The sun crouches behind the snow-capped peaks as I prop my snowboard against a wall and step into the world’s only ski-in/ski-out gastro distillery. After an epic powder day, a bevy of snow shredders trickle in for après ski cocktails in what has to be the most unlikely destination for a whiskey brew shop on earth. Utah. Despite it’s rigid alcohol laws, bartenders were muddling mint leaves for mojitos laced with a Utah-distilled, award-winning whiskey. As Julian Rubinstein notes in Travel + Leisure’s January issue, Park City is a town in transition.
Winter’s back may be broken, but that doesn’t mean ski season’s over. In fact, this may be the perfect time to hit the slopes, while the snow’s still good and the deals are enticing. The keys to spring skiing: book quickly—and don’t forget your sunscreen.
Park City, Utah
Over a dozen Park City properties are offering Ski Free and Stay Free packages that offer travelers a free night of lodging and a lift ticket at one of the area’s three resorts (the Canyons, Park City Mountain, and Deer Valley) when you book a four-night package. Valid for reservations between March 28 and April 11, 2010; see parkcityinfo.com for more.
Utah and its frontiers for skiing and snowboarding have long been on my list for exploration, and my recent trip there did not disappoint. In fact, I was amazed at how easy it was to get there (a non-stop from JFK to SLC on Delta plus 35 minutes in my Enterprise rental car from the airport to Park City—with no harrowing mountain pass requiring tire chains). And it was so much fun (9,026 acres of skiing; hundreds of hotels to choose from, sunny skies, and, since 2009, no more “membership” necessary to enter a bar and buy a drink). One local told me he always felt like Park City was the redheaded stepchild of the U.S. ski areas, but I think it is soon to be (if not already) one of the favorites.
Apex and Spider Monkey, The Canyons (lift ticket $85 a day)—trails here are generally fairly narrow, which made me feel immersed in nature, much like when I hike. Apex varies intermediate and advanced tilt down a thrilling ridge, and Spider Monkey bops beneath a cathedral of tall pines.
With my snowboarding skills firmly intact, I decided this season I would head west again (after three years) for some real-deal riding. Here are my highlights from my January jaunt to Vail and Beaver Creek.
Avanti and Pickeroon, Vail (lift ticket $97 a day)—often-groomed, excellent mix of intermediate and advanced slope.
Larkspur Bowl and Golden Bear, Beaver Creek (lift ticket $97 a day)—the bowl was next to empty and made me shout, WOOHOO, multiple times; I renamed Golden Bear “Honey Bear” because it was such a sweet ride.
Favorite après-ski spots:
Garfinkel’s, Lionshead (drinks for two $15)—lots of picnic tables outside, making it easy to spot your friends; I accidentally stayed après après.
Los Amigos, at Vail Village (drinks for two $15)—watch tired experts and out-of-their-league beginners make their last run down the black-diamond Pepi’s Face, and be thankful you’ve already loosened your boots.
I sure could have used SkiResorts.com when I was trying to plan a birthday ski trip with 15 of my closest friends last month. I’m not a die-hard skier, the glut of information on the web—resorts, hotels, packages, etc.—left me completely overwhelmed, and I wound up scrapping the ski trip plan for a birthday celebration of a more indoor variety: karaoke.
So while this discovery came a little too late to help me out, hopefully SkiResorts.com can come in handy for many of you this season. The site, which bills itself as a “mecca” for everything snow-related, both on and off the slopes, helps you build packages at prime skiing attractions across the continent, tailored to your needs. Trying to find a good deal on a flight and condo for a long weekend in Jackson Hole? Done. Hungry in Stowe? Dig in. Looking for a spa to soothe sore muscles after a day on the slopes in Tahoe? Look no further.
After five years in the making, the Ritz-Carlton Highlands, Lake Tahoe finally opened its doors to the public today. (Lucky first guests/skiers at the 170-room property were treated to a fresh snowfall.)
If you happen to be in Aspen, Whistler, or Mammoth Lakes this winter, you may notice some well-dressed skiers around. For a week during the season in each of these ski towns, thousands of gay (and gay-friendly) skiers will converge for camaraderie, fabulous après-ski, and even the occasional drag show on the slopes (you know who you are, Aspen). It’s a little early to be thinking about skiing, but interested parties should book now—space goes faster than front-row Cher tickets.
Aspen Gay Ski Week
For 33 years, gays and lesbians have been heading to Aspen for this event. Highlights: an opening party, complete with a fashion show, a film series, comedy night, drag show on the slopes. Oh, and world-class skiing and snowboarding. January 17-24, 2010
Winter Pride in Whistler, British Columbia
Come here for the Winter Olympics, stay for the gays. The 18-year-old event immediately follows the Olympics and attracts almost 3,000 visitors every year. Guests have access to free ski and snowboarding guides, cooking and yoga classes, as well as martini mixers, and—of course—huge dance parties. March 1-8, 2010
Elevation Mammoth in Mammoth, California
A large L.A. contingent has headed here since 2003 for a low-key week at a very high elevation (over 11,000 feet). The event’s mission statement sums it up: “2,000 riders. 7 major parties. 0 attitude.” March 17-21, 2010
Clark Mitchell is an associate editor at Travel + Leisure.
Photo courtesy of GayWhistler.com, Andy Dittrich