Michael Cervin, Santa Barabara News-Press

To ski or not to ski, that is the question.

Aspen boasts movie stars and the chance to be seen, but it has crowds. Whistler is beautiful, but it's a whole other country.

Then there's Utah.

Not necessarily on everyone's short list, the Salt Lake City region offers four prime skiing locations, all within a 40-minute drive from downtown. Dollar-conscious travelers would do well to stay in Salt Lake City and commute the short drive to ski or snowboard rather than stay at a secluded resort. Snowbird, Alta, Brighton and Solitude have teamed up to offer the Super Pass, which allows the ability to ski at all locations for a sensible price. Direct flights to Salt Lake City from LAX are under about $300 round-trip. Cab fare from the Salt Lake City International Airport is about 15 bucks, and many hotels provide a free shuttle.

There are many perks to reserving a room downtown over one at a resort. After a day of hitting the slopes, you can hit the restaurants, brew pubs, theaters and art galleries. Or, if you're the one oddball who equates skiing to an act of reckless defiance and you desire something less harrowing, downtown offers plenty to do, day and night. There's no shortage of hotels crowding downtown at various price points, including chains. For unique accommodations, the Peery Hotel, built in 1910, is the only hotel in all of Salt Lake City that has continuously operated, including the time it was a brothel. And like any respectable old hotel, the Peery claims two friendly ghosts, Moaning Molly, who has a thing for the old elevator, and an unnamed ghost who resides in the bowels of the building, underground.

Since Salt Lake City hosted the Olympics in 2002, the area is filled with modern buildings residing next to historic brick buildings, though a handful of vacancies still punctuate the area. The walkable downtown core claims 68 restaurants within a few blocks of the Peery. Word of caution, part one: The streets are so wide that at non-lighted crosswalks, the city provides orange flags that you can carry for better visibility. Word of caution, part two: Sunday's are notoriously dead in downtown Salt Lake, a nod to the Mormon influence. Do your shopping and sightseeing on Saturday when everything is open. That way you can ski on Sunday and have fewer crowds to contend with.

To Ski

Fewer skiers per acre than Colorado? Check. More average snow than any other U.S. ski resort? Check. The ability to ski multiple resorts in one day? Check. Snowbird, Alta, Brighton and Solitude offer the Super Pass, a single all-access pass accepted at the four resorts. The two-day adult pass starts at $114, and the junior pass is $64. Passes can be loaded for one to six days and include free round-trip transportation on the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) ski buses. As a bonus, the Super Pass gives you access to downtown's light rail. There is also free general parking at the resorts, should you drive. Alta is a family-oriented resort and does not allow snowboarders, so be warned. The other resorts welcome snowboarders and the open plaza at Snowbird showcases just how skiers and snowboarders can co-exist peacefully. Many people don't have their own gear and that's where Utah Ski & Golf comes in. With four locations and every boot size, ski, board and pole imaginable, you'll get suited up quickly and professionally. Expect comparable slopes at the resorts, with powder-like snow.

Or Not to Ski

Salt Lake City is widely known to be the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the 35-acre site is certainly impressive. On Sunday mornings, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir puts on a free 30-minute show between 9:30 and 10 a.m., part of their 80-year broadcast. Songs performed by the 360 singers and 110 orchestra members range from show tunes (yes, Broadway show tunes) to hymns to a few contemporary pieces.

On the campus, the massive family history library is available to anyone who wants to research his or her family tree, again free of charge.

The adjoining conference center holds 150 pieces of original art, mostly of a religious nature, and the church's administration building boasts the most stunning views of the valley and mountain rages from the 26th floor. All free.

The Utah Jazz plays at the Energy Solutions Arena; three blocks from that is the Utah Performance Center on Main, where the Utah ballet and opera have a home. Salt Lake City has a number of historic buildings dotting the landscape. The City and County building, erected in the 1890s, for example, was designed as an architectural challenge to the equally impressive Mormon temple.

Downtown Salt Lake City has just under 70 restaurants, from chains like PF Chang's and Macaroni Grill to Squatters, a local microbrew pub with average food but excellent beers - all handcrafted for the last 15 years by brewmaster Jenny Talley.

For a great inexpensive breakfast, Market Street Grill's eggs Benedict (just $6.99) will sustain you for a long day on the slopes. For a higher-end meal, check out Bambara, one of the best restaurants in the area. The blue cheese potato chips appetizer is a local favorite and the New Zealand sea bass is terrific. The Christopher restaurant, inside the Peery hotel, has early-bird specials from 5 to 6 p.m., which includes prime rib, halibut or salmon, served with a house salad and dish of ice cream for under 20 bucks.

Food at the resorts is notoriously expensive, like the $11 basic cheeseburger at Snowbird. So, when heading to the slopes, pack your own food and keep it in your car or locker. Either way, eating lunch surrounded by the rugged mountains is near perfection, even when it's snowing on your pricey burger.


Peery Hotel: www.peeryhotel.com

Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau: www.visitsaltlake.com
Ski Salt Lake Super Pass: http://www.visitsaltlake.com/ski/superpass/pricing/
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints headquarters: www.lds.org
Mormon Tabernacle Choir: www.mormontabernaclechoir.org
Energy Solutions Arena:www.energysolutionsarena.com
Utah Performance Center: www.ci.slc.ut.us/events/theatre08.htm

Squatters: www.squatters.com
Market Street Grill: www.gastronomyinc.com
Bambara: www.bambara-slc.com