Utah ski re­sorts of­fer­ing back­coun­try-type op­por­tu­ni­ties

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Utah re­sorts still want skiers and snow­board­ers to come en­joy their groomed slopes and high-speed lifts this sea­son, but they're also of­fer­ing ex­panded op­tions for peo­ple who want to get a taste of the back­coun­try with­out the risk of go­ing alone. New op­por­tu­ni­ties in­clude a pair of new lifts at Pow­der Moun­tain Re­sort that open 5,000 acres of pow­der ski­ing through trees, and a new lux­ury cat-ski­ing op­er­a­tion at Whis­per Ridge in north­ern Utah on 60,000 acres. Ski Utah is also widen­ing its mar­ket­ing of a long-run­ning guided tour that takes in the back coun­try near six re­sorts in one day.

The ap­petite for ex­plor­ing be­yond the bound­aries of re­sorts has been grow­ing in re­cent years. An es­ti­mated 5.7 mil­lion skiers and snow­board­ers ven­tured into the back­coun­try in 2015-2016 - up 34 per­cent from 2008-2009 ski sea­son, ac­cord­ing to re­search from Snows­ports In­dus­tries Amer­ica. A large chunk of those peo­ple went into the "side coun­try," ar­eas con­nected to re­sorts that re­sem­ble back­coun­try.

Utah ski re­sorts are hop­ing to re­peat last year's ban­ner sea­son in which they par­layed good early-win­ter snow and buzz cre­ated by Vail Re­sort's new mega-re­sort into a 10-year high for vis­i­tors. Sev­eral of the state's 14 ski re­sorts are hop­ing to open in Novem­ber to kick off sea­son, though a lack of early sea­son snow could make that dif­fi­cult. Here's a look at what's new this year, in­clud­ing sev­eral of the new op­tions for back­coun­try-like ex­pe­ri­ences.

Pow­der Moun­tain: New lifts, new ter­rain

Pow­der Moun­tain Re­sort's new lifts give skiers and snow­board­ers ac­cess to 10 new groomed runs on about 1,000 new acres. It also al­lows skiers to ex­plore some 5,000 new acres of rugged ter­rain in a bowl that be­fore was only ac­ces­si­ble by all-day guided snow cat op­er­a­tions. Skiers can get to the runs off the lifts, but must pay an ad­di­tional $25 (or $20 for sea­son pass-hold­ers) to take a snow cat ride out of the bowl each time they ski down. Reg­u­lar lift tick­ets cost $79 for adults.

The ter­rain is ideal for be­gin­ner and in­ter­me­di­ate skiers who want to prac­tice pow­der and tree ski­ing, said JP Goulet, Pow­der Moun­tain spokesman. The lifts and 6 miles of new roads con­nect the ex­ist­ing re­sort to the site where Pow­der Moun­tain's own­ers - a group of young, wealthy en­trepreneurs, non­profit lead­ers and artists who pur­chased the re­sort in 2013 - are plan­ning to build a New Age moun­tain town. Built around a ve­hi­cle-free main street, they tout the com­mu­nity as a re­think of the Amer­i­can moun­tain town with homes, pop-up stores, mi­cro apart­ments, farm-totable restau­rants and yoga boot camps. Work has be­gun, but the project is ex­pected to take sev­eral years.

Pow­der Moun­tain, about 50 miles north­east of Salt Lake City, is also lim­it­ing day tick­ets to 2,000 per day so they can of­fer skiers and snow­board­ers un­crowded slopes. Deer Val­ley is the only other ski re­sort that has a set limit for daily skiers, though other re­sorts turn peo­ple away when park­ing lots get full, said Paul Mar­shall, spokesman for Ski Utah.

Lux­ury cat ski­ing

For skiers with plenty of money who are look­ing to get to­tally off the grid, Whis­per Ridge Cat Ski­ing of­fers 60,000 acres of pri­vate ter­rain to carve through in the day and the op­tion to spend nights at lux­ury yurts. The op­er­a­tion, lo­cated about 85 miles north­east of Salt Lake City, uses mod­i­fied snow cats to carry skiers up and down the hills.

Day rates are $450 per per­son in the early and late sea­son and $495 dur­ing the heart of win­ter. Yurt lodg­ing rates range from $725-$1,000 a night de­pend­ing on the type of yurt and dates. It is not the first cat ski­ing op­er­a­tion in Utah. Park City Pow­der Cats has been around for years. It of­fers rates of $549-$569 per day, de­pend­ing on the dates. Alta, Pow­der Moun­tain and Snow­bird also are of­fer­ing cat ski­ing pack­ages.

One day, six re­sorts

Ski Utah's long run­ning "In­ter­con­nect Tour" has a de­vel­oped a loyal group of cus­tomers who come back, but of­fi­cials are hop­ing to en­tice skiers who may be among those tempted to ski more in back­coun­try ter­rain, Mar­shall said. The guided tour, which costs $395 per per­son, takes skiers down back­coun­try routes near six dif­fer­ent Utah re­sorts, start­ing at Deer Val­ley near Park City and fin­ish­ing at Snow­bird in the Lit­tle Cot­ton­wood Canyon. The tour usu­ally takes par­tic­i­pants about 25 miles and down about 16,000 ver­ti­cal feet.

Guides carry res­cue bea­cons and take other safety mea­sures needed in the back­coun­try. Skiers must be 16 or older and must be ad­vanced skiers. No snow­board­ers are al­lowed. "It of­fers a taste of what the back­coun­try is about with the as­sis­tance of guides who know the ter­rain and area so well," Mar­shall said. "It's a great way to kind of put your toes in the wa­ter."

— AP pho­tos

File photo shows heavy snow blan­ket­ing skiers as they ride the gon­dola from the park­ing lot to the base of the moun­tain at Canyons Vil­lage ski area in Park City, Utah.

File photo shows skiers pay the price for late sea­son turns at Alta, Utah, as they hike up the moun­tain.

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