For years I’ve been hearing about the dry snow in Utah, how the mountains around Salt Lake City have the best ski conditions in the West, how Park City and other nearby resorts produce the most memorable ski experiences.
But I live in San Francisco and can be on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe in less than four hours. Lake Tahoe, the place with more ski resorts and ski acreage than any region in the USA, plus the glorious spectacle of the lake from many peaks. Why run off to Utah, or Jackson Hole, Wyoming, or Big Sky, Montana, or Vail or Aspen or Whistler, BC when I live so close to such a winter wonderland?
One reason this winter was the pitiful snowfall in the Sierra. Another was a group of friends from college days who wanted to meet there for a reunion. So, with tickets booked far in advance, I had powder dreams reminiscent of Warren Miller films and couldn’t wait to get going.
As all skiers know, little snow has fallen throughout the West this season. It’s picked up in recent weeks (in fact, Jackson Hole reports snow every day over the last 20 days of February, with 3 feet in the last week; and 5 feet of snow fell at Lake Tahoe this week, so winter’s best weekend is about to start), but when we headed out mid February, Utah had almost as little snow as California. It seemed that our reunion would be more hanging about the hot tub than schussing down ski runs. But did that matter? Wasn’t the point to get together with a group of great friends who hadn’t seen each other in years?
Yes and no. We also wanted to ski. We had a palatial house (honestly, palatial doesn’t do it justice, it was too vast for that) in the hills above town where we had to yodel to locate each other in the far bedrooms. But once found, we all gathered in the kitchen and living room for fine meals and conversation. We drank too much wine, caught up on the years, and plotted our days on the slopes.
And those days weren’t bad. Park City made it easy. For those of us who needed rental equipment, the Ski Butlers delivered it to our door. Park City Resort was a short drive away. Deer Valley a little farther, and The Canyons pretty close. While thin in places, snow on the groomed runs was dry, workable. Skiing was surprisingly good. And the biggest surprise of all, after skiing we stopped for a beverage and snack at Baja Cantina at Park City Resort, where a generous margarita cost $2.75! A bucket of ice jammed with four Coronas cost $10! Was this a throwback to our college days put on just for us?
Overnight before our last ski day it snowed an inch, and by the time we headed for The Canyons, about three inches had accumulated. Most of the day we skied in snowfall so visibility was tough, but a foot of fresh snow greeted us on many runs and I began to get a sense of why Utah has the reputation it does.
But I’ll have to go back another time, in a more normal season, when the base is deep and the sun is shining. The good thing for people like me who live in or around San Francisco: flying to Salt Lake City takes less than two hours, the drive to Park City is less than an hour, and there are plenty of options for lodging. It’s pretty accessible, and despite my bias for Lake Tahoe, I’ll try Utah again.
Next time I’ll book closer to traveling so I can get better snow. Trouble is, my buddies won’t be there, unless I can convince them to drop everything and join me. Which, if the conditions are right, they might be happy to do.