by Louis Bignami

When runs ice up in the East and snow skips the Alps, skiers can find quality skiing at a host of Western U. S. ski resorts. Packages that combine air fare with lift tickets, lessons, lodgings and, in some cases, rental automobiles make this option affordable. Clusters of resorts with interchangeable lift tickets allow visitors to ski dozens of trails.

The four resorts in and just outside Aspen near Denver offer wall-to-wall celebrities who come to what most experts consider the finest alpine resort complex in America. Utah Rocky Mountain resorts out of Salt Lake City like Robert Redford's Sundance feature incredible powder and long runs.

Silver Queen Gondola at Aspen.


Packages that run a week or more maximize your savings and allow you to learn with a single instructor. As a rule, package savings are highest before December 15th and after January 15th. In many Rocky Mountain areas early season snows can provide the best powder skiing of the year. However, most resorts, even with more intensive grooming and better snow making facilities than you find in Europe, need four to five feet of snow to open the widest selection of trails. So check snow levels before your leave home.

Lift lines shorten and rates drop after Easter Week, the last big ski period of the year for students on vacation. While spring skiing lacks powder, it does offer wonderful corn snow, fine weather and the chance to buy clothing and equipment at 40 to 50 percent savings. So it's important to ask about off season rates.

Condominiums with kitchens offer additional savings. As a rule hearty breakfasts in most ski areas offer decent value at restaurants away from the slopes. So do dinners in nearby towns. "Continental" food, except at the most expensive restaurants, is often mediocre. Western barbecues, steaks and, if all else fails, hearty breakfast options often served all day, present better values.

Many locals buy bread, sausage and snack items to "brown bag" lunch. Avoid American hot dogs that taste like meat flavored cardboard when compared to German sausages.

While car rentals can be part of packages -- most are 4 wheel drive Japanese cars with ski racks -- public transport and the excellent shuttles reduce the chance of problems. "Autobahn" speeds mean speeding tickets and Utah, in particular, takes a dim view of drunk drivers. Many ski areas tow illegally parked cars too.

Do keep an eye on skis and use locking racks on slopes when you can. Skis must be removed from cartop racks overnight too, since theft is a problem, peaking during Christmas and Easter Holidays. Most resorts also recommend you use both the deadbolt and standard locks and put valuables in their safes. Streets are safe in ski areas even after dark.


Skier's heaven must be like Aspen, the best ski town in America. Four big ski hills suit any skill level. Celebrities flock in. Package deals abound with posh condos on the slopes or inexpensive dorm lodgings. Food, shopping and lodgings rank with the best European Resorts. But it's the powder, the dry, soft snow up to the waist, that makes Rocky Mountain skiing so special.Do keep an eye out for celebrities. It's not unusual to see Hollywood and sports stars like Martina Navratilova in the fine local shops, restaurants or sports clubs. This is such a first class operation that it's not unusual to find special events such as the 24 hour races that run day and night and show exactly how fit the best competitive skiers can be.

Aspen Mountain -- The Expert Choice

Just a short walk from town is Aspen Mountain, which locals call "Ajax." So named because it offers some of the most challenging slopes in America. Only intermediates are accepted in the special three-day clinics that meet on the slopes. There are also three day "guaranteed" learn to ski or snowboard classes. Try Copper Bowl to start; then, if not challenged, consider Little Percy, or Red's Run. If these are easy, move to Gentleman's Ridge or North Star. Heroes can try Silver Queen. Caution: these last runs look easy at the top, but drop off suddenly.

Snowmass -- Something for Everyone

Snowmass, a completely self-contained resort 11 miles west of Aspen, features condo living just a short ski from the lift. Intermediates enjoy the largest selection of runs. Big Burn, a run a mile wide pulls most visitors. Dawdler, Hal's Hollow or Scooper runs attract shorter lift lines. Experts should try Powderhorn, the Slot and Zugspritz. Two new quad chairs make the Elk Camp side of the mountain attractive.

A special children's recreation center next to the swimming pool offers baby sitting. Restaurants range from cafeteria to continental and all services are within walking distance of the slopes. A Nordic ski center and Krablonik Kennels' dog sled rides offer diversions too. Village Mall offers quality shopping.

Buttermilk -- Best for Young or Old

A mountain built for beginners with an entire area just for beginners, and a host of runs grading up through high intermediate, Buttermilk draws families with mixed ability levels. A few expert runs in Tiehack sections spice the mix. These are often quite deserted, especially good on powder days when advanced skiers ski off powder early. Hot runs are well separated from the rest of the area so you won't run over snow plowing beginners. The Cliff House Restaurant has decent food.

Aspen Highlands

Aspen Highlands is an intermediate resort with shoals of hotdoggers. However, the Wall may be the steepest trail in Aspen. This resort attracts locals -- kids under 6 ski free when accompanied by adults. Ride all the way up the lift and enjoy the best views of the Rocky Mountains from the top of the hill. Try the strudel at the Merry-go-Round restaurant.

For information and reservations on these three resorts contact:

Aspen Central Reservations
303 East Main St.
Aspen, CO 81611 U.S.A.


Aspen Sking Company
P.O. Box 1248
Aspen, CO 81612 1-800-525-6200


A Grain of Salt, a Bucket of Powder

From Salt Lake City International Airport between town and the massive salt lake that gave it its name, it's a 30- minute to an hour drive to spots like Alta, Snowbird, Sundance, Beaver Mountain and a half-dozen others that feature thick powder and short lift lines. Most skiers stay out of town -- Salt Lake City is infamous for its lack of nightlife. Lively resorts like Park City offer plenty of evening options for those not exhausted by waist-high powder

Note: Powder skiing does require rather special techniques like the ability to "float" skis while up to the waist in fluffy snow. A tight powder suit keeps flakes off and wise skiers bridle skis so they aren't lost in snow. One or two lessons will help you to master powder.

Each resort offers something special. Alta and Snowbird suit advanced skiers. Park City, and Park City West feature lively nightlife and, like Robert Redford's Sundance, more varied terrain.

Alta-- Intermediates and Up

With a three mile run and over 2,000 feet of vertical rise, Alta, the oldest, most traditional Utah ski resort, suits intermediates and up. The German teaching tradition is strong here, and the combination of powder and tree runs makes this resort a fine choice for groups with mixed skills. Spring skiing is particularly good, and special budget packages late in the year are considerable bargains. Nightlife buffs seem to prefer Snowbird.

Call: 1-801-742-3333

Snowbird -- Alta with Nightlife

Just a mile from Alta, Snowbird's space-age concrete-and-glass Plaza and shops scream "high tech." Terrain is 40 percent for advanced with some good open meadow skiing for beginners. Peruvian Gulch and the bowls take care of hot skiers. The new lift, Baby Thunder, starts at 7,000 feet and runs up to Easy Street and Easy Susan, two prime beginner's runs.

Tip: Midweek skiing here can be quite uncrowded. The rapid transit system makes it easy to move to Alta slopes or restaurants. The expert, or wealthy, can book helicopter skiing here and enjoy untracked powder.


Sundance -- Redford's Choice

Sundance, Robert Redford's ski resort, offers low key skiing and a 90 percent mix of intermediate and expert slopes aimed at serious skiers who relish demanding slopes. Lodgings and meals are moderate in price and quality. Provo, the nearest town 13 miles away, is duller than Basel. Still, you might share a lift with Robert Redford and those who ski all day can rarely party all night.

Call: 1-801-225-4100

Park City -- Wild West Flavor, Wild Slopes

Park City and Park City West, just 30 minutes from Salt Lake City, feature great powder and more sunny days than many Rocky Mountain resorts. Runs are 80 percent for intermediates and experts, but the size of the areas still leaves lots of beginner's options. The key here is moving with the sun so you stay on fresh powder early in the season and enjoy comfortable corn snow in the spring.

With a couple of dozen lodges within walking distance from the slopes and more Western bars, discos and lounges than anyone can cover in a week-long stay, these moderately-priced resorts suit both the frisky and the family.

Park City: 1-801-649-8111
Park City West: 1-801-649-9663

For general information about Utah Ski Resorts contact:

  • Utah Travel Council
    Council Hall/Capitol Hill
    Salt Lake City, UT 84114
    Telephone: 1-801-538-1030
    Telex 912502138(UCT)