. Feel the sharpness of the cold air under a star-dotted night sky. Recall the day’s runs before a crackling fire with friends and family. And get up and do it all over again tomorrow.