Take a bus from Salt Lake City to 'world's greatest snow'

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

When Jim Chikaraishi learned that I was in Utah to write about its skiing, he had only one request to make: "Don't lay it on too much, will ya'? Keep the crowds away as long as you can."

Twice each winter the Glen View, Ill. optometrist boards a brother, the dentist." It's a long way to go to get your teeth cleaned, Mr. Chikaraishi acknowledged, but the fringe benefits make the trip well worth it: two weeks of some of the world's loveliest skiing at a choice of six nearby ski areas. All of them are less than an hour from Salt Lake City and are accessible via scheduled bus and limousine service.

If it sounds as if I am ignoring Mr. Chikaraishi's plea, the fact is that he already may be too late. Utah is without question the most booming ski state in the ntion.Not only are famed resorts like Snowbird and Park City continuing to expand, but big new developments are in the works. Next winter, for example, Deer Valley is schedules to open almost adjacent to Park City with five chairlifts and 40 runs on two mountains. Eventually, that $30 million investment is supposed to expand to 2,000 units of hotels, condominiums, and homes, 20 chairlifts, and 110 ski runs -- all of it on 6,750 acres. Up in Ogden , Peter Seibert, the man who founded Vail, has an option on 7,200 acres, which could make Seibert's Snow Basin ski area the largest in the state, outdoing the current king, Park City. Of course, you have to drive "a whole hour" to get from Salt Lake City to Ogden. But a new access highway could further pamper Utah's already spoiled skiers by cutting a third off that trip.

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The fact is that not only can Utah boast "the world's greatest snow" but also the big skiing that is most accessible to a major city and international aiport. The 11,000-foot Wasatch Mountains are Salt Lake City's eastern rim, and to get to world-famous resorts like Snowbird and Alta you can take a city bus!

Such proximity has helped visits by out-of-state skiers to Utah ski areas grow 80 percent in four seasons, according to the statistics of a 1979 Utah State University study. Last year's total skier visits approached 2.5 million.

Obviously not everyone has a Salt Lake City dentist-brother to bunk with for a week. However, a growing number of Utah skiers are business travelers who arrange their itineraries to take advantage of that easy accessibility to Wasatch powder. The Utah Ski Association estimates that a fourth of Salt Lake's 8,000 hotel and motel rooms are filled with skiers in winter.

Some of them are business travelers taking a couple of extra days to go skiing. Some are vacationers taking advantage of lodging prices that are lower than those at the resorts, while retaining an abundant choice of things to do after dark. They can watch Ballet West or the Utah Jazz NBA pro basketball team , for example; shop in the new Trolley Square; or listen to the Mormon Tabernalce Choir rehearse.

One advantage of staying in Salt Lake City is interchangeable lift ticket vouchers, good at all of the areas, which many of the hotels offer as part of their ski packages.

As for the skiing, Park City offers lots of long, wide intermediate runs topped by some steep powder bowls. Singles like Utah's mining-town-turned-ski-town for its booming apres-ski life, while families also fill acres of condominiums as fat as they're built. And with this boomtown's escalating land prices, that is fast indeed.

For those who appreciate true challenge and a touch of chic, Snowbird holds a special allure. Its steep mountain, deep powder, and compact high-rise base village attract skiers the world over. Casual alpinists will discover some pleasant surprises, but it's the truly dedicated who will find what they were looking for.

Traditionalists seeking an intangible charm will want to travel a mile beyond Snowbird up Little Cottonwood Canyon to that premier powder mecca of them all, 41-year-old Alta. Here, there are a couple of awesomely steep runs as well as a majority of wide bowls and runs that are an intermediate's paradise. Alta also has annual snowfalls of over 40 feet, and nary a tree.There are accommodations for only 800 at this small resort; most of them are in family lodges that are reached by their own rope tows. Meals are hearty and come with the price of a room. It it skiing as it once was, but with enough modern touches to ensure a repeat business of over 80 percent. And an all-day lift ticket costs only $9.

Three other popular ski areas lie less than an hour's ride from Salt Lake City and its airport. Park West is an expanding resort in its own right, with a vertical drop of over 2,000 feet. Solitude and Brighton are popular day areas and particularly good bets to visit on weekends, when Salt Lake skiers often mob the bigger areas.

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