After a week in two Utah ski resorts, I’ve decided that despite its recent political indiscretions, America is ultimately redeemable. I admit that I braced myself for the possible irritations of a red state as we touched down in Salt Lake City, but as of yet I’ve only seen one ‘Make America Great Again’ cap: so far, so good.
One of the oldest resorts in the country, Alta is a 2,200-acre, 10,500-feet high skier’s paradise. Due in part to its high altitude, it resides in a unique micro-climate that produces what the locals call ‘champagne powder’: delectably light, fluffy snow that makes you feel like you’re skiing through icing sugar. And as we were told by our shuttle driver, a man so cheery he could be a Latter Day Saint from The Book of Mormon, this season has been one of the best for years. As well as the great snow, Alta is studded with trees – which in combination make for unbeatable off-piste revelry. I should also mention that it’s one of the last three resorts in the US to be skier-only. I hate to sound like an old lady, but it sure is good to get away from those darn snowboarders.
Snowbird feels very different. We only spent a day there (and five in Alta), but my first impression is that it is a little more industrial, a little less small-town, a little less old-school. The pistes are wide as motorways and more plentiful than in Alta, with 2,500 acres to explore. There seems to be less opportunity for off-piste shenanigans, but I’m sure that the large variety of runs can keep winter holidaymakers occupied for at least a week.
I love the names at US resorts. They remind me of the Dulux colour catalogues that kept me entertained for hours when I was younger. Alta’s lifts and pistes have evocative titles like Lone Pine, Sleepy Hollow and Sugar Loaf (the latter of which is reminiscent of childhood Willy Wonka-inspired daydreams), while Snowbird’s are sillier: Oh My God, Whodunnit and Who Cares sound like the only lines in a very short, very bad mystery play.
Eateries on the mountain seem invariably large and cafeteria-style, and are stacked with choice. Alf’s at Alta does a great Reuben, and to my delight York peppermint patties are only 25 cents apiece. Watson’s (also Alta) is similar, but boasts a better sauce counter. Snowbird’s The Summit, a brutal piece of architecture jutting out of the cliff at 11,000 feet, has the best views this side of Nevada; the salad bar and artisan pizzas aren’t bad either. We weren’t vastly impressed by Snowbird on the whole – doubtless influenced by the poor conditions that day – but the vistas of the Wasatch Range from The Summit’s soaring windows are worth the trip alone.
The jewel in the crown of the culinary scene, however, is Alta’s Rustler Lodge. It’s a classic ski lodge, replete with mahogany panelling, paintings of deer, ubiquitous wood-burning fires, retro skis pinned to the walls and framed posters from the 1950s encouraging passersby to ‘ski for health and vigour!’. The staff are wonderfully friendly, and the restaurant – which overlooks the evergreen-sprinkled slopes – is diverse in menu and universally delicious. If you ever go, hope and pray that they have the homemade cookies-and-cream ice cream on the specials list. Seriously.
The attitude of the locals in Alta is heartwarming. The geniality of every person we met – their interest in where we came from, their fondness for the area, their excitement at sharing details of the snow forecast with us – was without exception and has restored my faith in Americans.
It’s our last evening here; on to San Francisco in the morning. Excited though I am for a taste of the Golden City, it is now with beer in hand (that I am totally of age to drink, Mom), watching the lacy, melon-tinged clouds sink behind the peaks that I think: it can’t get much better than this.