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12 incredible ski experiences you can only have in Utah

Published: 12/18/2013
By Sarah Park, Matador Network

1. Be delivered via conveyor belt into a huge, powdery bowl.

The Peruvian Tunnel at Snowbird transports skiers and snowboarders to the backside of the resort by shooting them through a 12′x10′ tunnel punched through the face of the mountain. You wouldn’t notice just by looking at the Hidden Peak ridgeline, but 200′ below the top, skiers and riders are being conveyor-belted through the mountain from Peruvian Gulch into powder-and-sunshine-filled Mineral Basin, like a little assembly line of stoke.

The first tunnel of its kind in North America, this crazy contraption gives you access to Mineral Gulch when ridgetop winds would otherwise prevent a tram ride. Plus, you get to travel 800′ to another part of the mountain, skipping right over the more challenging sections of Chip’s Run, without even messing up your hair.

2. Hit six resorts in one day.

There’s nowhere else in North America where you can access so many ski resorts with such minimal hiking.

The Interconnect Tour begins at Deer Valley, where you slip out of bounds and into the huge Wasatch Backcountry. Hike into Park City for some chairlift-assisted gain in elevation, and then, after ducking the rope for some glorious pow turns in Big Cottonwood Canyon, you’re off to SolitudeBrightonAlta, and finally Snowbird.

This tour’s for intermediate and advanced skiers in decent athletic shape. Guides will take you through tons of leg-busting off-piste powder and, as you can imagine, there’ll be some side-stepping and hiking, including one gnarly uphill traverse along the super-steep Highway to Heaven. But there’s no other way to get a sample of six of Utah’s best ski resorts and the mind-blowing, virtually untouched backcountry in between.

3. Get from the airport to the mountain in under an hour.

From over 80 cities in the country, you can hop a direct flight into SLC to be skiing or riding before lunch. It takes less time for skiers and riders flying into Utah to grab their luggage, pull their U-shaped travel pillows off their necks, gear up, and be standing at the top of a snow-covered pitch than it does for me to get a pizza delivered to my house.

The hardest thing about getting from the airport to the mountain is deciding which mountain to head for — Canyons is only a half hour away, but there are ten other options all within a 60-minute drive.

4. Ski the biggest mountain in America.

With 7,000 skiable acres, Powder Mountain’s up on Vail by hundreds. But size isn’t all that matters. Pow Mow backs up its girth with an impressive 500 inches of annual snowfall. Best of all, thanks to the multiple higher-profile ski resorts sitting between it and Salt Lake City, there’s rarely a lift line.

That also might have to do with the fact that there are only four chairlifts to speak of on the entire mountain. Gratefully, you don’t have to hike — America’s biggest mountain also has the lowest catski rate I’ve ever heard of: just $18 for a ride into Cobabe Canyon or up to the tippy-top of Lightning Ridge for first tracks on some epic ungroomed Utah pow.

5. Feel unworthy of sitting in a ski lodge chair.

Yes, there are amazingly long and fast groomers (including the actual Men’s and Women’s Olympics Downhill courses), a truly world-class gondola system that allows you to ski and ride nearly 3,000′ of uninterrupted top-to-bottom vertical, and the thrill of earning some turns down No Name (face shots for all!)…. These are the reasons people come to Snowbasin, but they aren’t the only things you’ll walk away from with a grin plastered across your mug.

It takes a lot for me to care about how a lodge makes me feel, but Snowbasin is, no joke, guaranteed to impress even the most jaded-soul skier out there. We aren’t talking about little warming hut shanties that serve up mystery-meat chili with traces of hairnet. Walk into any of Snowbasin’s three lodges and you’ll immediately feel like an awkward but excited fourth grader sitting down at the adults’ table for the very first time, nervously eyeing the chandeliers and praying you won’t embarrass yourself.

It’ll be the first time you’ve ever worried about ruining a lodge’s English Wilton carpets clomping around in your soaking-wet ski boots. And the one part that makes this all completely unique? You’ll reluctantly climb out of your comfy, upholstered, is-this-real-leather? chair with actual money left in your wallet. Even with all the wardrobes and sconces and marble and brass, that slow-smoked grass-fed brisket (with all the trimmings!) you munched on still only cost $15.

6. See three generations of one family working an entire mountain just for you.

The Seeholzer family’s been running Beaver Mountain since its inception in 1939. It’s said to be the longest family-run ski resort in America, and definitely the only place where you can see three generations of Seeholzers working hard to make your winter dreams come true.

You can clearly see the lack of corporate ownership here. Lift tickets are just $45/day, and you can still buy lunch for your family (real burgers, without any of that fancy lettuce and not a hint of aioli) for less than the price of a tank of gas.

7. Cruise the same halfpipe that won the USA its first medal sweep in nearly 50 years.

2002 was a huge year for Park City, and for snowboarding as an Olympic sport. When Ross Powers, Danny Kass, and JJ Thomas swept the medals platform for Men’s Halfpipe (the first time that’s happened in an Olympic event since 1953), they legitimized the American-born sport and cemented the Park City superpipe onto the bucket list of riders everywhere.

Their 22′ pipe is one of the most meticulously designed features on the mountain, and is training grounds for pros from all over the world to come and hone their skills. Expect to be rubbing elbows with some of the biggest names in snowboarding — practice before you get here so you don’t humiliate yourself in front of Torah Bright.

Or you can just get in on the action via

8. Loosen up at the world’s only ski-in / ski-out distillery.

Yeah, in Utah. Ski right up to the High West Distillery & Saloon for a session of small-batch local whiskey tasting, then stumble back out for some more Park City pow.

Turns out, Utah’s got a long history of distilling. The High West Distillery & Saloon is even on the National Register of Historic Places as the first legal distillery in the state since 1870, and it’s probably the only place on Earth where you can get a decent Old Fashioned while still wearing your ski boots.

9. Ride in an orange ball of warmth.

No icicle boogers for you this time around. At Canyons, you can feel super pampered while riding up in the first-ever heated bubble chairlift in North America. The seat oozes out enough warmth to keep your butt toasty — then, on windier days, you can pull down the orange plexiglass windshield to keep your delicate face out of the frigid temperatures and wind.

This isn’t a feature built to cater to pansies, though. Once you’re fully encased in your bubble, you’re extra aerodynamic — which means the Orange Bubble Express can run at a higher speed than most open-air chairs, thawing you out and getting you back into the powder faster.

10. Relax at a swanky celebrity-owned resort.

You know the one I’m talking about: Sundance. The only place I’ve ever heard of where you can shred black diamonds in the morning, then spend the afternoon learning about glassblowing and taking a jewelry-making class, followed by movies in the onsite screening rooms.

The entire property is a bit like an LL Bean catalog: inexplicably rustic, sophisticated, and comfortable all at the same time. Its meticulously curated perfection might throw you off just a little bit, but don’t fight it. Hunker down into the leather of an oversized armchair with a cup of tea and a book from Robert Redford’s private library, and whisper silent thank-yous for this piece of movie-star luxury in Utah.

11. Check out one of the highest resort towns in America.

Spanning two peaks and about 650 acres of terrain, it might sound small compared to the behemoth ski resorts to the north, but with a nosebleed-inducing 9,600′ base elevation, Brian Head is tall. And even with a peak elevation of 11,307′, it’s still one of Utah’s super-secret powder stashes.

This place has everything you want out of a Utah resort and absolutely nothing you don’t. The same dry Utah pow and friendly faces, but with uber-cheap lift ticket prices and a mellow ski town that probably doesn’t sell a single furry hat.

12. Experience the Greatest Snow on Earth®.

Yup. It’s true. Snow so light and fluffy that you can clear the sidewalk with a leaf blower.