I stand near the top of a steep mountain in Utah. The scenery is stunning—white-capped mountains undulate toward the horizon, peppered by stands of dark green pines. Ridges and valleys ripple outward, like great swaths of silk. Thin, gauzy clouds veil the sky overhead. At times sunlight filters through, and the snow all around becomes blinding in its whiteness. Then the sun disappears, and the cool wind reminds me it’s winter and I’m 11,000 feet above sea level.
I’m up here admiring the view because I’m stuck at the top of a trail that I’m afraid to ski down. At the bottom my husband, Peter, and our three sons wait, looking up at me expectantly, while I try to decide whether to take off my skis and trudge down this slope or attempt to ski it.
It’s the first day of our weeklong vacation in Salt Lake City, a ski destination known for having the “greatest snow on earth.” While I have to admit the snow is nice, I’m not keen on the steep slopes. These green trails seem more like blue, compared to ski areas I’ve known back east. In fact, I can even manage a few blue slopes on milder Vermont mountains. But here at Snowbird Resort in the Wasatch Mountains, I’m out of my comfort zone. In fact, I’ll be lucky to get down these green trails with my body parts and dignity intact.
You might be wondering why I even bother. My husband loves to ski, and my sons are awesome snowboarders. So even though the sport is challenging for me, I try to give it my best effort because I like doing things with my family. Now that my sons are older—Scott’s 20, Jasper’s 17, and Ross is 11—it’s hard to find an activity we all enjoy. After years of trial and error, Peter and I have concluded that ski vacations are the best kind. The kids get lots of fresh air and exercise, and they’re usually too tired to engage in sibling squabbles.
Even so, when I plan our ski trips, I’m always on the lookout for family activities off the slopes. After all, if I’m willing to break my neck for my family, they shouldn’t begrudge an educational outing or two. That’s why we chose to come to Salt Lake City. Besides the fact that the ski slopes are conveniently located forty minutes from the airport, the city has a lot to offer as well—shopping, museums, historic sites, Olympic venues, great restaurants, and affordable accommodations.
Before we can enjoy any of those off-slope activities, however, I have to get down this particular slope. While it’s tempting to cave, take off my skis, and walk (delete down), deep in my heart I know the only way to improve at anything is to push myself to the limit. I decide to give it a go.
I ski across the trail and make my first turn. Yay, I did it! As I start going the other way, I get nervous and—boom—my skis slide out from under me, and I’m sitting on my bum. It takes me a while to stand up, but at least my skis are still attached. Gritting my teeth, I gingerly ski across the trail once more. As I near the next turn, I shift weight from my downhill ski to my uphill ski, start turning, and suddenly gravity gets its grip on me, and it’s all over. Quitting seems the only sane option.
At the bottom of the trail, sweaty and tired from trudging though deep snow, I tell my family to go have fun. I’ll meet them later. Shouldering my skis and bruised ego, I take the lift down. (“You want to go down?” the lift attendant asks. “Are you injured?” “Just my pride,” I answer with a smile.)
As I ride down enjoying the magnificent view, I think about all the great activities I’ve planned for us in Salt Lake City this week—and wonder whether I’ll get back on my skis at all.
TEETERING ON THE ICE
Luckily the next day is an off-slope day. We have a packed itinerary, beginning with a stop at the Clark Planetarium in Downtown Salt Lake City. We’re using a Salt Lake Connect Pass, a discount pass that provides admission to twelve attractions in the area. While the exhibits at Clark Planetarium are free, the Connect Pass includes tickets to the Star Theatre, where we view a film about black holes, and the IMAX® Theatre, which features an inspiring movie about Mount Everest.
We plan to lunch at the Lion House Pantry Restaurant, where a pioneer meal is one of the offers included in the Connect Pass, but it’s closed. Since the restaurant is on the campus of historic Temple Square, home of the Mormon Temple and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we decide to take a tour of the campus and learn more about this branch of the Christian faith. Surprisingly, the boys all seem interested in the tour and the story of Brigham Young and his followers, but Peter and I decide later they might have just been happy to be out of the cold.
Next stop is Thanksgiving Point, a half-hour drive south of Salt Lake City, home of the Museum of Ancient Life. Dinosaurs once roamed the Utah desert, so it seems fitting that we learn more about these giant creatures while we’re here. In fact, this museum is one of the world’s largest dinosaur museums and features sixty complete skeletons, including the world’s only baby mammoth skeleton. The boys enjoy a display where you match the skulls of animals to their owners. A hands-on exhibit about erosion attracts Ross, and soon he’s up to his elbows in sand, water, and toys.
Back in Salt Lake City, we visit Discovery Gateway, an extraordinary children’s museum with tons of cool stuff to inspire kids’ imaginations. Even Scott, my oldest, enjoys playing with a Rube-Goldberg type of contraption. The museum is located adjacent to a cozy shopping center called The Gateway, which features all your favorite shops and restaurants, as well as the beautifully restored Union Pacific Depot and the Olympic Legacy Plaza. Here we watch the “dancing waters”—a fountain that spurts geysers of water into the air as music plays.
Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Olympics in 2002, so visiting Olympic venues is on our to-do list. One evening we visit the Olympic Oval and try ice skating. It’s been about ten years since I’ve skated—and I’m not very good at it. I guess I’m too nervous about falling and breaking something. At least on skis, if you fall, the snow is somewhat forgiving. Hard ice, on the other hand, is not. After teetering on the ice for a few minutes, I decide to watch my husband and sons twirl around from a nearby bench.
THE RIDE OF YOUR LIFE
Another venue worth exploring is Olympic Park, the site for ski jumping and sliding sports—luge, skeleton, and bobsled. The museum features Olympic exhibits, memorabilia, film clips, and educational displays. We join a guided tour and watch athletes training on the skeleton—that’s the one where you go down a track feet first.
Olympic Park offers a variety of rides, most available only in summer. We hope to try the zipline, which parallels the ski jump, but it’s too cold. The weather’s perfect, though, for a bobsled ride called Comet, which Scott and Jasper have been looking forward to ever since we arrived.
First John, a staff member, gives a fifteen-minute safety orientation in a warm waiting area. Just hearing details about riding the bobsled makes me dizzy: “You’ll travel at speeds up to eighty miles per hour down a track that’s about a mile long,” John explains. “At Turn Six, you’ll feel 5 G’s.”
I’m not sure exactly what this means, but it’s enough to convince me I made the right decision not to ride the Comet. Peter, who’s prone to vertigo, also opts out. Even Ross, who isn’t old enough to ride, stops whining about wanting to go by the time John finishes his talk. Scott and Jasper, unfazed by all the dire warnings, try on helmets while I try not to worry. “This will be the ride of your lives,” John says. “Just try to remember who you are at the end.”
We head outside to a snowy platform where the wind chill is below zero. John gives final instructions to the brave souls lined up to board the Comet, a four-man bobsled that resembles a shiny blue bullet. Scott and Jasper climb in, along with their driver, and before I know it—whoosh—they’re off. A minute later the loudspeaker announces they’ve made it safely to the bottom.
After we’re reunited, the boys say it was a mind-numbing experience—hurtling like a rocket around the curves and feeling the force of five G’s as they sped down the track. It’s the perfect ride for daredevil types. As for me, I like having my feet on solid ground.
But eventually I have to face my fears and get back on my skis. I tell myself first-day jitters probably caused me to slip and slide so much at Snowbird. As it turns out, Snowbird and Alta, the two ski areas we visit our first day, are known to have some of the most challenging trails around.
Happily, Brighton Resort is more my speed. Known as a family-friendly ski area, it’s perfect for beginners with plenty of green trails that are more like what I’m used to: wide, long runs, and—most important—gentle slopes. Brighton also has excellent terrain parks, so the boys are happy carving the edge, shredding the half pipe, and getting some air over insane jumps. As for me, I barely get to try all the green trails at Brighton before the ski lifts close.
At Solitude, the last resort we visit, we check into a spacious, two-bedroom condo in the Alpine village right beside the lifts. This resort has everything: restaurants, kids’ activities, skating, heated pools, a spa—even a Mongolian yurt, where Peter and I will dine one night. The kids are anxious to hit the slopes after we unpack our bags—and surprisingly, I am, too. We only have two days left before heading home, and we want to make the most of it. This always happens when we go skiing. I finally begin getting comfortable on my skis—and then it’s time to go.
Our last full day on the slopes starts out with fresh powder—thanks to a snowfall during the night. All day I dance down the slopes, mostly by myself. Peter and the kids are off on other trails, but I don’t mind. I like being alone. It’s freeing somehow—just me, the snow, my skis, the wind—and all around me happy, smiling faces. Snow seems to bring out the kid in all of us. It’s as if we let our inner child loose and say, “Go play! Have fun. Let your hair blow wild and free. Catch a snowflake on your tongue. And if you fall, pick yourself up, dust off the powder, and get moving again.”
Learning to bounce back after a fall is a lesson that crosses into every facet of daily life. Maybe that’s why I keep coming back to ski year after year. Skiing offers a lesson in resilience, I learn every year that if I try hard enough, I can achieve my goals. I know I’ll never be a great skier., but I bounce back each year, determined to do my best. I think everyone needs a challenge, now and then. It’s good for your self esteem and your spirit. Besides you never know when you’ll get the chance to be a kid again.
For more information, visit www.visitsaltlake.com
SKI SALT LAKE SUPER PASS
In addition to Salt Lake City Connect Pass, you can also get a Ski Salt Lake Super Pass that can be redeemed for a lift ticket at any one of Salt Lake City’s four resorts. Besides representing significant savings, the pass also entitles you to free transportation to and from the ski areas. You can buy one to six days on the pass, try all four resorts, and then determine which one you like best. The resorts that participate are:
• Alta – a ski-only area that’s been welcoming skiers for--- years, always owned by the same family. Visitwww.alta.com for more information
• Brighton – Offering a wide variety of terrain, this resort appeals to skiers and boarders of all ability levels. Visit www.brightonresort.com.
• Solitude – A destination resort, this area is the epitome of easy-access mountain retreats. Visit www.skisolitude.com.
• Snowbird – Versatile skiers will be at home among Snowbird’s – runs, including pristine trails in Mineral Basin, where the few goes on for miles. Visit www.snowbird.com.
WHERE TO STAY
Most of the resorts offer onsite accommodation—hotels, lodges, and condos. Private home rentals are also an option. Some skiers save money by staying in Salt Lake City and taking public transportation up to the slopes. For information on Solitude’s Alpine Village condos, visit www.skissolitude.com
WHERE TO EAT
For a unique gastronomic adventure, plan to dine in the Yurt at Solitude Resort. After walking through a moonlit forest on snowshoes, you’ll be treated to a five-course gourmet meal in the warm cozy ambience of an authentic Mongolian Yurt. You’ll meet new friends and enjoy an intimate dining experience you’ll never forget. www.skisolitude.com/dining/yurt
Here’s a selection of other fine eating establishments in and around Salt Lake City:
• Biaggi's Ristorante Italiano – Authentic Italian fare in downtown SLC. www.biaggis.com
• The Grand America Hotel Garden Café – Ask about their seafood buffet; it’s to die for. www.grandamerica.com
• Porcupine Pub & Grill – Locals’ favorite at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon. www.porcupinepub.com
• Silver Fork Lodge – Rustic atmosphere, great food! Near Brighton Resort. www.silverforklodge.com