Utah's 'Secret' Slopes
Sunday, January 22, 2006
How's this for heresy: going to Utah's Wasatch Mountains for a ski holiday and then skipping Park City, Deer Valley, Alta and Snowbird.
Those ski areas are famous, and deservedly so. But in the search of fresh perspectives, I suggest skiing or riding Solitude and Brighton.
A quick pre-Christmas visit to Solitude, along with earlier trips to Brighton -- as well as to Snowbasin and Powder Mountain, a little farther away -- have convinced me that these alternatives offer the same great Utah snow at lower cost, without the crowds and with similar convenient access to Salt Lake City.
Are they really that worthwhile? Absolutely. Solitude lives up to its name.
Every time I have visited, I wonder, where is everyone?
The folks in charge at Solitude Mountain Resort insist they prefer it uncrowded. "You go to the mountains to reconnect with yourself," said Jay Burke, the resort's marketing director. "We have a very different strategy here [than at Park City]. You don't come here to party and eat at 25 different restaurants."
Solitude--as well as Brighton, just three miles east on the same road--is well under an hour's drive from the Salt Lake City airport in Big Cottonwood Canyon, near Park City to the north and Little Cottonwood Canyon (home of Alta and Snowbird) to the south. Once you leave the interstate, the metropolis seems distant indeed. The winding road, wider and prettier than Little Cottonwood's, is less apt to be closed by avalanche danger during a snowstorm. Before you can say "wish we were there already," you are.
It wasn't always quiet at Solitude. Back in the 19th century, the region was abuzz with saws felling timber and picks breaking rocks. At the height of the silver boom in the 1870s and 1880s, miners dug hundreds of mines (one of which was named Solitude) in the region, traveling to the rich Alta strikes in the next canyon via underground tunnels. (Today, the ski area gets its water via one of the subterranean tunnels.)
Solitude the resort came into being after a wealthy former uranium miner from Moab in eastern Utah was denied access to a restroom at the Alta ski area in the 1950s. (Because sanitation waste had to be trucked out of the canyon, facilities were reserved for overnight guests.) The miner, Robert M. Barrett, vowed to build his own ski hill and bought up as much land as he could in the adjacent canyon. He cranked up the first Solitude lifts in 1956, according to the resort.
Ten years ago the place got its first accommodations for overnight visitors with the opening of the Inn at Solitude. A housing boom has come in the past five years, with Intrawest, the giant Canadian company, developing a mini-village of condominiums at the base.
I stayed overnight in one of the condos, which are best described as generic Intrawest -- spacious enough and familiar to anyone who has been to the developer's other villages. This particular one, however, was pleasantly petite compared with the high-rises at the Intrawest Corp.'s flagship ski resort, Whistler-Blackcomb in British Columbia.
It's a five-minute walk from either the inn or the condos to the Apex double chairlift, which takes you up the "front side" of the mountain. For those driving from the Salt Lake Valley, there is a new day-use base lodge called Moonbeam with its own parking area, rental shop, lockers and cafeteria, as well as a new high-speed quad lift.