Utah averages 551 inches of snow per season. // © 2014 Dan Campbell
Feature image (above): The Visit Salt Lake Connect Pass provides discounts for families. // © 2014 Thinkstock
Some of my most cherished childhood memories stem from the ski vacations my parents dutifully organized each winter. We raced down hills together, picnicked on scenic mountaintops and brought snowmen to life with our woolen hats, goggles and ski gloves.
My parents have since passed the torch to me and, for the 2013-2014 winter season, I headed to Salt Lake City, Utah, in search of “The Greatest Snow on Earth.” Light, fluffy snow and blue skies are every skier’s dream, and Salt Lake’s resorts lived up to my expectations. For starters, Utah averages 551 inches of snow per season and 300 days of sunshine annually. Best of all, the snow is light and dry, thanks in part to unique weather conditions created by the Great Salt Lake and the coastal mountains of the Pacific Northwest.
Parents will love the fact that the majority of Salt Lake City’s resorts are located within an hour’s drive from the airport. Among them is Alta Ski Area, which offers a variety of ski-in, ski-out accommodations with striking mountain views. Five distinct lodges include access to the Kids’ Club program as well as breakfast and dinner for the whole family. Condo and vacation home rentals are also available but do not include a meal plan.
Don’t expect to see snowboarders tearing up the slopes here — Alta is one of three ski areas in the U.S. that is only accessible to skiers. It’s also worth mentioning that there are no televisions in the guestrooms. Yep, it’s pretty old school, but Alta’s retro ambience is a major draw for guests who enjoy life’s simple pleasures at a bargain price. The resort is family-owned and operated, which also adds to its small town, neighborhood vibe. During my visit, for instance, I observed the CEO as he went from table to table in the dining room, greeting his return guests by name and asking them about their day in the snow.
Prefer a bit of high-tech pampering on the slopes? Head to Canyons Resort in Park City and take advantage of one of the country’s only enclosed, heated ski lifts. Chances are that the kids will want to ride in the heated Orange Bubble Express for its name alone, but mom and dad are sure to get a kick out of it too.
After a day of skiing and snowboarding on Canyons’ wide-open runs and terrain parks, hit one of the resort’s 20 dining venues or, on warmer days, take a load off at Ski Beach, where guests kick back in lounge chairs and watch skiers zoom down the mountain. Twice-daily guided snowshoeing excursions offer families an opportunity to play in the snow off the beaten path.
For the family who wants to trace the footsteps of Olympians, Snowbasin Resort offers high Alpine bowls and two of the most challenging downhill racecourses out there. If Snowbasin sounds familiar to you, it’s because the 3,000-skiable-acre resort made its mark hosting the men’s and women’s downhill, super-G, combined and Paralympic events during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. Novices need not fret, however — there are plenty of mellow, groomed runs to enjoy at your own pace.
Remarkably, Snowbasin’s main lodge, Earl’s Lodge, is as elegant as it was when it opened for the start of the Games. The 45,000-square-foot lodge features gigantic golden chandeliers, soft-leather seating, six fireplaces and bathrooms so opulent that they belong at a five-star hotel. The menu offers everything from wood-fired pizzas and Kobe beef hot dogs to made-to-order stir fry dishes.
Continue your quest for gold at nearby Utah Olympic Park, which hosted bobsleigh, skeleton, luge, Nordic ski jumping and Nordic combined events during the 2002 Winter Olympics. Open year-round, the venue is an Official U.S. Olympic Training Site that also offers adventure activities for visitors, including a Comet Bobsled ride with a professional pilot (kids must weigh 100 pounds or be 13 years old to participate).
Families on a budget take note: Utah Olympic Park is one of 13 attractions participating in the Visit Salt Lake Connect Pass. Available as a single-day pass or for multiple uses, the Connect Pass gives families access to the region’s top attractions — including the Clark Planetarium, Discovery Gateway and the Natural History Museum of Utah — at a fraction of the cost. Day passes start at $29 for adults and $24 for children ages 3 to 12.
Where to Stay
The Grand America Hotel
555 S. Main St.
Salt Lake City, UT 84111
Little America Hotel
500 S. Main St.
Salt Lake City, UT 84101
Waldorf Astoria Park City
2100 Frostwood Dr.
Park City, UT 84098
What to Do
Alta Ski Area
Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum
Natural History Museum of Utah
Utah Olympic Park
Where to Eat
Settebello Pizzeria Napoletana
260 S. 200 West
Salt Lake City, UT 84101
When to Go
Many resorts open for the winter ski season in early or mid-November, while all are operational by early December. The season typically lasts through mid- to late April, although some resorts may stay open longer.
There are approximately 35 flights to Salt Lake City from Southern California alone. Salt Lake City is a Delta Air Lines hub, but Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and American Airlines also offer nonstop service from Los Angeles International Airport.