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Salt Lake puts city, mountain fun within reach

Published: 01/29/2015
By Moira McCarthy, The Boston Herald -- Even the most die-hard mountain vacation lover gets that hankering from time to time.

“I want a city vacation.”

After all, visiting a new city can be an adventure in itself. Discovering restaurants, museums, quirky neighborhoods, architecture and history is a blast. But if you are a mountain lover, it’s hard to avoid the pull of altitude. Particularly in winter, during ski season, when the snow is extra fluffy and sweet.

But what if you could have your powder and city fun, too? No, it’s not a pipe dream, and get this: It’s been right in front of us all along.

Salt Lake City, Utah, nestles up to some amazing mountains, and staying in the city is easy, affordable and a melding of city escape and mountain experience.

I’ve driven through Salt Lake City many times, heading to Park City, Little or Big Cottonwood Canyon via Salt Lake from Boston. I had glanced over at big Salt Lake, caught sight of the Mormon Temple and heard of interesting museums, walkable streets and to-die-for Mexican food at the Red Iguana. But I’d always been in a rush. Get to the mountain, my inner adventure gal nagged. But what about that cool city? my inner cityscape explorer nudged.

Thanks to Ski City, a Salt Lake-based program that links the city and its hotels to the mountains, I found a way to have it all.

I arrived at Salt Lake airport a little stressed — I don’t like to rent cars on trips, but I knew the easiest way to get around the mountains was a car. Conveniently, the airport’s car rental was only a few dozen steps from the terminal exit. A few minutes of driving and I was at Hotel Monaco, a Kimpton property lo­cated in the middle of Salt Lake City.

I checked in, requesting the hotel’s companion goldfish (for those who miss their pets, but the hotel is pet-friendly, too), and headed out to see everything that was around me. With more than 45 new restaurants this year alone (and totaling in the thousands), you can find just about any nosh you crave. With a train system that is free within the city and easy to navigate, you won’t need that rental car to poke around. And with such city staples as a symphony, museums, a pro basketball franchise and an opera (most with tickets available on game and performance days), city explorers can fill their time well.

My main interest, however, was still skiing. My plan: Ski a different resort each day and get back to savor cool city stuff during the late afternoon and evening. Though it sounds exhausting, it was easily doable.

Each day after breakfast I headed to a different ski area. SolitudeAlta and Snowbird were my choices­ this time, and the drive to each area was quick and easy, as was the parking (Snowbird even has valet service for $16 a day, putting you just steps from the slopes). I popped into my ski boots in each parking lot and got in many runs and glorious views.

At around 3:30-4 p.m. (really, the end of the ski day), I took the quick jaunt back to Salt Lake proper and took in the city. One night, I soaked in the scene at Squatter’s, a great brew pub and restaurant, and then went to cheer on the Utah Jazz against the L.A. Lakers. OK, so neither team is burning up the parquet, but pro games are fun. All of it, from my hotel to dinner and the game, was an easy walk (although I opted to take the free train home just for kicks).

Another night I took in “The Pearl Fishers” opera, with a talented cast and a symphony orchestra. I’d met one of the violinists on the chairlift at Alta that day. He told me he was lured to Salt Lake from France by its combination of top orchestra and amazing skiing. He waved his pole at the sunny, fresh-snow day and smiled. “I mean, look at all this,” he said.

At Hotel Monaco each afternoon, I was treated to a wine and cocktail tasting. I did make a note to schedule one extra day just in town next time so I could stop and savor things like that all the more.

You may not think of Salt Lake City as a culinary hot spot, but you should. From the delightful and creative tapas at Finca (and its amazing cocktails — who says Salt Lake isn’t into cool booze?) to a sophisticated meal at Bamabarain Hotel Monaco (the potato chips with bleu cheese is a must), I sampled all kinds of wonderful fare.

There is also the lure of the history. The Mormon Temple is a must visit, especially when the choir is rehearsing, and the city’s settlement history is worth exploring.

On my last day, I looked back at the city and beyond to the white peaks of Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons. I’d carved through powder and then heard an opera. I’d flown down steeps and then cheered on the Jazz. I’d soaked up the sun on a quiet chairlift and then bustled with the crowd in a great brew pub.

I’d had my mountains and my city, too. Who says you cannot have it all?

Clearly they’ve not been to Salt Lake.