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The Best of Utah Ski Country

SNOWBASIN
Don't worry; no one else outside of greater Ogden has heard of it either. But Snowbasin is about to become famous. Contractors have been swarming over the ski area ever since it was selected as the site of the high-profile Olympic downhill skiing events. Already, four new lifts are under construction, including two gondolas, one high-speed quad, and a tram.

Located about one hour north of Salt Lake City in the high peaks of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest, the mountain has 39 runs, nearly three-quarters of which are suitable for intermediates and beginners. But it's the steep stuff that won over Olympic event planners. The downhill course, designed by Olympic gold medalist Bernard Russi, is visible from the base lodge. With a vertical drop of 2,770 feet, the course is expected to generate speeds of 90 miles per hour.

There is no lodging at the mountain yet. Most skiers spend the night back in Ogden, a 17-mile drive to the west. Go 10 miles east, and you can visit the town of Huntsville-- home to both the century-old Shooting Star Saloon, where pool-playing locals swill pitchers of beer, and the Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity Trappist Monastery, where beekeeping monks turn out ambrosial honeys. Pick your poison.
801/399-1135, fax 801/399-1138; www.snowbasin.com.

SNOWBIRD
High up in Little Cottonwood Canyon sits Snowbird-- considered by many accomplished skiers and snowboarders to be the ultimate challenge. Nearly half the trails here are just for experts, and many involve something akin to jumping off a cliff. As if this weren't thrilling enough, the resort also offers Sno-Cat skiing into the backcountry of Mineral Basin.

Not that Snowbird is entirely for the elite. Intermediates and beginners will find plenty of fun, groomed runs, too.

At the end of the day, everyone who isn't driving the 25 miles back to Salt Lake City hunkers down in the compact Snowbird base village, a conglomeration of contemporary cement-and-glass condos, shops, and restaurants. The recently renovated 11-story Cliff Lodge has a pool, a skating rink, and even a climbing wall for those gung-ho guests who feel compelled to gain even more altitude before calling it a day.
800/453-3000 or 801/933-2222, fax 801/933-2298; www.snowbird.com.

SOLITUDE
Driving up the narrow road through the rock walls and dense pines of Big Cottonwood Canyon, you sense that you're heading somewhere magical, wild, even a little scary. Avalanche warning signs encourage you to step on the gas. The scars of old slides reinforce the message. By the time you reach the 8,000-foot-high Solitude Mountain Resort, you feel as if you've traveled to some enchanted Shangri-LaLa land-- even though the Salt Lake City airport is a mere 33 miles away.

Long revered by locals as the place to find powder, Solitude has been an underskied day-trip destination for decades. That began to change two years ago, however, when the area's first overnight lodging, the downright luxurious Inn at Solitude-- complete with spa, movie theater, fitness room, and library-- opened at the base of the mountain. Last winter, the equally attractive 18-unit Creekside condominium complex opened next to the inn, and the still-evolving Village at Solitude began to take shape.

Yet even as civilization develops at the base, the ski and board scene remains blissfully primal. A modest seven lifts serve the pristine 1,200-acre ski area, which includes a host of black-diamond hills in the awe-inspiring Honeycomb Canyon. Intermediates and beginners ply the runs from mid-mountain or lower, while snowshoers and cross-country skiers head into their own corner of wilderness via the Nordic Center's 13 miles of trails. The cross-country system is the oldest in Utah, and at 8,900 feet up, one of the most beautiful-- even more so when the center leads tours under the full moon.

Given Solitude's location, nightlife is predictably limited, but the resort lures guests out of their hotel rooms with two dinner outings. One is a ski or snowshoe tour to the Yurt, a Mongolian-style hut in the woods; the other, a snowmobile-drawn sleigh ride up the mountain to the Roundhouse, where diners get white-tablecloth service and spectacular views. Solitude's splendid isolation is so seductive you may find yourself scanning the high peaks, rooting for an avalanche big enough to close the only road out.
800/748-4754 or 801/534-1400, fax 801/649-5276; www.skisolitude.com.

SUNDANCE
While bulldozers and cranes descend on the mountains to the north, this gorgeous little ski area sits in all its quiet perfection. Sundance, of course, is Robert Redford's exquisitely realized dream, which combines austerity with extravagance-- sort of like an ashram with incredible food and leather club chairs. At the base of the majestic 12,000-foot Mount Timpanogos in Provo Canyon, 51 miles south of Salt Lake City, Sundance attracts both blue-jeaned day skiers from the Provo area and an international clientele who come to immerse themselves in woodsy, eco-conscious elegance. Guests stay in one- and two-bedroom cottage suites or in larger mountain chalets-- each decorated with handmade furniture, Native American blankets, and local crafts.

While the Sundance Institute and its film festival (which takes place mostly in Park City) are becoming increasingly celebrated, the resort's slopes remain something of a secret pleasure for skiers in the know. The terrain is not vast-- just 450 acres-- but it offers thrills for everyone. Even with just four lifts, including one rope tow, lines are never long and the broad slopes are rarely congested.

Sundance's après-ski scene revolves around the upscale Tree Room and the more casual Foundry Grill, both in the rustic building that also houses the Sundance General Store, the inspiration for the Sundance catalogue. Just next door is the Owl Bar, transplanted here from Wyoming, where, at the turn of the century, it was frequented by Butch Cassidy's Hole-in-the-Wall gang. The Sundance Institute screening room shows free films, and the resort's Nordic center, with nine miles of trails, offers skiing and snowshoeing by lantern light Wednesday through Saturday nights. Otherwise, guests while away the evening simply wandering the lit snowbanked paths-- and basking in the very Bob-ness of it all.
800/892-1600 or 801/225-4107, fax 801/226-1937; www.sundance-utah.com.

ETERNAL ALTA
Alta fans will be thrilled to learn that developers haven't left their mark on every mountain in Utah. With no plans for speed-of-light lifts or fancy-schmancy hotels, the focus here remains ski, ski, not chichi.

In the 60 years since the area installed its first lift in the shadows of 11,068-foot Mount Baldy, generation after generation has made the pilgrimage to Alta, passing the experience along like a treasured heirloom. The five clubby, rustic overnight lodges at the base of the mountain are filled with repeat guests who cherish the fact that snowboards are banned here, and that management limits the number of skiers allowed on the hill. Two of the lodges don't accept credit cards, adding to the area's mystique.

Though justifiably famous for steep terrain, Alta's 2,200 acres also offer wide, groomed runs and gentle pitches for less-accomplished skiers-- all for just $31 a day, surely the best deal in America for big-mountain skiing.
Reservations 888/782-9258 or 801/942-0404, information 801/742-3333, fax 801/799-2340; www.altaskiarea.com.

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