PARK AND GLIDE IN UTAH

David Tan­ner tack­les the snowy slopes of the top ski re­sorts in the Wasatch Moun­tains

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Us Holidays -

HALF­WAY up a chair­lift ride in a snow­bound canyon in Utah’s Wasatch moun­tain range is not where you’d ex­pect to find a se­lec­tion of un­der­wear on dis­play. No clothes racks here: the bras, undies and G-strings are al­most 10m off the ground, dan­gling from the boughs of a red pine tree.

I won­der whether the lin­gerie dis­play is a quirky, tra­di­tional of­fer­ing to the snow gods by skiers and snow­board­ers hop­ing for a bumper pow­der sea­son. Or maybe it’s a re­li­gious state­ment: this is Utah, af­ter all, home to one of the world’s largest con­cen­tra­tion of Mor­mons and a state where some groups still prac­tise polygamy.

Be­fore long, I reach the top of the Canyons’ Peak 5 chair­lift. The bizarre tree re­cedes to the back of my mind as I ski past a small, red, one-word sign that omi­nously warns: Cliffs.

I plunge down a chute through the trees that be­comes nar­rower and steeper. My heart feels as if it has found a new home in my mouth, and sud­denly it doesn’t seem so im­por­tant to work out the mys­tery of the un­der­wear tree.

The Canyons is one of three ski re­sorts around Park City and home to some of the best dou­ble-black di­a­mond runs (read ex­perts only’’) that can be ac­cessed di­rectly by lift. No he­li­copters or hik­ing re­quired here, where runs carry ap­pro­pri­ately fore­bod­ing names such as Fright Gully and The Abyss.

The Canyons has a brazen, wild west feel to it, en­cour­ag­ing you to swap your ski boots for the cow­boy variety on Satur­day nights as coun­try and west­ern danc­ing takes over, and warn­ing you not to approach the moose that roam the slopes for fear they might at­tack.

Nearby Deer Val­ley, with its im­pec­ca­bly groomed runs, is all about re­fine­ment. An army of moun­tain hosts in green parkas waits to carry your skis from the car park, mind them while you’re at lunch or just point you down the run you need to take to get where you want to go. Deer Val­ley caters for skiers who ex­pect the high­est level of ser­vice and want noth­ing as in­con­ve­nient as a snow­boarder on the slopes.

Park City Moun­tain Re­sort, sand­wiched be­tween the two and also, I dis­cover, home to an un­der­wear tree, is the one-re­sort-fits-all op­tion that of­fers some­thing for ev­ery skier or boarder but not enough to stave off a touch of bore­dom if you were to spend a week or more in the one place.

But with out­stand­ing choices up and down the val­ley, all linked by a free, reg­u­lar shut­tle bus ser­vice, there’s no need to get to that stage.

It’s six years since the Win­ter Olympics came to Utah and Park City and its three re­sorts show no sign of post-Games hang­over. Mul­ti­mil­lion­dol­lar lodges, con­do­mini­ums, ho­tels and apart­ment com­plexes are be­ing built all over the re­gion (not even a bliz­zard stops the jack­ham­mers).

New ski lifts stretch the ski­able ter­rain and the town, pop­u­la­tion 8000, some­how sup­ports an im­pos­si­bly dense clus­ter of more than 25 art gal­leries, most of which have opened in the past 10 years.

Deb­o­rah Flamish, an art con­sul­tant at the fam­ily-owned Mont­gomery-Lee gallery in Main Street, and a two-day-aweek moun­tain ski guide at the Canyons, says the for­mer sil­ver min­ing town is un­recog­nis­able from 15 years ago, just be­fore nearby Salt Lake City won the bid to host the 2002 Win­ter Olympics. Out­ly­ing com­mu­ni­ties have sprung up where once there were pad­docks, as spi­ralling prop­erty prices force ev­ery­one but the rich out­side the town bound­aries and out of the ski re­sorts’ res­i­den­tial ar­eas. As one moun­tain host suc­cinctly puts it, Deer Val­ley is where peo­ple don’t blink at pay­ing $US8 mil­lion ($8.6 mil­lion) for a prop­erty that will sit empty for 49 weeks of each year, and still have enough dis­pos­able cash to put in a private gon­dola to take them from their sprawl­ing lux­ury lodge to the top of the near­est ski run and pick up a few art­works from the lo­cal gal­leries.

I find that more of our clients at the gallery are buy­ing work for their vacation homes here,’’ Flamish says.

They pri­mar­ily buy more of the Utah artists who are paint­ing lo­cal land­scapes, still lifes and fig­u­ra­tive work.’’

Flamish says that de­spite the com­pe­ti­tion, most gal­leries have had lit­tle trou­ble sur­viv­ing.

Park City has a huge art fol­low­ing’’, she adds. Each Fri­day the town of­fers a gallery stroll when en­thu­si­asts con­gre­gate in Main Street, have some wine and food, and view the work. There’s an an­nual arts fes­ti­val in Au­gust, when the snow is long gone. It is at­tended by artists from ev­ery cor­ner of the States,’’ Flamish says.

The town is also so about mu­sic. There isn’t a night you can’t find a free con­cert. Heck, in the sum­mer there could be three or four to choose from.’’

De­spite its thriv­ing arts scene, ski­ing is why most peo­ple come to Park City. The lo­cals boast that Utah’s pow­der is lighter and drier than that of neigh­bour­ing Colorado, home to the more in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised re­sorts Vail and As­pen. And ski­ing op­tions don’t stop at the three re­sorts within 10 min­utes’ drive of Park City. Also nearby are the highly rated Alta, Snow­bird and Snow­basin, as well as Brighton, Soli­tude and a clutch of smaller re­sorts, all of which can be reached for a fee on a day trip with lo­cal trans­port op­er­a­tors. For the ul­tra-ad­ven­tur­ous, there is a guided day tour on skis, with a small amount of hik­ing, which cov­ers six re­sorts. Or thrill-seek­ers pre­pared to part with about $US200 can take a white-knuckle ride down the bob­sleigh track at Utah Olympic Park at speeds close to 130km/ h. But when you have three su­perb re­sorts linked by a free shut­tle ser­vice whose driv­ers ac­tu­ally slow down and wait rather than speed away if they see you stum­ble-run­ning in your ski boots to­wards a bus stop, there is lit­tle rea­son to go fur­ther afield.

While the bus driv­ers are ul­tra­friendly, the oc­ca­sional lo­cal can turn snarly if you don’t ob­serve a few ski­ing eti­quette tips. Aus­tralian skiers will

The great white yon­der: Three’s com­pany as skiers sur­vey the end­less ex­panse of runs sur­round­ing Park City, above and right; re­sorts in­clude the Canyons, Deer Val­ley and Park City Moun­tain Re­sort, with ski­ing and ac­com­mo­da­tion to suit all abil­i­ties and bud­gets

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