Make the Most of a
Rocky Mountain Winter
By Kurt Repanshek
Photo courtesy of Telluride Ski & Golf
Without a doubt, the Rocky Mountains are North America’s iconic mountain range, stretching some 3,000 miles from British Columbia to New Mexico. Comprised of smaller ranges colorfully called Bitterroots, Sawtooths, Tetons, Maroon Bells and Never Summer, the Rockies’ angular crags seem to scrape the sky. Many valleys cradle bucolic towns, and forests appear as verdant carpets until fall flecks them with the golds and reds of turning aspens and maples. Come winter though, it’s the snow that makes the world’s skiers and snowboarders stand up and really notice the Rockies.
Call it “snow envy,” a jealousy spawned by the atmospheric whims that wring moisture from storms as they head inland from the Pacific Ocean. By the time they collide with the Rockies, they dump snow rumored to be as dry as talc and as fluffy as goose down. These storms drop lots of it. We’re not talking miserly accumulations of 6 or even 12 inches at a time, but momentous, headline-catching snowstorms that easily can, and often do, rage for days and bury the mountains in multiple feet of the white stuff before relenting to sun-washed skies. Last January, for example, the Alta Ski Area at the head of Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon received 179 inches, a monthly total some East Coast resorts would take pride in if that was their seasonal total.
Powder stashes? No doubt it was here in the Rocky Mountain high country — where the joke is that there are only two seasons, “winter’s here, and winter’s coming” — that that snowy vernacular was coined. Head high into the Rockies between November and May and you’ll find tight chutes choked with powder, peak-clasped bowls overflowing with snow, and glades of trees seemingly rooted in the powder. Climate change, indeed. While many Rocky Mountain ski resorts routinely measure upward of 500 inches of snow every winter, more than 600 inches fell on Jackson Hole Mountain Resort during the record-setting winter of 2007–2008.
In Utah, so much snow fell last winter that at the Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort you still could make lift-assisted turns on Father’s Day in mid-June. In fact, there were spots along the Rockies’ craggy spine where enough snow remained in August for diehards to hike to snowfields for some turns before parking their boards for a short three-month break until the lifts cranked back up.
Photo by Mike Tittel, Courtesy of Park City Chamber of Commerce
Ski Town \ skee town \ Noun: Focal point of winter fun. See: Park City.
Tucked into a valley in the Utah mountains, out of sight but not out of reach, Park City could be the dictionary definition of “ski town.” Stand in the middle of historic Main Street, and you’re surrounded by the Wasatch Range. There to the south rises Bald Mountain, the roof of the Deer Valley Resort. Over to the west, the Park City Mountain Resort rises up to the 10,026-foot Jupiter Bowl; and off to the north, The Canyons guards the town’s entryway with peaks that rise to nearly 10,000 feet.
These are not just three ski areas, but rather three resorts with distinct personalities within Park City. The Canyons not only is the quintessential new kid on the block, but also one of the largest in North America. Park City Mountain Resort has long been tied to ski and snowboard competitions. Deer Valley is renowned for impeccably groomed slopes, excellent customer service and great dining options. What other ski town can claim such a trifecta?
Park City’s ski-town reputation was underscored in 2002 when the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics turned to Deer Valley and Park City Mountain Resort to host alpine events, while the Utah Olympic Park next to The Canyons staged bobsled, luge, skeleton and ski-jumping competitions. Olympians still course through Park City’s blood, either by year-round residence or to compete at the Olympic Park, Deer Valley or Park City Mountain Resort in international and national races.
Many ski towns are long distances from the nearest international airport. Not Park City, which is less than an hour from Salt Lake City International Airport. As a result, you can grab an early morning flight to Salt Lake, and by lunchtime you’re making some free turns courtesy of Park City’s Quick START program, which rewards your timely arrival with a lift ticket for one of the three resorts. Plan a late-afternoon or evening departure back home, and you can make a few runs before catching your flight.
Photo courtesy of The Canyons Resort
But Park City is not only about skiing and snowboarding. Not only do the locals boast that they have the greatest concentration of chefs this side of France, but there are Nordic trails in town, indoor ice-skating and hockey rinks, a lively music scene and countless art galleries to visit. Late January showcases the town’s best Hollywood impression with A-list actors and actresses strolling the streets during the Sundance Film Festival. Robert Redford long ago chose Park City for his cinematic feast, loving the mountain setting and the amazing, snow-blessed winters.
When You Have More Than One Day,
The Canyons Is Ready
It takes but a glance to understand how The Canyons got its name. While the resort just as easily could have been called “Powder Keg” for its bountiful snowfalls, the knuckled ridges that descend from the crest of the Wasatch Range create a series of steep, heavily treed canyons that hold the powder for days on end.
Sprawling across 3,700 acres, The Canyons is not only Utah’s largest ski resort, but also one you can’t thoroughly navigate in one day. It’s just too big, with too many delicious aspects to savor before moving on. But then, that’s why long weekends and vacations were created. It’s also why the resort constantly works to make it easier to crisscross that expansive landscape and sculpts pockets of terrain that will hold your attention all day long if you prefer to stay in one corner of The Canyons.
Photo courtesy of The Canyons Resort
Much evolved since the day when this part of the Wasatch Range held a tiny day area, The Canyons’ growing maturity shows not only in the skiable acreage but in the expanding base village; the growing lift network; and the chatter about the terrain that falls below Dream, “9990” and Murdock — a trio of peaks that each soar to nearly 10,000 feet.
On paper, The Canyons officially lists 163 runs. But the landscape falling between those ribbons of white offers acres and acres of challenging terrain that lures skiers and riders intent on discovery. Though there are some cliff bands to avoid, most of the resort’s off-piste terrain courses through forests of aspen, fir and pine, down steep, treeless mountainsides and across tilted meadows. Planners had those folks in mind this past summer when they thinned the woods to create even more gladed areas in and around the Peak 5 and Tombstone areas.
Eyeing expansion into the Iron Mountain area, crews also installed the Timberline lift to make it easier to return to the base resort from the DreamCatcher area. While you still can ski or ride all the way back, this fixed-grip quad takes just about five minutes to whisk you back to the Tombstone Express.
Just as the options for skiers and riders continue to grow on The Canyons’ eight peaks, so too do the possibilities for relaxing at day’s end. The resort base offers shops, restaurants, lodges, spas and even live entertainment if you’re not ready to call it a day.
Photo courtesy of Deer Valley Resort
There’s something about Deer Valley that differentiates it from other resorts. The snow that coats the resort’s peaks falls from the same storms that descend upon the rest of the Wasatch Range. The sun overhead bathes all the other resorts as well. The stars at night don’t shine any less brightly elsewhere. And yet you know when you’ve reached the Snow Park base area or the charming, pedestrian-friendly Silver Lake Village at mid-mountain that you’ve arrived someplace special.
At Deer Valley Resort, the whole definitely is the sum of the parts, although the parts themselves are pretty good: ever-present attendants who assist you with your gear, answer your questions, or hand you a tissue; groomers who till the slopes while you sleep; and a long-tenured award-winning culinary staff that ensures you eat both hearty and healthy on or off the slopes.
The essence of a Deer Valley retreat is the staff’s attentiveness and responsiveness to your comforts and needs; the service more than complements the finely manicured runs, powder-packed glades and sumptuous dining. Part of that attentiveness lies within the enlarged “Cushing’s Cabin” atop Flagstaff Mountain, where you can come in from the cold, and the Empire Lodge remodeling, which provides greater seating and improved traffic flow.
While Deer Valley seems like some private skier’s nirvana, Park City’s “old town” lies only about a mile away and is easily accessible via the town’s free shuttle buses.
Photo courtesy of Solitude Mountain Resort
Solitude: Where the Day’s End Doesn’t Mean the
End of the Day
Your last run down the mountain should be spent not in a mad dash through the parking lot, but rather with family and friends reveling in the day’s turns. How much vertical did you log? How many powder stashes did you discover? What was your favorite run? These questions should spark conversation, not “Which is the quickest way home?”
At Solitude Mountain Resort, day’s end should include savoring the alpenglow off the Wasatch crest, not struggling with the setting sun’s glare as you head down Big Cottonwood Canyon toward Salt Lake City. Such a laid-back attitude is encouraged at Solitude, a resort whose philosophy focuses on relationships nurtured by days on the mountain, followed by evenings together.
Life is hectic enough without having to worry about end-of-the-day traffic, late-night dinner reservations or a long drive home. Why not follow a day spent discovering new lines in Honeycomb Canyon or boogieing countless times through the powder that chokes Corner Chute with a private “cellar dinner” around a 14-foot cherry table surrounded by family and friends, wine casks and racks of bottles in St. Bernard’s wine cellar? Or, retreat to your inn or townhome in the pedestrian village that nudges up to the slopes and relax while watching the flames jump in the fireplace.
At Solitude the rules are simple: Ski. Enjoy family and friends. Relax.
Photo courtesy of Salt Lake City International Airport
Board a plane in the morning and be cruising the slopes that afternoon. That’s a statement, not a question. And it’s possible when you head for Utah, where Salt Lake City International Airport is less than an hour’s drive from 11 of the state’s 13 alpine resorts.
The airport’s 13 airlines — including Delta, which uses Salt Lake City International as its Western hub — bring half the nation’s population within a two-and-a-half-hour flight of Utah. With the addition of Delta Air Lines’ new nonstop flight between Salt Lake City and Paris, Europeans now have excellent access to Utah and “the greatest snow on earth.” You can pretty much gauge the snow conditions on arrival, too, as the international airport’s location five miles northwest of downtown Salt Lake City and parallel to the Wasatch Range often allows a sneak peak at the slopes.
There’s little need to worry about your flight not being on time, as Salt Lake City International routinely is among the leaders in on-time arrivals. During the first six months of 2008, the airport ranked number one among the country’s 32 busiest airports for on-time arrivals, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Concerned that all that snow might delay your flight’s arrival or departure? No worries. Salt Lake City International consistently ranks high in snow and ice removal operations and has the awards to prove it.
Skiing and Riding in Idaho Mean More Than Sun Valley
It is well-known ski lore that destination skiing in the U.S. was born in central Idaho at a place favored by the sun. But ski history continues to be written in the state, most recently at a place called Tamarack, a burgeoning resort perched in the Payette River Mountains above Lake Cascade. Though not as well known as Sun Valley, its cross-state colleague, Tamarack hints at what more and more skiers and snowboarders are discovering: Idaho has some well-kept winter secrets. From Pebble Creek near Pocatello to Schweitzer Mountain north of Sand Point, this state long known for its potatoes is generating more and more respect for its skiing and snowboarding.
Photo courtesy of Sun Valley Resort
“We’re the sleeper,” acknowledges Karen Ballard of the Idaho Tourism Commission. “People don’t realize all the wonderful amenities and great ski areas that we have.”
Want glade skiing? Schweitzer, where Canadian-born storms dump their “caribou powder,” boasts some of Idaho’s best tree skiing. More than half the 1,100 acres at Pebble Creek, which has a surprising 2,200-foot vertical, are rated expert. Sun Valley has some of the Rockies’ best cruisers — broad, well-pitched runs that measure your mettle. And while the Grand Targhee Resort technically resides in Wyoming on the backside of the Teton Range, more and more resort lodging, such as the Teton Springs Lodge and Spa, is settling in Idaho’s Teton Valley.
While Idaho might be a sleeper in the ski industry, that tag likely won’t stick for much longer.
Bring Your Boards — and Your Clubs —
To Sun Valley This Winter
Without question, the Sun Valley Resort is the grand dame of the entire U.S. ski industry. It was slightly more than 70 years ago that an Austrian count by the name of Felix Schaffgotsch stood in the middle of a sheep pasture, stared up at the snow-capped mountains and declared this to be the perfect setting for a winter destination resort.
He’s yet to be proven wrong. Fastidious attention to slope maintenance year-round, one of the ski industry’s most sophisticated snowmaking systems, and unsurpassed architecture and attention to detail are Sun Valley hallmarks. But what the good count probably didn’t realize when he chose the resort’s location was that the sheep pasture would prove just as worthy for golf as the surrounding mountains would prove for skiing.
Not only have signature golf courses sprouted across Sun Valley, but you now can swing your clubs throughout the year, no matter what the weather. A morning spent skiing or boarding can be followed by an afternoon game of virtual golf on any one of a number of renowned courses. Housed within the new 58,000-square-foot Sun Valley Club is not just a Nordic ski and snowshoe center, but also a golf emporium where you can work on your putting, take a lesson or play a game or two of virtual golf.
“We’ll be playing golf year-round,” says Jack Sibbach, Sun Valley’s marketing director. “You can go ski and then take golf lessons.”
Photo courtesy of Jackson Hole Resort
Pssst! The “Big One” is back, and it’s bigger than ever.
Following what felt like an excruciatingly long two-year hiatus, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is back in the aerial tram business, and in no small way. Gone is the 55-person tram that swung into action in 1966 and ran dutifully for the next 40 years before being ushered into retirement. In its place is a $32 million fire-engine-red tram with two 100-person cabins scheduled to make their inaugural run to Rendezvous Mountain’s snowy 10,450-foot summit on December 20 of this year.
True, Wyoming’s Teton Range, with its jaw-dropping granitic crags, bountiful snows and vertigo-inducing couloirs, is the main drawing card for Jackson Hole. Rising up from a narrow valley that’s set at 6,311 feet, the Tetons not only buttress Wyoming’s western border, but are the focal point of Grand Teton National Park and provide some of the greatest vertical drops in the U.S. ski industry. Jackson Hole offers the most continuous lift-served vertical — at 4,139 feet — in the country.
But riding the tram is a legendary aspect of exploring this resort, which offers 2,500 in-bound acres and passage to another 3,000 backcountry acres. Those who know catch the first cabin after a night of heavy snowfall by rising early, grabbing some breakfast and bundling up in the predawn murkiness to ensure a spot by no later than 7 a.m., even though the tram doesn’t swing into action until 9 a.m. Sure, you might be tightly packed in the cabin for the 4,139-foot lift to the summit, but that’s part of Jackson Hole’s allure.
Don’t expect anything to be different once December 20 arrives, except for the fact that twice as many skiers and riders will be able to ride in each cabin. And Wyoming’s iconic logo, a cowboy aboard a bucking bronco, also has been emblazoned on the cabins’ windows. Reaching the roof of the resort will be much quicker thanks to the new tram, which makes the run from base to summit in just nine minutes.
A year older than the tram but still just as refreshing is the Bridger Restaurant Building at the Gondola Summit. Its existence means there’s no need to return to the base to refuel at midday. You can choose from fine sit-down dining at Couloir, or you can move a little faster with something from the Headwall Deli or the Rendezvous cafeteria. Over lunch, mull the view up into Corbet’s Couloir and debate whether you want to jump in or try something a tad saner.
Experience a High-Country Revelation at Telluride Ski Resort
The Rocky Mountains offer some of the most challenging and addictive skiing and snowboarding in the world, and within that community the Telluride Ski Resort just might be the most picturesque. Set amid Colorado’s greatest concentration of 14,000-foot peaks, Telluride boasts view after view of box canyons and bowls cupped by soaring peaks.
Naturally, Telluride wouldn’t be in the snow business if it didn’t take advantage of that geography. So in preparation for the coming winter, the resort is expanding into spectacular Revelation Bowl, which is served by a new quad lift.
Photos courtesy of Telluride Ski & Golf
Revelation Bowl, offering a European-style, above-tree-line skiing and riding experience at 12,500 feet, is the latest example of Telluride’s natural expansion. A year ago, the resort, which is tucked into southwestern Colorado’s San Juan Range, opened Black Iron Bowl to all skiers and riders and added Palmyra Peak and the Gold Hill chutes to the mix.
“That terrain is really like nothing else in the U.S. or North America, in the sense that it is avalanche-controlled extreme terrain,” says Dave Riley, Telluride’s chief executive officer. “Palmyra Peak is over 13,000 feet, and the Gold Hill Chutes are very extreme. It’s something you don’t find in most ski areas. It’s more like backcountry skiing, but in this case those areas are controlled for avalanches and managed.”
Don’t let Riley’s words discourage you if you’re not a black diamond junkie. Though Telluride’s reputation is that of an advanced resort, a quarter of the terrain is rated for beginners, 36% is for intermediates and 38% is the bastion of experts.
Even after dark, Telluride’s beauty is still quite apparent. There’s an authenticity that lingers in buildings such as the popular “Last Dollar Saloon” — or “the Buck,” as it’s known by locals — which a century ago, under the name “The National Club,” quenched the thirst of prospectors who gave life to the historic mining town of Telluride. Complementing that authenticity is the charm of the ski resort’s pedestrian-friendly Mountain Village. Not only can you ski into either village at day’s end, but the two are linked by a free gondola that runs seven days a week until midnight. It’s a gondola that will take you — if you remember to get off at Station St. Sophia — to Allred’s Restaurant, set at 10,551 feet midway between the two towns. Talk about dinner and a view.
Getting to Telluride is increasingly easy with added direct flights this year from Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles, making the Telluride and Montrose airports accessible from nine major hubs.
Experience stunning scenery, historic Colorado, luxury lodging, dining and spas, and discover why Telluride ranks among the finest resorts in North America.
You Still Can Find Some Wildness in the Rocky Mountain West
You can sense it whether you’re dropping into the Daly Chutes at Deer Valley, assessing your odds at the lip of Corbet’s Couloir in Jackson Hole or soaking in the radiance cast by the Sawtooth Range from atop Baldy in Sun Valley. Even though the Rockies have been explored, gazed at, dug into and revered by intruders other than Native Americans for nearly 270 years, they still harbor wilderness that both sates the soul and challenges the most rugged adventurers.
You can glimpse this wildness by heading up into the San Juans in Colorado, the Tetons in Wyoming, the Pioneer Range in central Idaho or the Wasatch Range of Utah. Sure, there’s a measure of civilization evident in the high-speed six-pack lifts, timber-and-rock architecture of the lodges and restaurants that draw the envy of San Franciscans; but you leave that behind once you push away from the top of the lift and search for a way back down. True, moving your feet could take a few minutes at Jackson Hole or Telluride, where mountaintop views of the Tetons or San Juans with the valleys below practically under your toes can require a gut check.
Photos courtesy of Telluride Ski & Golf
But tackling the Rockies in winter is not all about steepness. There are runs that cruise thick pine, spruce and fir forests, natural half-pipes, glades of aspen where you can work on your tree slalom skills, and open bowls overflowing with powder from last night’s storm that will test your balance. Day’s end can find you at Deer Valley’s famous Seafood Buffet, exploring Ketchum’s restaurants, partying at the Mangy Moose Restaurant and Saloon in Teton Village or simply relaxing with friends in your condo.
Of course, not every day of your vacation needs to be spent on the slopes. There’s time enough for snowshoeing a national forest trail, relaxing in hot springs or having any knots in your muscles untangled in a spa.
The Rocky Mountain region, thanks to both its enormous size and its mettle-testing winters, is far from crowded. That helps preserve its wildness. And yet, it’s increasingly desirable for communing with nature, whether you do that rafting snow melt in the summer or going in search of the aforementioned wildness in winter. That’s why airports such as Salt Lake City International do brisk feeder business with commuter airports in Ketchum, Idaho; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; and Montrose, Colorado. Pick any day of the week and you’ll find a handful or two of flights into these towns that welcome you to Sun Valley, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and Telluride, respectively.
They say the Appalachian Mountains once were as tall and grand as the Rocky Mountains before erosion gnawed away at them, making them rounder, gentler, tamer and woefully smaller. Fortunately, it’s going to take many, many years before the Rockies are similarly eroded and worn by time. Before that happens, make a run or two.
Produced by Frank Long • Edited by Alison Sutton • Designed by Jon Prinsky