After years of trekking all over North America via lengthy plane rides, icy ravines, blizzards and winding mountain roads feeling more like the high traverse at Alta, I needed a mountain with easy access yet great skiing. It was the year our first daughter (22 months) was learning to ski. Extremely exciting! Unfortunately, the slopes were no longer in our back yard as much needed family support and jobs pulled us to the mid Atlantic coast. The nearest slopes were a 5 hour drive and options were small hills and limited terrain rather than inspiring mountains and deep powder. Complicating matters we all know that plane rides with toddlers are usually difficult but following that by a lengthy drive in the car and it’s far from pleasant for all parties involved. It was a major dilemma.
To find a solution, I put together some criteria for my search; a direct four hour flight or less, maximum 1 hour drive, ski in – ski out (convenient for the little one), fun family activities, reasonable cost and of course great snow and terrain for Mom and Dad. After searching some of my favorites and reviewing a slew of new mountains, the answer became abundantly clear. Canyons Resort, Utah! It is well known that Utah gets incredible amounts of dry snow and as some put it, “The Greatest Snow on Earth.” Canyons in particular gets close to 400 inches per year. However, there were a number of other factors that quickly pushed Canyons to the top of the list including easy access, terrain, first tracks, beautiful ski in – ski out accommodations at a reasonable cost, great food from Utah’s top chef or restaurant, many fun family activities and best of all heli ski tours. At this point, I was shaking with excitement.
Sitting still is not my daughter’s forte so easy access was key and the trip to Canyons couldn’t be simpler. There are tons of direct flights from all over the nation to Salt Lake and multiple direct flights from the mid Atlantic region. The average flight is ~4 ½ hours and the mountain is only a 35 minute drive from the airport on mostly well maintained highway. Ski in – ski out was also extremely important as my daughter needed multiple breaks to recharge. At 6,800 feet, The Grand Summit Hotel was a perfect choice as it is steps from the children’s lower learning area, Red Pine Gondola and Orange Bubble Express lifts. These two major lifts from the village area are the gateway to all of the mountain’s vast terrain.
However, the Grand Summit has more to offer than just prime skiing outside of your doorstep. This four star hotel has artfully decorated studios to 3 bedroom suites most with fire places and full kitchens. We recommend the one bedroom suite with kitchen and living area. The outdoor heated pool is an expansive warm bath with three adjoining hot tubs to relax your muscles after a great day on the slopes. There is also access to the pool from an inside door to limit cold weather exposure when getting in. At the Grand Summit and festive surrounding village, restaurant options are plentiful. First Tracks café is a great place to grab your morning coffee and a light breakfast. The Red Tail Grill has a full service bar, outdoor seating overlooking the ski beach and a southwestern menu. The newest restaurant to the culinary scene, The Farm, is led by Executive Chef John Murcko who was recently named “Best Chef” in Utah by Salt Lake magazine’s 2011 Dining Awards. It also boosts spectacular views of the mountain and has a terrific menu all locally sourced from a 300 mile radius. We recommend the Grass Fed Beef Oxtail Onion Soup and the assorted cheese platter. In particular, the Barely Buzzed Cheddar Cheese with hints of lavender and espresso was delightful and a specialty from the Beehive Cheese Co. If you are feeling more adventurous, there are scenic 30 minute sleigh rides through Willow Draw followed by a 4 course gourmet meal at The Cabin. We also recommend the Alpine House specializing in smaller but delicious plates. With free shuttle service offered by the hotel to Main Street in Park City, you can also try Talisker On Main recently named “Best Restaurant in Park City” by Salt Lake magazine’s 2011 Dining Awards.
The Farm Cuisine by SkiEnthusiast.com
After an exquisite dinner, I whisked my daughter off to story time before bed and my wife indulged herself in a luxurious spa treatment from the Grand Summit Spa and Health Club. With many massages to choose from including full body, facial, foot, hot stone, couples and wedding packages to name only a few, you are sure to fine a service that will leave you in a more rejuvenated state. For those looking for a little more action, there are tours for snow shoeing, dog sledging and snow mobiling available from the Grand Summit concierge. One unique feature sure to be of interest are “Groomer Ride-along” or “Groomer Ride and Drive” for those wanting a piece of the action creating world class groomers.
Although amenities make for a relaxing trip, skiing and riding are the main reason for a trip to the Wasatch Mountain Range in the freezing temperatures of winter. In Utah, the snow is legendary for its dry and light characteristics. With the crowds gallivanting past to Park City and Deer Valley, locals attest that fresh powder can be found days after a storm due to sheer size and limited traffic. Hence the real focus here is on terrain and mountain adventures. Utah’s largest resort, Canyons’ terrain is extremely varied and expansive with 4000 skiable acres, 9 peaks and 3,190 feet of vertical rise. The terrain is split between mostly intermediate and advanced / expert slopes with limited ~10% beginner trails. My daughter is a quick understudy. The first characteristic that caught my attention were the double blacks in Red Pine Bowl topping out at 9,990 feet, giving the name to the servicing lift, and Murdock Bowl off of Super Condor Express. These bowls are gnarly, steep and filled with deep powder at the highest elevations. Before you plunge into jaw dropping excitement, be sure to stop, take a deep breath of the crisp mountain air and take in the spectacular view. It’s simply amazing. The tree lines in Red Bowl can be particularly challenging but outstanding. To find the best untracked snow, Murdock Bowl is the place after a hike up the ridge following the poles on the far left when facing the mountain. As you exit the bowl, be sure to check out Canis Lupus, a natural half pipe below the first few chutes. This is a shear rocker and great fun to explore! If you are a mogul chaser like me, there are a hand full of double black chutes just waiting to be explored on skier’s right off Super Condor Express. Yard sale is popular for its plethora of bumps. These slopes are southern facing so be cautious of conditions. If the serenity of the glades is on your agenda, Condor Woods to skier’s left off the same lift is enticing where the trees are tighter packed but not as steep. Other areas that are well worth the trip are the tree lines off Saddleback Express or Peak 5. When skiing through the ropes on Peak 5, be cautious of the cliffs that can be found below. This area has high avalanche danager and is constantly bombed by the ski patrol forcing the snow to the bottom of the slope and exposing rocks. Just remember to stay to skier’s right and keep a watchful eye out for the known hazards. Furthermore, two incredible tree filled chutes straight ahead off Tombstone Express that will test your quick turn ability are Deshutes and Grande. Should you take Short Cut lift to get back to the base of the mountain, be sure to check out Super Fury which is a great black diamond mogul run.
If you are looking for less traveled areas consider Dream Peak and Iron Mountain. Dream peak contains a number of mogul runs and spaced trees for the more advanced. When in the area, check out Cloud Dine at the top of DreamCatcher and DreamScape lifts. Its a great new restaurant focusing on healthy foods. Iron Mountain is the newest area of the resort to open and has a wealth of blues to choose from with a few glades. Both of these peaks can be an excellent choice in or immediately after a storm when the extreme slopes may be temporarily closed due to avalanche danger. Just be mindful of time in this area as it takes some lift hopping or a long groomer to get back to mid mountain. Additional blue trails are found interspersed throughout the mountain off many lifts. Many of the blues are well protected from tree lines and have excellent fall lines. Single and double blue squares designate gentler from steeper groomers. Dreamscape, Day Break and Peak 5 lifts feature many of the gentler slopes where Super Condor Express and Tombstone feature more challenging blues. Behind the Red Pine Lodge at mid mountain is the upper children’s learning area and to the right facing the mountain is High Meadow dedicated to beginners. Kokopelli into Main Line or Echo are good advancing steps for beginners looking to be more adventurous.
Mountain adventures are plentiful at Canyons and it’s another reason the mountain is so attractive. Back when its name was Park West, Canyons gained in popularity with snow boarders who found the mountain full of natural half pipes and terrain parks. Today the six natural half pipes are found on the map and the terrain-park crew is constantly innovating the most unique and versatile features for every ability level. If you have the know how, a skilled buddy, a beacon and shovel and are looking for extreme skiing, there are two access points to the back country off of Ninety-nine 90 Express and Peak 5. Another epic backcountry option for access to pure powder and an addictive adrenalin rush is heli-skiing with Wasatch Powderbird Guides. The heli pad is just yards from the Red Pine Lodge at mid mountain and the day begins at the heli lounge to the right of the Sundial Lodge arch with skiers’ breakfast and orientation. Several adventures are available and can include up to seven runs followed by après-ski lunch served by the Alpine House’s highly respected chef and staff. My wonderful wife treated me to a day of heli-skiing with Wasatch Powderbird Guides and it was an amazing experience. They create a friendly and fun environment and treat customers like family. The guides are extremely experienced and maintain a high regard for safety to minimize potential risks (thanks Spencer, Logan and Chris for a great trip). Their pilots are also highly skilled and land the helicoper less than a foot from team on every pickup. I highly recommend a trip with Wasatch Powderbird Guides during your trip to Utah. Check out SkiEnthusiast’s personal video below and Powderbird’s website powderbird.com to learn more …
If heli-skiing is beyond your passion for the sport, First Tracks provides another alternative that is still exhilarating especially on a powder day. First Tracks is offered every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday and you will have the thrill of being accompanied by an Olympic skier guiding your way. Holly Flanders accompanied us during my stay and she was extremely outgoing and friendly. The tour begins at 7:15 in front of the ski and snowboard sales cabin and you will get to explore the various parts of the mountain before it opens to the public. Following the tour, the guests meet at the Red Pine Lodge for breakfast to share stories from their favorite runs. If this is not enough, there are also specialty clinics to hone your skills such as the 3-day Workshop by Olympian and World Cup Champion Holly Flanders or Steep Skiing Camp with World Extreme Skiing Champion Brant Moles offered multiple times per year.
In all, Canyons Resort provides great skiing and riding, numerous activities, fine dining and luxurious amenities without the crowds for more reasonable rates. First hand experience has taught me that limited traffic and good snowfall on a well protected mountain is better than exposed and high traffic mountains with the highest snow fall levels. The varied terrain and challenging expert slopes are sure to be fun for the entire family at all ability levels. Its also important to note that this was the friendliest mountain I ever visited with terrific staff. In addition, the First Tracks and heli ski options are outstanding and can be the highlight of any trip. After a brilliant and relaxing time on and off the mountain, I highly recommend Canyons Resort for your next family ski vacation.