PARK AND GLIDE IN UTAH
David Tanner tackles the snowy slopes of the top ski resorts in the Wasatch Mountains
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