by Karen Rubin Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
With all that is impacting mountain resorts, from wildfires to COVID-19, the major ski resort companies are focusing on drive-markets and alleviating uncertainty with pass flexibility and refundability, as well as significantly changing mountain operations to incorporate the highest health protocols.
Here in the Northeast, Ikon Pass, the seasonal pass program of Alterra Mountain Company (most famous for Aspen and Snowmass mountains, but the owner/operator of 15 others and partnerships with dozens more around the nation and worldwide), is expanded with the addition of Windham Mountain, in New York’s Catskill Mountains, an easy drive from the New York metro and Long Island. This is in addition to Stratton, Sugarbush Resort, and Killington in Vermont, giving the Ikon Pass that much more value to Northeast skiers.
Alterra Mountain is not just prioritizing access for season pass holders in order to tightly regulate the number of daily lift tickets that will be available, but eliminating day tickets and walk-up window sales; the sale of some undated lift ticket products will be discontinued until further notice. While it is not instituting an advance reservation system at the 15 destinations that Alterra Mountain owns and operates, the dozens of partner resorts may have their own advance reservation protocols this season (check the sites).
“The pandemic has disrupted our lives in so many unpredictable ways,” Rusty Gregory, Alterra Mountain Company’s Chief Executive Officer, stated. “Medical professionals and scientists tell us that this constantly changing dynamic will likely continue until effective vaccines and therapeutics are developed and become available to the general public. Alterra Mountain Company and our destinations are committed to staying on top of the inevitable changes to come as best practices and health regulations throughout the two countries, six states, three Canadian provinces and 15 mountain communities in which we operate rapidly evolve. Our teams will communicate these changes to you as soon as possible so we can all adjust and plan accordingly.”
This year, to address the extraordinary conditions, Ikon Pass introduced Adventure Assurance, free for all passholders, designed to alleviate uncertainty and provide flexibility for the 20/21 passes.
Ikon Pass holders may elect to defer the purchase price paid for their unused 20/21 Ikon Pass to the 21/22 winter season. Or, if passes are used and there is an eligible COVID-19-related closure at any North American Ikon Pass destination, Ikon Pass holders will receive a credit toward a 21/22 Ikon Pass based on the percentage of days closed, more details below. Expanded Adventure Assurance coverage is free and included with every previously purchased 20/21 Ikon Pass and new 20/21 Ikon Pass purchases. (Details and terms and conditions at the Adventure Assurance Program page and Ikon Pass FAQ.)
“We understand that there is still pass holder uncertainty around winter 20/21, and we aim to offer Ikon Pass holders peace of mind and more time to make the best decisions,” said Erik Forsell, Alterra’s Chief Marketing Officer. “Pass holders can ski a little, ride a lot, or defer the purchase price of their unused 20/21 Ikon Pass, we’ve got them covered. We look forward to next winter, sweet days await us.”
Ikon Pass continues to expand access across North America with the addition of Mt. Bachelor in Oregon and Windham Mountain in New York for the 2020/2021 season, bringing the total number of destinations accessible on Ikon Pass to 43.
Ikon Pass holders will have access to seven days each at Mt. Bachelor and Windham Mountain with no blackout dates, and Ikon Base Pass holders will have access to five days each, with select blackout dates.
Just two and a half hours north of New York City, Windham Mountain boasts 285 skiable acres across 54 trails serviced by 11 lifts, six terrain parks, an award-winning snowsports school, Terrain Based Learning™, lodging, on-mountain dining, an Adventure Park, a full-service spa, and sunset skiing (on select nights during the season), all in a private-club like atmosphere. In summer, Windham offers the Windham Mountain Bike Park famous for its World Cup course and a three-mile-long beginner trail and Windham Country Club with an 18-hole public golf course.
Ikon Pass Gives Access to 43 Destinations
The 43 destinations on the Ikon Pass span the Americas, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan and include such iconic mountain resorts as Aspen Snowmass, Steamboat, Winter Park, Copper Mountain Resort, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, and Eldora Mountain Resort in Colorado; Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, Mammoth Mountain, June Mountain and Big Bear Mountain Resort in California; Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming; Big Sky Resort in Montana; Stratton, Sugarbush Resort, and Killington in Vermont; Snowshoe in West Virginia; Boyne Highlands and Boyne Mountain in Michigan; Crystal Mountain and The Summit at Snoqualmie in Washington; Tremblant in Quebec and Blue Mountain in Ontario, Canada; SkiBig3 in Alberta, Canada; Revelstoke Mountain Resort and Cypress Mountain in British Columbia, Canada; Sunday River and Sugarloaf in Maine; Loon Mountain in New Hampshire; Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico; Deer Valley Resort, Solitude Mountain Resort, Brighton Resort, Alta Ski Area, and Snowbird in Utah; Zermatt in Switzerland; Thredbo and Mt Buller in Australia; Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, Mt Hutt in New Zealand; Niseko United in Japan, and Valle Nevado in Chile.
Special offers are available at CMH Heli-Skiing & Summer Adventures, one of the world’s largest heli-skiing and heli-accessed hiking operations. For more information, visit www.ikonpass.com.
In addition to the 15 year-round mountain destinations, one of the world’s largest heli-ski operation and the Ikon Pass program, Alterra Mountain Company owns and operates a range of recreation, hospitality, real estate development, food and beverage, retail and service businesses out of its Denver, Colorado headquarters. For more information, visit www.alterramtnco.com.
Whoa! Hold onto your skis, it’s going to be a wild ride! This year’s big skiing newsflash is the mega-mergers creating new behemoths that span the nation and even beyond, which has the independents looking for differentiating ways, as well as collaborations to compete.
Vail Resorts (with four Colorado ski destinations: Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone plus 10 more coast-to-coast, Canada and Australia) just keeps getting bigger, with the acquisition of its first Northeastern resort, Stowe Mountain, giving Eastern skiers a really good reason to buy Vail’s Epic Pass.
And now, the Crown family, owners of Aspen and Snowmass resorts, and KSL Capital Partners acquired Intrawest Resorts and Mammoth Resorts, in a $1.5 billion deal, and then, for good measure, purchased Deer Valley, in Utah, as well, literally just down the road from Vail Resorts’ Park City mega-resort.
This newly formed mega-operator mergers a dozen mountain resorts into one company, including many iconic destinations, such as former Intrawest flagships Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado (though Winter Park is still owned by the City of Denver), and Stratton in Vermont. Also in the new portfolio are Mammoth Mountain, California’s busiest ski area, Lake Tahoe’s Squaw and Alpine, and Tremblant in Quebec. The deal also includes heli operator Canadian Mountain Holidays. Collectively these resorts represent 20,000 skiable acres and draw 6 million skier visits.
While it is easy to imagine a system-wide ski pass to rival Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass in the not-distant future, for this upcoming season, the variety of passes that the resorts had been offering will be used: Rocky Mountain Super Pass, Mountain Collective, and the M.A.X. Pass will be honored at the respective resorts.
Here are more highlights of Colorado Ski Country USA resorts:
Olympic qualifiers in Colorado will feature the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain in December and Snowmass in January in advance of the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang.
Notable anniversaries include the 50th Anniversary of Snowmass, which will be celebrated with a day of 1967 lift ticket pricing at $6.50, Loveland Ski Area’s 80th Anniversary and Cooper’s 75th Anniversary.
New terrain across the state includes 468 new skiable acres at Arapahoe Basin with the expansion into the Beavers and Steep Gullies. Purgatory will also open new expert and intermediate trails.
New lifts across Colorado Ski Country: Eldora Mountain Resort is opening this season with a new six-person detachable chairlift, the first six-person chairlift in its history. Steamboat’s Gondola underwent significant upgrades over the summer to modernize and improve the guest experience and Purgatory will welcome a full season of its new transfer lift.
Mountain Coasters galore with Copper Mountain, Steamboat, Purgatory and Aspen Snowmass all opening a year-round mountain coaster in the fall or early winter.
The news at Steamboat is that it is now part of the group that owns Aspen/Snowmass, Intrawest, the four Mammoth mountains in California; Squaw Valley; Mont Tremblant and the Canadian Mountain Heliskiing (CMH) company in Canada, plus Deer Park, Utah, and Stratton Mountain, Vt. and operates Winter Park, Colorado.
Steamboat has made significant improvements to its gondola for the 2017-18 season, installing new grips, hangers, terminal equipment, electronic controls and other infrastructure to the resort’s main access point. These renovations will provide a faster, smoother and more efficient experience for guests.
Half of Steamboat’s terrain is intermediate and beginner, and there is an entire lift devoted to intermediate terrain offering long cruiser blue trails.
The Outlaw Mountain Coaster, which will operate year-round, opened September 8, 2017. The mountain coaster descends more than 400 vertical feet with a riding length of more than 6,000 linear feet, making it the longest mountain coaster in North America.
A true destination resort, Steamboat is now accessible by direct flight from Newark. It is a 30 minutes drive from Hayden Airport – if you show your boarding pass, you can ski free for the afternoon; rental shops are open late so you can get your equipment the night before, saving time and hassle for the morning.
Kids & Grandkids Ski Free programs enable children 12 years of age and under to ski free the same number of days as their parent, grandparent, or legal guardian when the parent, grandparent, or legal guardian purchase a five-or-more day adult lift ticket. For season passes, one child (12 and under) is eligible to receive a free season pass with parent, grandparent, or legal guardian purchase of an adult Steamboat Season Pass. For more information, visit www.steamboat.com.
Visit Steamboat’s central reservations, tell them what you are looking to do and they can direct you to the best value offers. Steamboat is also part of M.A.X. Pass and the Rocky Mountain SuperPass. Intrawest operates the Steamboat Grand hotel at base area.
Winter Park is expanding and improving the Winter Park Express, the train service between Denver’s Union Station and Winter Park Resort that was reintroduced last year (and sold out). The addition of three First Friday trips will give guests a total of 27 round-trips to choose from. Prices on select departures have been lowered to $29 one-way, providing additional cost savings for those looking to travel to the slopes by train.
The Winter Park Village will feature a renovated rental shop and a new retail location, reducing wait times on busy rental days. There are two new snowcats to increase grooming efficiency, 4,500 new feet of snowmaking pipe and 15 new snow guns to improve early season snowmaking.
A new trail from the top of the Zephyr Express Lift to the Mary Jane Trail will allow easier access from the Winter Park side of the mountain to the Mary Jane side.
Kids and Beginners Ski for Less: At Winter Park Resort, kids five and under qualify for beginner lift tickets for $10 a day or $30 for the season with no black-out dates. These lift tickets are intended for beginners only and grant access to the Galloping Goose chairlift at Mary Jane.
Aspen Snowmass will host Olympic qualifying events when the U.S. Grand Prix stops in Snowmass January 10–January 14, 2018. U.S. Snowboard Team and U.S. Freeski Team athletes will be competing to punch their tickets to February’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games.
Snowmass will celebrate its 50th Anniversary all season long including $6.50 lift tickets on December 15, 2017. This was the original price for a lift ticket on opening day in 1967. Celebrations will also include a 50th Anniversary Golden Gala, monthly firework displays and other festive events.
The Breathtaker mountain coaster will open at Snowmass Mountain in December 2017. The mountain coaster will drop guests more than 400 vertical feet on a mile of turning track and be open year-round.
Kids Ski Free: Children six and under always ski free at Aspen Snowmass. For children ages seven to 12 years old, Aspen Snowmass allows kids to ski free when booking two or more nights of lodging through Stay Aspen Snowmass or renting children’s ski or snowboard equipment from Four Mountain Sports. There is no limit on the number of days children can receive free lift tickets when renting from Four Mountain Sports. The offer is valid January 1 – April 15, 2018. Mention kids ski free when you call 800-290-1326 or visit www.aspensnowmass.com for more information.
Copper Mountain, which is famous for its Woodward Barn camps, clinics and individual indoor sports training, will host Olympic qualifying events December 6-10, 2017 when U.S. athletes compete in the halfpipe and big air events during the U.S. Grand Prix.
Skiers and riders can enjoy a new lift and lodge, the Kokomo Express Lift and Koko’s Hut. The lift will serve beginner terrain in the West Village, while the lodge will offer seating, casual dining and more, complete with a large outdoor deck and sweeping panoramas of Copper Mountain and Tenmile Range.
Copper Mountain, which is owned by Powdr (the ski company that also owns Killington, Vermont and just bought Eldora Mountain, Colorado) is debuting the Rocky Mountain Coaster in fall 2017. With an overall length of 5,800 feet and a vertical drop of 430 feet, the mountain coaster will be a thrilling year-round experience for guests.
One, Two, Free! With Copper Mountain’s One, Two, Free! Package, kids 12 and younger ski free with the purchase of an adult two-day lift ticket. The deal also includes additional perks like a third night of lodging free, a third day of rentals free, a free half-day ticket on the day of arrival or departure, and free upgrade to the Secret! Pass for early access and shorter lift lines. Children five and under always ski/ride free at Copper Mountain.
Copper is part of the M.A.X. Pass and Rocky Mountain Super Pass.
The resort is a 90-minute drive from DIA through Eisenhower tunnel.
With one of the few terrain expansions in the country, Arapahoe Basin is adding 468 new acres over two years with the expansion into the Beavers and Steep Gullies. For the 2017-18 season, 371 acres of most difficult and extreme terrain will be open, adding 50 feet to the vertical; guests will need to hike back to the Pallavicini chair. Next summer, a four-person lift will be installed for the 2018-19 season, and two more intermediate trails will be added in the Beavers.
Arapahoe Basin is always the first ski resort to open in the nation and the last to close (June, sometimes even July), and is a free shuttle bus ride (five miles) from Vail Resort’s Keystone (A-Basin was once owned by Vail Resorts, Vail Resorts’ EpicPass and Keystone lift tickets are accepted), where there is also plenty of lodging choices. People know A-Basin, which has been owned by a Canadian real estate company since 1997, for its blacks and double blacks advanced terrain, but there is plenty of intermediate trails, also offering long cruisers, groomed runs on the back side of the mountain a mile long.
Kids Free 2 Ski Pass: Children five and under ski free every day at Arapahoe Basin with a free Five & Under lift ticket from the ticket window. Children ages six to 12 can ski or snowboard for free any two days of the 2017-18 season with no blackout dates through the Kids Free 2 Ski Pass. Register online, at a Front Range ski show or at the mountain by December 18, 2017.
The rental shop was remodeled this summer to help guests get out on the slopes quicker during busy days. The resort also launched a new website, free device charging stations and free public WiFi throughout the base area and at Black Mountain Lodge at mid-mountain.
Because of the extended season, Arapahoe also offers its own multi-day and spring pass.
In summer, A-Basin offers summer events; disc golf, hiking to mid mountain, mountain biking (not lift served). Weddings are a big summer business: “The lift is the procession; couples get married in front of Continental Divide. A rustic romantic lodge at mid mountain, can accommodate 200 guests.
Arapahoe is a 75 minute drive from Denver (2 hours from airport). For more information, visit www.arapahoebasin.com.
Crested Butte Mountain Resort
Crested Butte is enhancing the guest experience for beginners by re-grading the teaching terrain and introducing a new adult beginner area. Guests looking for a break from the slopes can enjoy a slice from the new pizza oven at Paradise on Crested Butte.
A new program, CB North Face Guides, will help expert skiers and riders navigate the extreme terrain of the resort including the famed North Face.
Kids 12 and Under Ski Free: Children six and under always ski free at Crested Butte. All kids ages 12 and under visiting Crested Butte Mountain Resort Nov. 23 – Dec. 15, 2017 and Apr. 1 – 8, 2018 ski or ride free. No strings attached, no parent ticket required, no lodging stay required, no advance reservations, just a free ticket for kids.
Crested Butte will host its annual Christmas Eve celebration, an evening complete with a torchlight parade and Santa Claus coming down the mountain in a sleigh pulled by a snowcat.
Crested Butte is the sister resort to the popular Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont,m and is part of the M.A.X. Pass.
The closest airport is Gunnison or Montrose. For more information, visit www.skicb.com.
Telluride Ski Resort
Celebrating its 45th Anniversary, Telluride is continuing an ongoing multi-year, multi-million-dollar investment in snowmaking upgrades and technology. For this season, the grooming fleet is being expanded and there is a new dual-purpose project that serves as a golf course practice facility in the summer months and a 15-acre terrain-based learning area during the winter ski season.
People associate Telluride wih tough skiing, but half of the terrain is rated as intermediate and this year, Telluride is adding 15 acres of beginner terrain and new magic carpet.
Advanced skiers can revel in black and double black diamond trails and hike-to-terrain; intermediates have trails from top to bottom that let you “see forever”.
Kids Ski Free: Free lift tickets are available at the Telluride ticket window for children ages five years old and under. Child lift tickets for children ages six to 12 are available online at discounted rates for two or more days of skiing when you purchase at least 48 hours in advance. Telluride also offers children’s ski school lessons divided into programs that offer age and skill specific learning experiences.
Telluride is a charming walking town, connected to the Mountain Village by gondola, where there is The Peaks, a luxury hotel that is the resort’s largest, with a world-class spa; the Inn at Los Creek, a boutique hotel, and other lodging options, plus shops and restaurants.
The privately owned ski area is part of Mountain Collection of 15 quality resorts.
Options to get to Telluride include flying into Montrose or Telluride airport.
Purgatory Resort will have a new mountain coaster this season, which will be accessible from the base area and operate year-round. The coaster is 4,000 feet in length with a 300 foot-vertical drop, and features eight switchbacks and one loop.
Purgatory is also expanding its terrain with new intermediate and expert trails on the back- and front-sides of the mountain, and is adding new gladed tree skiing. The triple chairlift, Needles Lift 6, offers a new mid-way loading zone to provide an easier way to access terrain for ski teams, terrain park users, and skiers or riders who want to take laps on the frontside of the mountain.
The resort also has new snowmaking infrastructure including increased pumping capacity and more energy efficient snow guns.
Kids and 4th Graders Ski Free:Kids seven years old and younger ski free every day at Purgatory Resort. Fourth grade students also ski free at Purgatory with proof of grade. For more information, visit www.skipurg.com.
Loveland Ski Area
To celebrate its 80th year of operations, Loveland is offer snowcat skiing in Dry Gulch for the first time. Loveland will also continue the popular Mountaintop Matrimony event on Valentine’s Day.
Kids Ski Free: Children five and under ski free every day at Loveland. Children five and under can also purchase a ski or snowboard package equipment rental for $12.
3-Class Pass for Kids is for all children, ages four to 14, of all ability levels. When guests pre-purchase or complete three full-day lesson packages, they receive a free unrestricted season pass to keep practicing their skiing or snowboarding skills for the rest of the season. Children’s full day lesson packages include a lesson, lift access, equipment rentals (ski or snowboard), helmet and lunch.
New Direct Flights, Expanded Train Service Ease Travel to Colorado Ski Resorts This Season
DENVER –Colorado Ski Country USA has announced new direct flights to and from Colorado’s eight regional airports and expanded service on the Winter Park Express this season that will provide skiers and riders from across the country easy and convenient travel options to their favorite Colorado ski resorts by train, plane or car this winter.
Also, the Amtrak Winter Park Express, coming off a highly successful inaugural season, will offer expanded train service for the 2017-18 ski season. The Winter Park Express will depart from Union Station in downtown Denver each Saturday and Sunday from January 5 through March 25, plus three new “First Friday” round-trips, with a reduced fare of $29 each way on some departures. With more than 27 round-trip options and over 500 seats on each train, the Winter Park Express allows visiting skiers and riders to travel to Winter Park Resort without renting or setting foot in a car.
Colorado’s eight regional airports are offering new and expanded flights for the 2017-18 season. Steamboat will feature new nonstop flights from Austin (AUS) and Kansas City (MCI) on ViaAir into Steamboat/Hayden (HDN) airport beginning Dec. 13, 2017. These additional flights bring Steamboat’s total direct air service to 14 major U.S. airports.
Aspen Snowmass has new daily nonstop flights through American Airlines from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) starting this winter along with expanded service from both Dallas Ft. Worth (DFW) and Chicago O’ Hare (ORD).
Telluride has increased access this winter through new American Airlines direct flights into Montrose-Telluride Regional Airport (MTJ) from Charlotte Douglas International (CLT), Saturdays starting Dec. 23, 2017. Delta Airlines will operate new flights this winter from Salt Lake City (SLC) to Montrose-Telluride (MTJ) over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
Skiers and riders hoping to make it to ski areas in the southwest part of the state: Telluride, Silverton, Purgatory and Wolf Creek, have another option from Denver (DEN) on a new Boutique Air flight servicing Alamosa San Luis Valley (ALS) with three daily non-stop flights with a round-trip as low as $100.
Visitors can also access seven resorts within a two-hour drive of Denver (DEN), including Colorado Ski Country USA’s newest member resort, Echo Mountain. Only 35 miles or 50 minutes from downtown Denver, the Idaho Springs ski area offers six trails on 60 acres just a short drive from the Front Range.
For a full list of flights into and out of Denver (DEN) servicing Colorado’s eight regional airports and for direct flights into airports servicing all of Colorado Ski Country USA’s member resorts visit coloradoski.com/traveling.
5th and 6th Grade Passport Program
Colorado Ski Country USA offers any fifth grader the chance to ski or ride three days at 22 participating member resorts across the state absolutely free. That’s up to 66 free days on the slopes. Fifth graders who have never skied or snowboarded are eligible for the First-Class program which provides never-ever skiers and riders one free full-day beginner lesson and equipment rental at the resort of their choice. All Passport holders also receive one complimentary junior rental from Christy Sports. The corresponding 6th Grade Passport Program offers four days of skiing at the same 22 resorts for only $105 before November 30, or $125 through the end of the season. To register for the Passport Program visit:www.coloradoski.com/passport.
I set out for Park City Mountain in Utah to see if it could really be true: you could leave your house on Long Island in the morning and be skiing the Rockies, or more precisely, the Wasatch Range, by noon.
The combination of great nonstop airline service into Salt Lake City and the remarkably close proximity of the international airport to Park City- just 35 minutes drive, literally as far from the airport as my house to JFK, the “suburbs” of the city – makes this all possible. Not to mention the choice of condo-style lodgings right at the Canyons base, the efficient ski rental process.
Sure enough, I was greeted at the airport and whisked away by Park City Transportation car service, checked into the Hyatt Centric Park City Hotel at Park City Mountain’s Canyons village base, picked up my pre-ordered skis through RentSkis.com (the fellow assisting me took the extra time to wax the skis to give me a better experience on the spring slush at the lower sections), used my Epic Pass, Vail Resort’s seasonal pass, which speeds you through the lift access with a point of a laser gun, and hopped the Red Pine Gondola to mid-mountain.
There I warmed up and got comfortable in my equipment on the couple of green runs, then found a gentle blue trail, Snow Dancer, off the Saddleback Express lift, to warm up my legs as I regaled in the view, and was happy as a clam.
(There is a caveat, though: by skiing immediately and not taking time to acclimate, you can avoid altitude sickness by drinking lots of water beginning the day before and throughout the day, and avoiding alcohol the first day. If you do feel the effects of altitude sickness, take Tylenol and drink water and if necessary, come down to lower altitude.)
We Northeastern skiers will revel in actual snow, Park City’s legendary powder – even in spring conditions. You don’t just ski Park City – which with Vail’s acquisition and unification with The Canyons is now the largest ski resort in the US – you explore it. It is so vast, it becomes a game for the first-time visitor to get from Canyons – where the trails tend to be tougher (only a couple of greens), but less crowded, more sun, and more snow – to Park City.
I only ski a couple of times a season so I am still tentative though I can handle just about any blue (intermediate) trail provided there is snow and not sheer ice (as we New England skiers are more familiar with). But I lack confidence.
Joined by Eric and Sarah who arrive late Thursday from San Francisco, Sarah and I spend our first morning together taking a half-day private lesson with Alex Fleet, one of the top instructors at Park City with nearly two decades of experience who is originally from Great Britain (you pay one price for up to 6 people).
Lessons are not just for beginners and certainly not just for kids. Skiing is a skill that you acquire in layers (and with practice). A lesson helps you acquire the proper form and technique so you can handle any terrain. But the most important ingredient is feeling relaxed and confident so you get a better flow and can use your proper technique.
Our goal is to feel comfortable when challenged, and for me, not to be so skittish at taking on new trails, but to have the confidence that I could do it.
Secondly, I want to see how to get over from Canyons to Park City (there are no green trails to get you there – it is a series of blues or blacks to a half-dozen lifts). I had been told the “trip” could take as much as two hours from Canyons to Park City (about 45 minutes to get back). So Alex, starting us on the green trail (stopping to take in the incredible view) to check us out, progresses swiftly to Snow Dancer (a stunning blue), and then moves us over, peak by peak, to Park City.
Alex gets us over to the Park City area (about one-third the size of the Canyons) in much less time than the two hours, where we find a blue heaven, and where there is vastly more green terrain (the longest trail is 3.5 miles), not to mention the blacks and the glades (we can look forward to that another time). He takes us around a few of the peaks on blue trails before starting back to the Canyons, enough to get a feel for Park City. Throughout, Alex is refining our technique – weighting skis, turning, edging – and building confidence for the climatic challenge: Sidewinder.
He takes us back to the Canyons side, finishing our lesson off the Tombstone lift on Sidewinder (Alex says the popular name is “Slidewinder”), a double-blue square trail, where I take note of an actual sign that warns off all but advanced skiers. Alex says he knows we can do it, “Just follow me!” (and don’t look down because it basically goes straight down without flattening out.)
Alex has made sure to take us here at the best possible condition of the day – not icy or fast in the morning, nor too slushy in the afternoon’s spring heat (the temperature has gone as high as 60 degrees during our stay). Conditions are just right as the noon hour approaches.
It is the confidence builder we have asked Alex for at the start (Sarah had said she wanted to feel challenged), because if you can do the toughest blue on the mountain, you feel you can do anything (assuming the conditions are decent).
While we are at our lesson, Eric, who is an advanced snowboarder, has been tearing up the slopes.
Eric takes the Ninety Nine 90 chairlift, hiking 10 minutes to an “out-of-bounds” bowl, “where there were endless spots to drop in from to have your own fresh lines; then you go from the steep fresh powder bowl to glades and moguls; a beautiful 10-minute trail, even for the speediest of skiers, made the 10-minute hike at the top of the lift well worth it.” (By midday when we meet up at the bottom of the Tombstone lift, his Epic Pass, the seasonal pass to Vail Resorts which is also plugged into tracking where you’ve been and your accumulated altitude, showed he had already done 17,000 ft of elevation.)
Armed with my confidence, on my last full day at Park City, I set out to get from Canyons to Park City on my own, which necessitates handling new trails each time. I start out at Guest Services and ask the kindly attendant to recommend an itinerary, so I don’t have to think about which blues to take. Based on the map of what has been groomed, she uses a yellow marker to map my day. And what a day!
Indeed, when Vail Resorts acquired Park City Mountain Resort and then Canyons Resort, combining them in the summer of 2015, it created the largest single ski and snowboard resort in the United States. Vail immediately invested $50 million, building a spectacular new 8 passenger Quicksilver Gondola to connect the two areas (breathtaking ride!), along with the new King Con Express six-pack and Motherlode Express Quad among the improvements. The combined One Park City offers more than 7,300 acres of skiable terrain, more than 300 trails (and they don’t count tiny spurs as named trails like they do in New England), 41 lifts, 8 terrain parks, one super pipe and one mini pipe.
We’re talking 17 mountain peaks! 14 bowls! A vertical of 3200 feet from the base at 6,800 feet to the summit at 10,000 feet! And even though it is just two weeks before the mid-April close of the season, and the springtime temperatures have soared, Park City averages 370 inches of snow a year, so still has an amazing base of actual snow to ski on. (This makes for a wonderful incentive for people to come out for the these last days of the season, to apply the day’s lift ticket to the cost of a discounted Epic Pass for next season that much more valuable; indeed, a woman from St. Louis said she bought next year’s Epic Local Pass, which is expected to also include Stowe Mountain Vermont, for just over $500.)
It’s a “blue-bird” day – when the sun is brilliant and the sky the deep blue color of a blue bird’s belly. It is just perfection.
I take my time, and have a thrilling experience really exploring and discovering the mountain, enjoying my skiing and literally accumulating the mileage which is the only way to really bump up your skills. Skiing with confidence is key because when you are tense, your muscles tense, you don’t get that nice flow and balance and you use more energy than necessary.
The scenery is intoxicating – not just the sparkling pure air and the altitude that gets your heart racing, but the stunning glades of Aspen trees, pine trees sprinkled in, the peaks and canyons, and the perspective, as well as the ride the chairlifts give you.
It takes me 2 hours (savoring the stunning scenery, stopping for photos, checking the map and enjoying making turns) and I get to the Park City side. I take the SilverLode Express to the top, do Parley’s Park trail, and after a chat on the lift with a Park City regular, go back up for a run on Assessment before starting back to the Canyons.
Everyone we meet – and during the course of the day, I meet people from all over the country – and especially the Ambassadors and lift operators – are incredibly nice. When I seem a little confused about how to get to the Timberline lift, a woman from St. Louis I meet on the gondola waits for me where the trails split, to make sure I take the right trail.
I make my way back to Tombstone, and take the Red Pine Road trail back to the mid-mountain base, but I am feeling so good, I pass up going back down on the Red Pine Gondola, and ski down Boomer to the Canyons base (the big issue was the amount of slushy snow because of the warm conditions), feeling very satisfied with myself for being adventurous. I achieved my goal: skiing new trails.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to take in one of the experiences that are unique to Park City skiing: the Historic Mountain Tour. You need to be intermediate or above to take this free, two-hour skiing adventure to the various mining shafts from Park City’s silver days.
The Historic Mountain tours depart daily from the Park City resort base area by the Eagle Statue at 10 am and again at the Trail Map near the top of Bonanza lift at 1 pm. During the course of the tour, you get to appreciate how the mountain developed from a mining camp in the 1880s to an internationally recognized winter sports destination. The guides relate the stories behind the authentic structures you see on the mountain (there are some 1,200 miles of tunnels that wind through the mountains and you get to see some of the mine shafts), how Park City emerged as a ski jump arena, its World Cup Racing heritage and how it came to international prominence with the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. You get to experience some of the same runs that the Olympians did and ski or ride past some of Park City’s historic mining buildings with an expert tour guide. We have it on the list for our return visit.
Park City Mountain’s trails are wonderfully carved, superbly maintained and groomed (500 acres of the 7300 have snowmaking) – unless the appeal are the trails and glades that they are not. I appreciate the great signage (otherwise, you could easily get lost or waste time constantly opening up the humongous map).
(Eric saw the best sign, on Nine-Nine 90, named for the elevation of the peak, 9990 ft.: “You are Leaving the Ski Resort. You Can Die. This is Your Decision” with skull and bones to emphasize the point.)
Sure enough, I was able to ski a full day on the last day – leaving the Hyatt Centric Park City Hotel at 9:30 pm for the 11:50 pm Delta nonstop flight back to JFK.
So, my four-days in Park City afforded four full days of skiing. Mission accomplished.
Hyatt Centric Park City
TheHyatt Centric Park City at the Canyons base, which has been a superb lodging for our stay and has its own lift for ski in/out convenience, and is just a five-minute walk to the shops and restaurants, let us use the outdoor heated pool, hot tubs, sauna and lockers after we were checked out. Our two-bedroom condo (the hotel has 27 two-bedroom suites, which can be turned into 3 bedroom suites, and 15 one-bedroom suites) is unbelievably spacious, outfitted with every possible amenity including a full-kitchen, a dining table that seats eight, three TVs, a Jacuzzi bathtub in the master bedroom, four balconies, windows everywhere there open up to the gorgeous outdoors, and washer/dryer (so convenient when you ski).
It also offers a free nighttime shuttle into historic Park City (on the hour from 5 pm; last one returning at 10:30 pm), and on my last evening, instead of waiting in the lobby, I hopped a ride for a final visit, stopping in at more of the gorgeous galleries that line Main Street. I returned with plenty of time to relax in the Hyatt Centric lounge before the car service picked me up to get to the airport.
Park City is very much a year-round adventure destination, and the Hyatt Centric also offers an in-house activities company, Wasatch Adventure Guides, offering fly fishing, heli skiing, hiking (Hyatt Centric Park City, 3551 North Escala Court, Park City, Utah, USA, 84098, 435 940 1234, parkcity.centric.hyatt.com).
So Much More to Do at Park City Mountain
We were so enthralled with skiing, we didn’t have time to take in the many other adventures and experiences of the area. But there is plenty to do, especially for regulars:
Alpine Coaster: Climb into toboggan-style cars for a special way of experiencing the magnificent Wasatch mountain scenery. The automated lift system whisks you to the top of the track and you fly down the mountain on nearly 4,000 feet of curves, bends and loops. It is one of the longest slides in the world.
Guided Snowshoe Tours: Park City offers a network of snowshoe trails hidden among the spectacular skiing. Guided tours are created with a unique destination, experience or adventure in mind.
Horse Drawn Sleigh Rides: Snuggle in for a scenic 30-minute horse drawn sleigh ride through Willow Draw showcasing a night-time winter wonderland after the lifts have closed.
Additional winter experiences include Dog Sledding, Snowmobile Tours and Cross Country Ski Tours.
Also, the Utah Olympic Park where you can take a guided tour, take a thrilling ride on the Winter Comet Bobsled on the Olympic track, experiencing 3+ Gs and hitting speeds of 60 mph (open year round); the Extreme Zipline replicates flying off the K120 Nordic ski jump, propelling you to up to 50 mph. There’s also an adventure course, scenic chairlifts, and the George Eccles 2002 Olympic Games Museum (look for Great Neck’s own figure skating gold medalist Sarah Hughes). Still a year-round US Olympic training site, you also get to watch athletes of all ages training for Nordic Ski Jumping (in summer, they jump into a pool), Freestyle skiing, bobsled, skeleton and luge. (Open year-round, free admission to the park, www.uolf.com).
But we have time each day to enjoy discovering historic Park City, with its astonishingly fine galleries and shops and fine-dining venues (more to come).
Park City Mountain (www.parkcitymountain.com) is part of Vail Resorts, Inc., which through its subsidiaries, is a leading global mountain resort operator of 10 world-class mountain resorts and three urban ski areas, which in addition to Park City in Utah includes Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in the Lake Tahoe area of California and Nevada; Perisher in Australia; Whistler Blackcomb in Canada; Afton Alps in Minnesota, Mt. Brighton in Michigan and Wilmot Mountain in Wisconsin. Vail Resorts also owns and/or manages a collection of casually elegant hotels under the RockResorts brand, as well as the Grand Teton Lodge Company in Jackson Hole, Wyo.