I had heard the narratives about skiing in Utah.
But when it came to planning what would be my first family trip out west, I was also somewhat fastened to personal, previous experiences. Shouldn’t the kids’ first big-mountain skiing experiences be like mine and include something like gaping at the wide expanse of Vail’s back bowls? Navigating the California-Nevada border at Heavenly with the majestic view of Lake Tahoe engulfing below? Appreciating the all-encompassing vibe that comes with skiing with locals at favorite spots like Copper Mountain or Arapahoe Basin?
Utah was the great unknown, an enticing prospect on its own, but one that also posed some challenges when it came to relaying to my three children what to expect.
But it was the promise of getting to our journey’s end within an hour of landing at Salt Lake City International that really enticed my wife. She reminded me about the traffic and weather that have hindered some of our trips on I-70 from Denver International to the Rocky Mountains. She also prompted me to recall that time we suffered a flat tire at the side of the slushy interstate somewhere near Idaho Springs.
“Now, imagine that with three kids,” she said.
I didn’t want to.
Which was how Utah, ultimately, won the debate.
There was the ever-present promise of Utah’s defining champagne powder to look forward to, but even higher on the list of selling points for the Beehive State (who knew?) was the near-immediate access to the mountains from Salt Lake City International. “You’ll be on the slopes by lunch time,” goes the tagline directed at East Coasters looking to depart at daybreak, a premise that seemed somewhat foolhardy, even with a two-hour Mountain Time rollback. Even more so when you consider traveling with three children, their luggage, and skis all in tow.
But our early-morning flight from Logan landed in Salt Lake before 10 a.m., local time. By the time we retrieved our bags, ski equipment, and found the pickup site for our shuttle to Park City, about a half hour had passed. Surely some level of traffic had to be waiting for us outside the airport doors as well, I thought, bringing the mind-set of a Bostonian three-quarters of the way across the country.
It was 10:55 a.m. when the shuttle pulled up to our destination at the Westgate Resort and Spa, just a breath away from the Canyons Village located at the base of Park City Mountain Resort.
That’s one early lunch.
Following Park City Resort’s mid-decade acquisition of neighboring Canyons Resort — and the subsequent combination of the two ski areas — the resort now bills itself as the largest resort in the United States. More than 330 trails cover the peaks with a 10,000-foot summit. There are 7,300 skiable acres to explore, a dozen bowls, and seven terrain parks, leaving the door open for a variety of terrain for every level of skiing in my family.
We went with Park City Resort over a number of other alternatives for a few different reasons. The base village at the Canyons is not only convenient and burgeoning, but it also presented my non-skiing wife with a variety of ways to occupy herself when she wasn’t pampering herself at the Westgate spa. Downtown Park City also gave her a local hotbed for shopping and dining, all accessible via the free bus system.
But being under the umbrella of Vail Resorts made Park City simply made the acquisition of an all-encompassing winter pass all the more enticing. It is, after all, the manipulative genius of the Epic Pass, available starting at $739 ($989 unrestricted) and good at dozens of resorts across the United States and Canada. Seeing a three-day lift ticket for our trip would run somewhere around $430, it only made sense to spend the extra few hundred to gain local access to fellow Vail properties Stowe, Okemo, and Mount Sunapee (joined in 2019 by Attitash, Wildcat, Crotched Mountain, and Mount Snow).
Sticker shock at Vail resorts isn’t exactly anything new. In 2010, Vail and sister property Beaver Creek, both in Colorado, became the first resorts in the country to break the $100 mark, with a $108 holiday rate. Last winter, Vail Mountain Resort cracked the $200 walk-up window rate (By comparison, Stowe’s window rate will be somewhere around $139 this season) and has long dominated the discussion surrounding the prohibitive costs that can limit the reaches of skiing and snowboarding. Those costs entice visitors to devote themselves to the Epic Pass because of the overreaching access it provides to more than 60 resorts.
It’s that kind of variety that might prompt skiers and riders to test the waters away from their own backyards, which makes Vail Resort properties the dominating option during the winter months.
All three children — ages 11, 8, and 6 — were enrolled in lessons on the first day of skiing (figuring that would get them better accustomed to big-mountain skiing), giving me plenty of opportunity to explore. I eased in with some runs off the Saddleback Express, soaring through threes and into some more genteel terrain that I would later explore with the kids over the weekend. I made the arduous hike up Murdock’s Peak and — once I caught my breath — dipped into the Murdock Bowl, immediately re-appreciating the sensation of floating in shin-deep powder.
Around noontime, I navigated my way to the other side of the resort, figuring I’d check out the Park City side, passing some of the old mining remains that still reside on the Utah mountain’s landscape. I took advantage of being solo and checked out some of the more gnarly terrain on Jupiter Peak, shooting from McConkey’s Bowl into the Black Forest. The quality of the snow, terrain, and vibe was immediately making Park City a favorite, something I found out later that afternoon that the kids were feeling as well (Tunnel of Love and Pinball Alley, both intermediate, bumpy tree runs, were their favorites).
Park City was a hit, and Saturday provided the four of us with the opportunity to explore together. Their excitement of exploring new avenues in their skiing ventures was as satisfactory for me as was watching their improvements a day after some influential lessons left them with a comfort I had not yet seen in their approach.
With Sunday brought the end of February vacation and a flight home scheduled for 5 p.m. That left plenty of time during the day to head on back over to the Park City side of the resort, where I was able to experience some of the bowls on Jupiter, at 10,026 feet, the highest peak of the Park City experience.
I didn’t finish skiing until around 1 that afternoon, at which point I joined my family for lunch at the slopeside Drafts Burger Bar, where the kids were only about halfway through their selections of the menu’s enormous $12 milk shakes.
Lunch was over by 2. The shuttle arrived at 3. We were at the airport a half-hour later, 90 minutes before our 5 p.m. flight home.
No rental car, no traffic headaches, no flat tires on I-70.
It was all, in fact, so easy, that I jumped at the opportunity to return to Park City, sans family, some six weeks later in order to attend the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. After all, I had the lift pass already, and knowing what I did about the ease of getting from airport to terrain, it was an easy decision to make in terms of maximizing the time I had over a weekend. In all, I ended up skiing Park City resort a total of seven days, easily my largest haul of any resort during the 2018-19 season. I didn’t see that coming, despite what I had been told about trips to Utah.
Skiing by lunch time, they said? Maybe.
I guess that only depends on how late you eat your breakfast.