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Epic Spring Skiing in Utah

Published: 03/15/2011
When planning our trip of a lifetime to the Wasatch Mountains in February, my two sons and I dreamed of awakening one morning to a foot of that light, fluffy Utah powder.

Midway through our weeklong jaunt, those powder visions became reality - and even more so. There were 18 inches on the ground one morning as we skied down from the Alta Lodge to line up for the lifts to open. As the snow continued to fall, and the first skiers boarded the Collins chair, we joined the crowd with whoops of joy.

That day at Alta was the start of an epic stretches of snowfall- almost four feet over three days, first tracks through snow so deep it sprayed up over our heads, and a new found respect for state license plate's bragging rights to having The Greatest Snow on Earth.

The powder dumps in late February and early March portended a great year for spring skiing, with many Utah resorts staying open through Easter weekend in late April.

The day at Alta was among the highlights of our stay, which also included skiing at Canyons, Solitude and Deer Valley. It was a week that tested our skiing mettle in some of the world's finest skiing terrain, treated us to slope-side lodging at three resorts, and brought us three guys together as a family. It also taught me I'd made the right call to rent a four-wheel drive SUV to drive through the storms.

I get sentimental when it comes to skiing. Some of my fondest childhood memories come from making turns with my Dad and three siblings. In Utah, I wore my late Dad's 1960s ski sweater and his blue mittens. Both warm me.

Our week began at Canyons, the mega-resort in Park City that dropped the "The" in its name in its latest reincarnation under Talisker Corp., the real-estate firm that took over in 2008. We stayed at the Grand Summit Hotel, where we gazed from our fourth-floor window at groomers laying down fresh corduroy for the morning.

We could have used more than a day to sample the 4,000 acres of terrain, serviced by 19 lifts. We found great snow off Peak Five and Ninety Nine Ninety, and my boys - ages 12 and 14 and full of pep - tested their leaping prowess on the well-appointed terrain park, which included some major jumps from which they launched to catch significant air.

Next day, we headed up Little Cottonwood Canyon to Alta, that gem in the Wasatch Range at 8,600 feet that has the feel of a European resort, with so much open terrain. My boys learned about earning your Alta turns: short hikes pay off in wide expanses of untracked powder. One day, we spent all afternoon at Supreme lift, hiking for a few minutes up to Catherine's area, where we found glades and powder so deep in one drift that it reached my son's armpits.

On our powder day, we found the best terrain on the peak served by the Wildcat lift, one of Alta's remaining double chairs where Alta Lodge CEO Marcus Dippo says he does his Telemark turns when the snow is so deep.

Dippo, who arrived at the Lodge in 1978 to work as a dishwasher, welcomed us to the cozy inn, nestled into the hillside overlooking the Collins and Wildcat lifts. Built in 1939, the Lodge has grown with the mountain while still retaining that homey charm, and has a clientele that keeps coming back - Dippo says 70 percent of the Lodge's guests are repeat customers. There's breakfast and dinner in the dining room, and tea and hot chocolate every afternoon at 4 p.m., as families gather to recount their exploits on the mountain. Upstairs, Alta Lodge guests and locals arrive after the lifts close in the Sitzmark Club, draining pints of Cutthroat Pale Ale as they sit by the blazing fire, gazing out at the steep run called High Rustler.

For the budget minded, Alta and Solitude offered the lowest priced adult lift tickets, $69 and $68, respectively, compared to $90 at Deer Valley and $89 at Canyons.

After three days at Alta, we headed over to Solitude Mountain Resort, in the adjacent Big Cottonwood Canyon, where we awoke to another 20 inches of powder.

We were glad we were staying at the Inn at Solitude. There was so much snow that avalanche control officials had closed the canyon road from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., delaying the arrival of many Salt Lake City skiers who later arrived avoid the crowds at Park City, Alta, and Snowbird on a powder day.

At the Inn, we soothed our weary legs in the heated outdoor pool and hot-tub surrounded by eight-foot banks of snow. The week's powder dumps left fluffy drifts poolside - the perfect terrain for fresh tracks by my bathing suit-clad sons, who made several forays into the snow before plunging back to the heated pool.

By weeks end, our legs were ready for the groomed runs at Deer Valley, the vacation community that welcomed a new St. Regis Deer Valley in 2009 and opened the Montage Deer Valley in 2010. We spent the day with instructor Leticia Lussier, who has been teaching there since the resort opened in 1981. It was about time for my sons, who'd yet to have a lesson since strapping on skis and skiing with me since age 3. She taught them the importance of maintaining the proper skier's stance, and how keeping their weight pressing forward, would make their skis turn with ease.

By late afternoon, our legs surprising still had life, so we headed out to Empire Canyon, where the sprawling Montage had risen. We came to Daly Bowl, which is rimmed by a cornice. My younger son assumed his newly learned skier's stance, and edged over the cornice, down into the powder, making graceful turns, and creating memories I hope will last his lifetime.