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Ski Utah or ski Vail?

Elizabeth Eber
Hiking to powder at Utah’s Alta Ski Area
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Here you are in Vail; why go to Utah? Well, for one thing, it’s always fun to check out the competition. But more importantly, no matter how much you love to ski at Vail, it’s impossible to resist falling in love with Utah skiing, too.The first thing to love is that if you get there by flying to Salt Lake City, you are no more than an easy 45 minute drive away from all the major ski areas such as Park City, The Canyons, Deer Valley, Solitude, Brighton, Snowbird, and Alta, and an additional half hour to Snowbasin.Each of these resorts is independently owned and has its own unique atmosphere, terrain, on-mountain restaurants, and base village. And what is also unique to Colorado’s Gore Range skiers is that the Wasatch Mountain Range, where the Utah -ski areas are located, is steeper. Therefore, even though all the Utah resorts have gentle blue and green runs, the expert runs there have a sustained challenge that you can rarely find at Colorado’s central and northern ski areas.On the other hand, the steep runs in Utah tend to be short, so you do spend more time on the lift. And, of course, no ski area there has the expanse and length of Vail’s Back Bowls.But Utah does have a collection of small, lift-served bowls. Although they tend to get bumped up rather quickly, the bumps remain soft and pillowy because of Utah’s abundance of feathery, light powder. Some of Utah’s resorts get over 500 inches of snow per year, while Vail averages around 350 inches.If all this isn’t enough to get you and your ski boots to Utah, following are brief assessments of three of Utah’s greatest ski resorts. First, to give you some perspective, are a few Vail Mountain statistics:-Highest peak elevation: 11,570′ (Blue Sky Basin)-Total skiable terrain:5,289 acres

-Number of named runs: 193-Number of lifts: 34The CanyonsThe Canyons is Utah’s largest ski resort, with 3,500 acres of skiable terrain. It includes 8 mountain peaks, the highest of which goes to 9,990′, and a cabriolet, which is an open air gondola. Its total of 14 lifts serve 146 runs. And what all this adds up to are tons of untracked powder even late in the afternoon on the day after a storm.The Canyons’ advanced terrain has incredibly perfect sustained steep pitches on all of its double-black-diamond runs. Although these expert runs are short by Vail standards, there are some beautiful, long, top-to-bottom groomed cruisers for the non-powder hounds.Deer ValleyDeer Valley, known for its legendary corduroy (grooming), never disappoints in that category. Fifteen percent of its 1,750 acres of skiable terrain is beginner and 50% intermediate. An added bonus for cruising around is that you get to check out all the ski-in-ski-out mansions so artfully built within the ski area boundaries.But lest you get lulled into luxury and ease, know that Deer Valley’s 35% of remaining terrain includes a collection of “designer” bowls and chutes that will challenge you to exhaustion. Deer Valley’s highest peak elevation is only 9,570′, 2,000′ less than Vail’s, but since the majority of Deer Valley’s skiers seems to populate the green and blue runs, a lot of black-diamond territory stays untracked for days after a storm. This is also due to the fact that Deer Valley, as well as Alta, has established limits on the daily number of skiers allowed, based on the available terrain and lift capacities.

Particularly exciting at Deer Valley is the recently developed double-black-diamond Daly Chutes area. Not only are the steep, narrow, partly treed runs usually filled with the greatest snow on earth, but the entrance to the Chutes sports a cornice which makes Vail’s “Lovers’ Leap” feel like a bunny hop in comparison.AltaAlthough Alta’s 2,200 acres of skiable terrain don’t make it the largest, its 10,550′ summit is the second highest of Utah’s ski areas, after its neighbor Snowbird at 11,000′. But in addition to its 2,020′ of vertical drop serviced by 7 lifts and 5 surface tows, it has in-bound gates through which you can hike up to steep fields of untracked terrain. The skiing off these hikes is very similar to untracked powder skiing in Vail’s Back Bowls, although at Alta you only get as much as you’re willing to hike up to.For the non-hikers there are still plenty of powder-drenched runs, which include some great, steep bumps. In general, the runs are much narrower than Vail’s, but the cruisers are every bit as mellow.Alta’s unique culture takes you authentically back to the early days of skiing. The Alta Lodge is one of skiing’s originals with its charming old-school ambience, as is the Goldminer’s Daughter, another of Alta’s ski-in, ski-out lodges at the base of the mountain.But Alta also has its updates. Most exciting is its lift-served interconnect with Snowbird. With an “Alta Snowbird One Pass” you can ski either mountain from either base. The locals fondly refer to this new phenomena as “Altabird.”Just Vail



But then there is the phenomena known as Vail. What Vail has that neither Utah nor any other ski area in North America has is the biggest connection of all: one lift ticket and one lift out of one town gets you to more skiable acres of terrain than you can cover in a day. Or maybe even in a week. Vail’s huge, wide runs for every skiing level, and vast open bowls which are themselves as big as many whole ski areas elsewhere, are indeed unique in the world of lift-served skiing.And Vail’s pedestrian-only village has enough restaurants, hotels, shops, galleries, and entertainment venues to keep you away from your car keys for as long as you want.The choiceSo here’s the choice: Vail’s unique “oneness,” with its vast, expansive Back Bowls that on a good powder day can be like heli-skiing the wilderness, or Utah’s conveniently accessed collection of uniquely separate resorts, with their addictively steep terrain and abundant, long-lasting powder.If you go to Utah, you’ll know the answer: the best choice is both.Elizabeth Eber is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Vail. In addition to travel articles, she writes a biweekly ski column for the Vail Daily.Vail,Colorado


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