When the cold winds of November start blowing, it may seem like a good time to stay warm and put in those extra hours at the office to get ahead in the world.
In fact, it's time to work on planning a ski trip.
Don't even bother considering destinations in the Northeast. When you're spending hundreds of dollars to strap some planks on your feet and slide down a mountain over and over again in the dead of winter, do it on real snow -- not the man-made slush they spread over the ice in Vermont.
Rock legend Jim Morrison could have been referring to ski vacations when he sang, "the West is the best" -- the fluffiest flakes in the continental U.S. fall from the skies over Utah, blanketing some of the finest terrain in the world.
To be sure, Colorado's Aspen has great shopping and restaurants and Vail has that, too -- along with a wild nightlife -- but they're both hours away from the airport in Denver. Connecting flights to these resorts cost a fortune. Meanwhile, lift tickets and lodging in both spots are getting way overpriced, and rampant development, particularly in Vail, is turning too many Colorado ski destinations into Rocky Mountain strip malls.
To avoid the crowds and enjoy a simpler, more rustic and genuinely Western atmosphere, the savvy skier will head to Utah's Wasatch Mountains around the Great Salt Lake. Within 45 minutes of the Salt Lake City airport, a variety of different resorts await skiers, from the most extreme thrill-seeker to the snowplowing, Griswold-style, family-of-five vacation practitioner.
The canyons above Salt Lake benefit from the "lake effect," which gives legitimacy to all those Utah license plates on I-80 boasting: "The Greatest Snow on Earth!" Weather systems blow across the deserts of Utah and hit the lake, which is usually warmer than the air temperature. This draws moisture into the clouds, which then dump layer upon layer of powder into the mountains, creating a winter wonderland where skiers and snowboarders can carve fresh tracks through the trees and launch themselves off moguls only to land softly in snow up over their knees.
Don't wait much longer to book your trip, because the area has already been bombarded with late-October snowstorms.
has 122 inches so far, and Nathan Rafferty, director of communications with
, said the mountains are opening early with "midwinter conditions."
The Salt Lake City airport is accessible via 74 different cities with nonstop service. It's
third largest hub, and
, for one, flies there directly from New York ($236 round trip) and Long Beach, Calif. ($240 round trip) every day.
For people willing to spend some extra money to be in a mountain resort town, the extra 45-minute shuttle ride from the airport up to Park City could be worth it. But skiers looking for the best snow and values need look no further than Salt Lake City and the mountains nearby in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons.
Jason Mathis, spokesperson for the
Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau
, said these two canyons that feed into Salt Lake average around 500 inches of snow every year, compared to Park City, Utah, and the Colorado resorts, which average between 300 and 350 inches a year.
"When people say 'the greatest snow on Earth,' they're talking about Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon," he said.
Alta, which does not allow snowboarding,
are all world-class ski meccas and within a 35-minute drive in a rental car from downtown. Visitors taking a long weekend on the slopes should spend a day at all four resorts. The Ski Salt Lake SuperPass, born out of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake, is available through most lodgings in the area. It grants skiers a full-day lift ticket at any of the four resorts for just $42 a day. Most comparable ski resorts in the West charge nearly double that for a one-day pass these days.
Mathis said that if any would-be travelers have trouble finding the SuperPass for $42 a day, they can contact his organization to make arrangements (801-521-2822).
For lodging, skiers can find a place to crash for as little as $40 a night at Salt Lake's
, but there are also several good-value options offering luxury worth every penny after a long day on the slopes.
Grand America Hotel
has a package offering a 700-square foot room and a lift ticket to the Cottonwoods resorts or Snowbasin, beginning at $231 a night for a single or $273 (per person) a night for a double. For an extra $20 a night, one can upgrade to an executive suite of 880 square feet. Located on Main Street in downtown Salt Lake, the Grand America offers a central location, with amenities like restaurants, bars, pools, Jacuzzis, a spa and a salon. The concierge can arrange car rentals and extra SuperPass tickets along with reservations.
, also downtown, offers a historic, boutique-like atmosphere that seems more cosmopolitan than most of the city. Standard rooms start at around $209 a night for a double or a single, not including SuperPass tickets. The Monaco also offers complimentary massages and fitness facilities.
In addition to the close proximity to skiing, downtown accommodations offer access to nightlife and other attractions in Salt Lake City.
Revelers who want to avoid some of Utah's unique restrictions on alcohol consumption should check out Salt Lake's microbreweries, like
Squatters Pub Brewery
Red Rock Brewing Company
. Both places, located right downtown, offer a wide selection of homemade beers and the perfect atmosphere to enjoy an
-ski nacho platter.
Anyone interested in learning about the Mormon tradition should visit Temple Square, where people can explore the magnificent
. Also, sports fans should see if the Utah Jazz are playing in town, offering a chance to witness their newly acquired superstar, Carlos Boozer, hoop it up at the
But don't waste too many daylight hours in the city. A quick drive on Interstate 15 to Route 215 leads to the Cottonwoods. Follow the signs to whatever resort you desire. Equipment rentals and lessons are available near all ticket counters (hotel concierges can also provide valuable guidance on such matters). Easy-to-read trail maps are also handy, helping skiers to navigate whatever terrain is appropriate for their skill levels.
This year, Alta will offer its first top-to-bottom, high-speed quad that can deliver a band of skiers at the very top of the canyon in just nine minutes. On a clear day, one can see for miles around, with the great American West unfolding in every direction. Below, 1,800 vertical feet and 2,200 acres of Mother Nature's greatest terrain park await. If you get up there early enough, fresh tracks are almost guaranteed.