Don't believe everythingm that's said about skiing in the "dry light" powder of Utah. Although Utah skiing normally lives up to its billing, skiers can also find glare ice that rivals anything found in the Antarctic.
That was my experience here last spring when a succession of warm days, capped by a blistering 55-degree day, melted the snow just before a cold front zipped through the resort.
The ice skating the next day was superb. Even skiers from the Eastern part of the country -- used to icy conditions -- couldn't handle the runs. Everyone from the ski-lift operators to the waiters and waitresses at the restaurants said "Don't worry; it'll snow, it's never like this.
But it didn't snow that week.
Forunately, Park City is worth visiting even if you can't fall down the ultrasteep Jupiter Bowl. The town was formerly the base for silver mining and boomed during the 1870s when some major veins were discovered. It has kept the atmosphere of a mining town, even if condominiums are the new discovery. A walk down Main Street will take a visitor past such restaurants as Claim Jumper, Car 19, and Utah Coal and Lumber (Mexican!) where the decor, if not the prices, will take the hungry skier back to the days of the big silver strikes. Most of the restaurants and lodges in town are reconstructions since a "great fire" nearly leveled the town in 1898
Another thing the brochures are unlikely to tell skiers about are the lift lines. Like most Utah resorts, Park City has become so popular that on weekends lift lines can look like Eastern Mountains. Waits of 20 to 30 minutes are not uncommon as skiers from nearby Salt Lake City come out to enjoy the mountain as well. Fortunately, at Park City there are so many lifts and varieties of terrain that it's possible to ski around until you find a run or a part of the mountain that is not covered by a horde of skiers.
When you are off the mountain at Park City (which can be as late as 10 p.m. since the mountain has night skiing), there are good restaurants, including the Park City Yacht Club at the base of the mountain. Or, you can take a shuttle bus into town. If you do decide to drive, there is adequate parking off the main street although you might have to walk some. Be sure to make a reservation since the wait is longer than the lift lines without one.
It wouldn't be fair or accurate to imply that my week of ice skating at Park City was at all typical.
Only the week before, my wife and I had enjoyed a week at Snowbird -- on the other side of the mountain range where we stayed at the Cliff Lodge. Nestled in the shadow of 11,000 foot mountains, the resort offers skiing that is considered by many to be more challenging than Park City, which has more beginner and intermediate runs. Snowbird's runs after 54 inches of new snow are the ultimate in fantasy skiing. You drop down the mountain through waist high snow, moving in a slow motion bounce that is necessary to maintain to keep your speed up. Even the steepest of Snowbird's are easy when they are covered with four feet of new snow.
Again the brochures won't tell you about avalanches, but the danger of waves of snow falling off the sharp cornices is very real. Such an avalanche kept my wife and me from getting to the resort on our first night and also resulted in substantial damage at Alta -- a quick run down the road from Snowbird. Don't be surprised if you aren't allowed out of your concrete hotel until after the resort has dropped explosives on the newly fallen snow up on the mountain.
Although my wife and I had thought one of the brochures talked of cross-country skiing at Snowbird, we quickly found out most cross-country skiing takes place at Alta. Only a mile or two up Little Cottonwood Canyon, Alta is a resort community that offers mainly complete packages -- Lodging, food, and lift tickets. At Snowbird, you are free to choose between 11 restaurants with menus offering cheeseburges to enchiladas.
Cross-country skiing tours can be arranged through the Alta Ski School, which mainly consists of Marsha Rasmuessen. Mrs. Rasmuessen will both give lessons in the Albion basion and lead treks up the Catherine Pass for the 40-mile vistas.
Alta, however, is mainly for downhill skiers. Its miles of runs offer every type of skiing from straight down High Ruslter to gentle beginner slopes that are kept away from the downhill schussers.
Once again don't be surprised by long lift lines at Snowbird or Alta on weekends. On one Sunday there was a 30-minute lie at the Gad II chair, which leads to- many of Snowbird's intermediate runs.
After a day of skiing at Snowbird or Alta, those paying the top dollar scurry off to their saunas, heated pools, and steam baths. There is positively nothing quite like floating in a pool that is heated to 90 degrees while the snow gently accumulates on your head.
If it doesn't snow while you are at Snowbird or Alta, there is very little else for entertainment. Sandy, the closest town, is mostly remarkable for its uncontrolled sprawl and fast food restaurants. However, Salt Lake City is only 32 miles from the Wasatch resorts and offers a day of touring the Mormon Tabernacle, Temple Square, the Mormon geneological library, the Great Salt Lake, and the Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Institute, a store founded in 1868 by Brigham Young. Other than for the drive to and from Salt Lake City, a car is not necessary. There is shuttle bus service between Alta and Snowbird.
If you go to the resorts, go well-stocked with money. Restaurants, although not four-star in quality, can make a dent in you wallet. At Snowbird, if you eat at your lodging, it can cost $4 for an omelet. Walk 100 yards downhill to the Birdfeeder restaurant and you'll spend $2.25 for the same eggs -- only they'll be on paper plates. If you eat at the Forklift Restaurant, don't miss the mocha ice cream pie. It's almost as good as the skiing.