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INTRODUCTION: Okay, you’ve read or heard about that great Utah snow, but you know how much it cost you to rent that house near the slopes of your local ski hill last year, not to mention the cost of the lift tickets and food at the resort. You look at your bank account and pile of bills and depression sets in. Well, there’s good news for you. A ski trip to Utah does not have to cost you an arm and a leg, or even an arm or a leg. Even if you are traveling from the East Coast, with the right planning, you can have a four night (or even longer) ski holiday, including airfare, car rental, lodging, lift tickets and meals, for less than $800.00 per adult. This article is intended to be used as a starting point for your own research. An almost unlimited amount of information can be obtained from this site (TripAdvisors) and other websites, such as skiutah.com, goski.com and many others.
The original version of this article is primarily focused on the Salt Lake City area. Hopefully, this article will be edited by others and will include not only more information for Salt Lake City, but also for Park City, Ogden and Cedar City.
Note that there is no shortage of luxury accommodations in Salt Lake City and Park City, and at the resorts. Information about that will be left for another article.
AIRFARE: Getting to Salt Lake City is the first step, of course. A detailed discussion of budget airfare is well beyond the scope of this article. However, if you live in or near a major U.S. city, air travel to Salt Lake City can be quite reasonable, especially if you are willing to change planes somewhere along the way. At least two discount airlines, Southwest and Jet Blue, offer several non-stop or one-stop flights from various U.S. cities. Delta also offers many non-stop flights, but generally at a higher price. If you travel on some airlines (Delta and Southwest, for example), even as far away as the East Coast you can leave your home in the morning and be on the chairlift before noon.
CAR RENTAL: The car rental counters are conveniently located just across the passenger pickup road from the baggage claim areas. Just about all of the major car rental companies (Dollar, Thrifty, Avis, Budget, etc.) have fleets of vehicles at the Salt Lake City airport. Check out each company’s website as certain companies may be offering specials during the time you will be there. You should be able to rent a compact car at a weekly rate of between $200 to $250, including taxes. The larger the car, obviously, the higher the rate.
When it snows, the highway department does an excellent job of getting the roads plowed and opened. At times, however, during a major storm, they may temporarily close the canyon roads to clear the snow and/or perform avalanche control, and when the roads reopen you may not be allowed to proceed up the canyon roads to the ski resorts unless you will have chains or 4-wheel drive. You can purchase chains at local auto parts establishments, but you should note that many car rental agreements prohibit the use of chains.
In addition to the national car rental companies, there are some local independent companies. Some of these independent companies may not have airport locations. Local ski-oriented transportation can be found on www.skiutah.com. Basecamper Vans and Park City Four Wheel Drive are the two ski vehicle rental companies offering all wheel drive / four wheel drive vehicles.
Most rental cars have fold-down back seats, so if your car is not full of passengers, you should be able to fit in your skis (unless they are very long) into the car, along with your luggage. Most rental companies at the Salt Lake City Airport also offer roof racks at an additional cost.
Salt Lake City has excellent roads and highways. If you are traveling from a major metropolitan area, you likely will find traffic in Salt Lake City much lighter than what you are used to, and getting to the resorts should be a breeze. And the airport is just minutes from downtown.
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION–SALT LAKE CITY: You should seriously consider renting a car so you can easily get to any of at least eleven different ski resorts in the area. Several are only about 30 minutes away from downtown SLC. If you are really on a budget, however, or if you are trying to be as green as possible, you can get to the Snowbird, Alta, Brighton and Solitude resorts by riding the Salt Lake City TRAX light rail train to the suburb of Midvale, and from there catching a bus to those resorts. Go to the Utah Transit Authority’s website ( http://www.rideuta.com/ ) for more information on the bus schedules. (Note that the winter ski resort bus schedules may not be available online during the summer months if you are doing your planning early). Some of the SLC hotels mentioned below are on or near the bus line or TRAX rail lines.
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION TO AND AROUND PARK CITY: Park City's free city bus can pick you up at most locations and take you to the resorts http://www.visitparkcity.com/visitors...
BUDGET ACCOMMODATIONS– SALT LAKE CITY: For the budget-minded, your best bet is to stay in Salt Lake City rather than at a resort lodge. TripAdvisor has a ton of information on hotels. Also use the skiutah.com website and order the wonderful and free printed brochure they put out each year. Several budget hotels/motels advertise fantastic ski specials in the brochure. Staying in Salt Lake City (or its suburbs) and renting a car best allows you to take advantage of the great variety of resorts and hotels.
If all you need is basic accommodations (For example, place to crash and not much else) with good rates, look into Day’s Inn, www.the.daysinn.com/midvale05903 (located in Midvale, easy access to ski bus and good ski package deals), Best Western Executive Inn, www.bestwesternexecinn.com (located in Midvale, easy access to ski bus and good ski package deals), Super 8 Motel, www.super8saltlake.com (Midvale and ski packages), and the Skyline Inn www.skylineinn.com (excellent access to Park City and the Cottonwood resorts). A couple of budget motels that are close to downtown include City Creek Inn and America’s Best Inn. Remember, these are budget hotels, so don’t expect a bath robe and room service. You should read the TripAdvisor reviews for more information about these hotels/motels.. Some of these properties have indoor pools and/or hot tubs. Most of the Salt Lake hotels provide a complementary continental breakfast.
A couple of alternative hotels (among several others in Salt Lake City) that cost a little more but are nicer than the budget motels mentioned above are the University Guest House (www.guesthouse.utah.edu/), which is on the University of Utah campus and has easy access to Park City and the Cottonwood resorts, and the Salt Lake Plaza Hotel (www.plaza-hotel.com), which is in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City.
If you prefer renting a condo, the following website markets what appears to be reasonably-priced alternative lodging, even if a bit more costly than the hotels/motels mentioned above: www.utahskilodging.com.
BUDGET ACCOMMODATIONS PARK CITY: (Coming soon).
BUDGET ACCOMMODATIONS OGDEN: (Coming soon).
BUDGET ACCOMMODATIONS CEDAR CITY: (Coming soon).
LIFT TICKET SAVINGS TIPS: If there is plenty of snow, you can hardly go wrong wherever you decide to ski or board in Utah. However, this article offers a few tips on purchasing lift tickets and deciding where to ski. If you fly into Salt Lake in the morning, you can ski or for free that afternoon at a Park City resort. (Note, however, that Deer Valley does not permit boarding). Go to the Quick Start website http://www.visitparkcity.com/quick_st... for more information. Note that there are blackout dates and other restrictions and requirements, but if you can take advantage of this offer you can save more than $70.00 per person in lift ticket costs for that first day.
If you arrive late in the morning or early in the afternoon, and you just want to warm up your legs for the next day, you can drive up to Alta (www.alta.com) and get in an hour plus of free skiing at the Albion Basin area, beginning at 3:00 p.m. This will help get your legs in shape if you haven’t skied in awhile, and also help you get acclimated to the altitude. There is little traffic going up the canyon that time of day, and there should be plenty of parking as a lot of folks will have already left. Park your car at the uppermost parking lot (near the Albion base lodge). You can even rent skis for the session at a very low price if you didn’t bring your own or didn’t have time to stop and rent skis in town. You’ll probably want to return to Alta the next morning to experience the entire resort. Note, however, that Alta does not permit snowboards.
Generally, the lowest lift prices are at the more remote resorts, such as Powder Mountain (www.powdermountain.com ) and, especially on weekdays, Sundance (www.sundanceresort.com ). However, for most people the savings will not be large enough to be the only deciding factor for which resort(s) they choose to ski. Another advantage, however, of the outlying resorts is that they are less crowded than the Park City or Cottonwood resorts.
Powder Mountain is a large resort with a lot of terrain for all levels of skiing or boarding skill. Keep in mind that the lodge is situated on the top of the mountain, so you more often will need a four-wheel drive vehicle or chains to be allowed on the road to the resort. Probably not worth driving there just to save a few dollars on lift tickets, but if you like skiing or boarding without crowds, that’s a great reason to go.
Sundance does not have as many trails compared to most of the other resorts, but has fantastic views and great lift prices, and smaller crowds, especially on weekdays. Although a smaller resort, there should be enough variety to keep most folks happy for at least a day.
Sundance, Powder Mountain and Snowbasin are about an hour (or a little longer depending on how you drive) from downtown SLC. Oddly enough, that "long" drive discourages a lot of people from skiing at those resorts.
Wolf Mountain, near Powder Mountain, has very low lift prices, but also has very few lifts and trails and is situated at a low altitude, which can mean less snow in both depth and quality. This might be a good mountain for beginners.
Brian Head Resort near Cedar City is also a smaller resort, but it has great views and very reasonable lift ticket prices. However, it is about four hours from Salt Lake City, so it is not really reasonable to ski there unless you happen to be driving by on your way to or from SLC, or are making it your destination for a few days. Brian Head is popular with families and beginners and intermediate skiers and boarders.
You can purchase discount lift ticket vouchers for most of the Utah ski resorts at many hotels and at most (if not all) of the ski rental shops. You can save anywhere from a few dollars to several dollars on each voucher, depending on the resort you want to ski. Note that you are purchasing a voucher that you must take to the resort ticket window to exchange for a lift ticket, so if you misplace the voucher between the time you buy it and the time you arrive at the resort, you are out of luck. If you are prone to losing or misplacing receipts and the like, you probably are better off purchasing the lift tickets at the resort.
If you are skiing the Cottonwood resorts, ask your hotel about the Superpass. http://www.visitsaltlake.com/superpass/ The Superpass will save you a few bucks on your adult lift tickets and the pass also includes public transportation.
EQUIPMENT RENTALS: Most airlines allow you to bring your own equipment without additional charge, but check the airline’s luggage policies before purchasing your ticket. If you must rent equipment, it is more economical to rent from an outfitter in town than renting at the resorts, and you can keep the same equipment during your entire stay, which is helpful if you are planning on skiing more than one resort. The only downside would be if you had a problem with the equipment. You presumably would have to rent another set at the resort for that day and then exchange for a new set at the outfitter the next day (although the outfitter in town would probably credit you for that day–ask about that before you rent). Both SkiNSee (www.skinsee.com ) and Canyon Sports (www.canyonsports.com ) have multiple convenient locations. SkiNSee appears to have the lower rates. The printed SkiUtah.com brochure contains discount coupons for these and other equipment rental companies.
DINING–SALT LAKE CITY: Search the Salt Lake City TripAdvisor forums for many threads on this subject. There are many good restaurants scattered throughout the suburbs, and the downtown area offers a decent variety of eating and drinking establishments, even if limited when compared to downtown areas of major cities. Note also that many of the restaurants close early compared to some major cities, so keep that in mind if you are used to dining late. Nonetheless, you will find a variety of establishments in price, quality and fare, and contrary to what many folks may think, most of them serve beer and wine and/or other alcoholic beverages.
Of course, there are the usual fast food chains as well. In additional, many grocery stores, such as the Albertson’s chain, have prepared foods, such as fried chicken, wraps, salads, potatoes, etc. While most people will want to eat lunch in a slopeside resort restaurant, if you are really budget minded, you can prepare sandwiches and take your own snacks and eat at your car.
Drink a lot of water. The Utah air is very dry and it is important to drink water before, during and after skiing. Stop at a grocery store and purchase several bottles of water to keep in your car. The tap water in SLC originates from mountain streams (and not the Great Salt Lake, thankfully) and is perfectly good and safe to drink.
DINING PARK CITY: (Information coming soon).
TIMING YOUR TRIP: The Christmas to New Year’s week and the week around President’s Day are the busiest, so you may have trouble finding the accommodations of your choice and low airfare during those times. Also, the week of the Sundance Film Festival in Park City will also effect the availability of accommodations. However, the film festival apparently does not have much of an effect on the crowds at the ski resorts.
By most accounts, the best chances to experience several new inches of the famous Utah fresh and fluffy powder will be from mid-January through mid-March. Although it snows much earlier and later than that time frame, the snow may not be the best quality.
If you are skiing early or late in the season, the Cottonwood resorts (Alta, Snowbird, Brighton and Solitude) generally have better snow (according to most accounts) for a number of reasons, including the fact that they are situated at a higher altitude.
CONCLUSION: With all the money you will be saving, you should treat yourself to a meal or two at a nice restaurant, or perhaps spend some money at some local shops. At any rate, you are sure to have a great time. You’ll not only enjoy the great snow, but also the friendly folks in and around Salt Lake City.