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Giving skiing a reboot

Published: 11/29/2013
By Alison DaRosa, San Diego Union-Tribune -- You can teach an old dog new tricks. At least that’s what skier friends kept telling me.

I hadn’t skied in 20 years — and even back then I was no whiz kid. But pals insisted it’s easier now. Shorter, fatter parabolic skis make a world of difference, they promised. Boots aren’t the torture tools they used to be; today they’re custom molded to fit your feet — and even can be equipped with battery powered heaters. Ski instruction is better too, they pledged: kinder, gentler and not taught exclusively by teenage daredevils.

So I decided to go for it.

There are 11 ski resorts within an hour’s drive of the Salt Lake City airport — and they get an average of 500 inches of snow annually. I planned a couple of nights at three resorts — Alta, Deer Valley and Sundance — figuring I’d have plenty to keep me happy if skiing didn’t work out.


“If you’re going to relearn to ski, why not go to Alta, where all they do is ski?” said Joe Johnson, a social media friend and expert skier. “It’s been that way for 75 years.”

Alta is old school — a skiers’ classic. No glitz. No snowboarders. There are no chain hotels or mega resorts here — just a few condos and five lodges that include breakfast and dinner in accommodations packages. Room amenities include humidifiers and boot warmers. The place is about skiing — not night life.

With its base at 8,530 feet elevation at the head of Little Cottonwood Canyon, Alta is high and ultradry. When the sun blazes here, snow doesn’t turn to slush; it evaporates. Visitors get 2,200 ski-able acres of what locals call “the greatest snow on Earth.”

The snow was perfect on the sunny spring morning I skittishly hit the slopes. Instructor Art McNeally was gentle. And friends had been right about the changes in skis.

“Imagine carrying a 12-foot-long two-by-four down the road,” said Carson Wolfe, who fit my rental skis. “Now imagine carrying a yardstick. Which one would you have more control over?”

Wolfe gave me a pair of skis only 142 centimeters long — about 4 feet 8 inches, a half-foot shorter than I am. “With a lot less underfoot, you’ll have a lot more control,” he promised.

McNeally started me out on the rope tow. At the top of our bunny hill, I watched 5-year-old Aubrey Peterson practicing her “pizza” (my generation called it a snow plow) and her “french fries” (parallel skiing).

“Let’s go,” McNeally smiled, taking off. With no time to think, I followed. It was easier than I’d expected. After a couple more rope tow runs, we headed off to a chair lift. (Alta is for serious skiers, but 65 percent of runs are designed for beginners and intermediates.)

The snow was even better up top — and before long I was gaining confidence, carving tighter turns, feeling great about my progress.

By the time we stopped at Collins Grill at mid-mountain, for a lunch of Utah trout sautéed in lemon dill butter, I was giddy with exhaustion.

So was Marybeth Bond, a Bay Area visitor savoring her first day on skis in two years. “Oh, I’m such a good skier,” she giggled. “It’s the snow. It’s perfect.”