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By the time Pacific storms blow east into Utah, they’ve dumped their heavy, moisture-laden snow onto the Sierras. After drying out over the Nevada desert, what’s left are light, dry, fluffy flakes that locals call “champagne powder,” probably because floating through it makes you feel positively giddy. Some of Utah’s 14 resorts measure up to 500 inches a season of such winter wonderfulness, and half of these resorts are an hour from the Salt Lake City airport. That makes it easy to stay in downtown SLC and ski nearby. Snowbird and Alta are conjoined twins in the narrow Big Cottonwood Canyon, 30 minutes from downtown. Snowbird is the big, brassy twin, with lots of modern high-speed quads, a racetrack-fast tram to the top and terrain parks for the snowboarders. There are plenty of intermediate cruisers and gentle gladed trails through the trees, plus Mineral Basin, a soupbowl-shaped gem with enough bumps and powder to keep you happy an entire day. Kids to age 12 ski free with a paying adult, and if they get tired of the slopes, send them to the resort’s ice skating rink. Alta is a couple of turns past Snowbird — close enough that you can ski from the top of Alta’s Sugarloaf lift and drop into Mineral Basin. Be sure to buy the joint-area ski pass, or you can’t ski home. Alta is the less fashionable twin, but who needs fashion when you’re thigh-deep in powder and your teeth are cold from grinning? This is old-fashioned, glitz-free skiing — the parking lot isn’t even paved — and Alta is one of the last holdouts prohibiting snowboards. (Taos, Vermont’s Mad River Glen and Utah neighbor Deer Valley are the others.) Most famous for superchallenging terrain like High Traverse and huge snowfields, Alta also has lots of great cruisers for less accomplished skiers, and is too often overlooked as a family destination. Snowbird is dominated by the hulking glass-and-concrete Cliff Lodge (Tel. 800-640-2002), with its rooftop spa and glass-enclosed pool, where you can sit and watch skiers. It also houses a Southwestern-style restaurant and the trendy Aerie Lounge and sushi bar, plus some interesting boutiques, including an Oriental rug shop that stocks antique designs that can cost into the five figures. The mainstay in Alta is the comfortable Alta Lodge (Tel. 800-707-2582), a ’50s throwback that caters to families and a restaurant that serves up some surprisingly gourmet-quality fare. Neither Alta nor Snowbird has a real base-area village, and therefore no real nightlife; the party crowd skis and apr�s-skis in Park City, the next canyon over. These two resorts have more than enough terrain to keep any level of skier happy and challenged, but it’s well worth a trip to Snowbasin, 30 minutes north on the interstate, just outside the town of Ogden. This is where the 2002 Olympic men’s and women’s downhill events were held. Snowbasin is owned by the same zillionaire who owns Sun Valley (as well as the Las Vegas-size Grand America Hotel in downtown SLC); it has the same elegant base-area feel as Sun Valley and is growing in popularity, thanks to all the Olympic publicity. There is also snowmobiling in the Wasatch Backcountry, and super skiers can head out with Wasatch Powder Guides for heli-skiing (Tel. 801-742-2800). Salt Lake City got a jolt of energy and style from the 2002 Olympics, and some real nightlife downtown. The Red Door is a martini bar with comfortable sofas and a hip young crowd; Club Splash has a bar downstairs, a dance floor upstairs and a tattooed bouncer outside. Stay at the Hotel Monaco (Tel. 877-294-9710), a boutique luxury hotel with funky modern d�cor in a nineteenth-century sandstone building. In the lobby is Bambara, one of the city’s most popular restaurants, serving creative fusion cuisine. Two blocks away, the historic Peery Hotel (Tel. 800-331-0073) is filled with Victorian furnishings and is truly like stepping back a century — except with modern plumbing and Internet access. Downtown Salt Lake City offers a growing list of good, even great, restaurants. There’s reliable pub fare at Red Rock Brewing Company, skewered meats served by Brazilian gauchos at Rodizio Grill and classic French food, including perfect moules frites and memorable homemade desserts, at L’Avenue Bistro. Robert Redford’s Sundance Resort (Tel. 800-892-1600) is less than one hour from Snowbird, Alta and Salt Lake City. Stay in rustic mountain cabins, keep your eyes glued for the actor (who’s an expert skier), and dine in the Tree Room, where four-star gourmet fare is enhanced by Redford’s museum-quality collection of Native American rugs, pottery and kachina dolls decorating the walls. A toast to Utah’s champagne snow.
AIR: All major airlines fly into Salt Lake City International Airport. GROUND: Canyon Transportation (Tel. 800-255-1841) has the most shuttles between the airport and Snowbird and Alta; Park City Transportation (Tel. 800-637-3803) has the most to Park City’s three resorts. MISCELLANEOUS: Utah’s arcane liquor laws were loosened for the Olympics. Yes, you can have a drink with or without food. The best information is at www.skiutah.com, the official site of the state’s ski and snowboard resorts.

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