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Travel - Why Smart Skiers Are Racing to Utah

Salt Lake City is a direct flight from almost every big U.S. city—and the skiing nearby is phenomenal. Writer Vicky Lowry, who sometimes hops the 7:20 a.m. flight from New York so she can be on the slopes by noon, shares insider tips on where to eat, ski and stay.

Salt Lake City

When I travel to Utah, I occasionally like to arrive late on a Thursday night and go directly into Salt Lake City (a 10-minute drive from the airport) to steal a few hours of sleep at a hotel. Then I wake up early so I can be at a mountain when the lifts open the next morning. (Snowbird and Alta are 25 miles away, Park City, 30.) Those who don't feel the need to sleep in a ski-resort setting should consider staying at a hotel in Salt Lake City the whole time. What's lost in alpine atmosphere is more than made up for with a restaurant scene that has been thriving since the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Where to Stay

Grand America Hotel This enormous compound with a fountain and a Versailles vibe was built in time to host Olympic VIPs. Suites have marble bathrooms and the most inviting beds in town (at least they seem so when I'm on the JetBlue flight that lands at midnight), and there's a terrific indoor lap pool. Come morning, the lobby bar serves strong cappuccinos and homemade pastries—the perfect breakfast-to-go for the ride up to the slopes. DETAILS Doubles from $209; 555 S. Main St.; 801-258-6000 or grandamerica.com.

Where to Eat

Lugäno At his five-year-old restaurant, Greg Neville serves Italian dishes inspired by his stints in Venice and Lugano. Neville's skilled cooking—and his tightly edited, mostly Italian wine list—draws chefs and skiers from Snowbird, Alta and Park City who don't mind the drive. (That short trip allows Neville to do some of his own skiing during the day.) I'd make the trek to Lugäno anytime for the house-smoked salmon cured in grappa, a margherita pizza from the wood-burning oven or wine-braised lamb from a nearby ranch. DETAILS 3364 South 2300 East; 801-412-9994.

Takashi Salt Lake City finally has an outstanding sushi bar. At this restaurant, which opened last year, chef Takashi adds South American accents to ultrafresh cuts of fish. His Peruvian upbringing shows in his liberal use of fruits and peppers (the Caribbean Roll of yellowtail and fresh mango, for example, gets its kick from chiles). The night I was there, Takashi had just received fresh escolar, a buttery fish that he singed with a blowtorch and topped with a tiny scoop of ginger-orange sorbet that melted into wasabi vinaigrette. DETAILS 18 W. Market St.; 801-519-9595.

Bambara A stately old bank has been turned into an upbeat bistro adjacent to the swank six-year-old Hotel Monaco. Bambara's decor is flamboyant: swirling fabric patterns, kooky light fixtures. And its American menu is brash too, showing off chef Robert Barker's New Orleans roots in dishes like sautéed Muscovy duck breast with bourbon-spiked mashed potatoes. Ask for a table in the cozy front room, formerly the bank president's office. DETAILS 202 S. Main St.; 801-363-5454.

Park City

Although most of Utah's ski destinations have little more than a lift system and a hotel or two, Park City has more of an Aspen vibe. Thanks in part to the Sundance Film Festival, the area attracts a jet-set crowd and fashionable restaurateurs. Skiers can hit three different resorts. The Canyons has slopes for all levels and high-speed chairlifts, which eliminates lines. Park City's eponymous ski area is the oldest, with a lift that runs through the center of town. But Deer Valley, an intermediate's nirvana with wide-open, easy terrain, is where I return each winter. For the ultimate splurge, you can have the mountain to yourself an hour before the lifts open: Sign up for the First Tracks program ($1,200 for up to eight skiers; 435-645-6511) and be the first to ski down trails groomed to look like corduroy.

Where to Stay

Hotel Park City Cross-country skiers will want to stay at this lodge-style resort, on an 18-hole golf course that doubles as a winter-sports playground. A dreamy featherbed, large Jacuzzi tub and handy kitchenette make up for suites that tend to be slightly dark. The 50-minute deep-tissue sports massage I had in the hotel's tranquil and spacious spa was an ideal antidote to my aches and pains after skiing, though it was somewhat pricey at $140. DETAILS Doubles from $300; 2001 Park Ave.; 435-200-2000 or hotelparkcity.com.

Where to Eat

Royal Street Café The best food in Deer Valley, hands down, is at this mid-mountain restaurant. Reserve a table upstairs, where it's calmer, and refuel with lettuce-wrapped duck confit, turkey chili and huge, warm chocolate brownies served with malted-milk ice cream. DETAILS 7600 Royal St.; 435-645-6724.

Bacchus Wine Bar Park City has strict laws governing outdoor signage for bars, so this new subterranean lounge can be a bit hard to find. Fittingly, it has an intimate, speakeasy feel. The owners furnished the space with teak sofas and patterned-silk barstools from Bali, where they have a home. But Bacchus's biggest draw is its wine list, which has 100 selections, many of them from boutique California wineries with limited production. DETAILS 442 Main St.; 435-940-9463.

Ghidotti's Bill White's newest restaurant (he now has five in Park City) is vaguely modeled after a Roman villa—one that would fit perfectly in Las Vegas, with flaming cauldrons at the entrance. In contrast to the menu at White's upscale Italian restaurant Grappa, Ghidotti's serves what he describes as "Mamma's kind of food": lasagna, veal scallopine, spaghetti with meatballs. Explore the selection of 35 wines by the glass and the cellar of nearly 3,000 bottles, but be warned: You may not be the first to arrive at the slopes the next day. DETAILS 6030 N. Market St., Redstone Village; 435-658-0669.

Alta | Snowbird

The granite cliffs of Little Cottonwood Canyon, which frame the hairpin turns up to Alta and Snowbird, are steep and snowy, and only a handful of homes dot the barren landscape. The two resorts are separated by a mile of road but connected by lifts and a dual ticket, so you can ski both in a day. I prefer to stay at Snowbird: I'm a sucker for a hotel with a spa, plus I like riding the resort's aerial tram, which delivers skiers and snowboarders to the 11,000-foot peak in just eight minutes. Hire an instructor from Snowbird Mountain School so you can cut lines, then ski top-to-bottom runs—without having to stop and take a mid-mountain lift back to the top—on some of the most varied and athletic terrain in the United States. (Ed Chauner, who's been there for 25 years, is one of the best instructors; he can be booked via Snowbird Mountain School, 801-933-2170.) For an extra $20 on top of the lift-ticket price, early birds can get in two guided runs on freshly groomed trails before the lifts open. In contrast to the more modern high-tech Snowbird, Alta is defiantly retro, with its mostly double and triple chairlifts, tree-lined trails and ban on snowboarding. The resort has one of the most challenging runs in the country (the legendary High Rustler), but there's also plenty of intermediate terrain.

Where to Stay

Alta Lodge At first glance this bare-bones inn (built in 1939, the same year the ski resort opened) doesn't have much appeal: The dining room looks like a cafeteria, the attic bar is cramped and the spartan rooms don't even have TVs. But the retro-European ambience attracts a devoted clientele. The regulars tend to be sophisticated, often European and perfectly happy sharing communal meals. In addition, the lodge abuts the lower slopes, so you can check out ski conditions when you wake up. Corner rooms, with fireplaces, Bertoia furniture and stunning views, are the best. DETAILS Doubles from $282; 10230 E. Little Cottonwood Canyon Rd.; 800-707-ALTA or altalodge.com.

Cliff Lodge & Spa This concrete tower is more about function than form (it was built to withstand avalanches), but the rooms are big enough that you won't trip over your ski gear. I always stay on the ninth floor, where the rooms are swankier—with extra-comfortable new beds and flat-screen TVs—and the spa is right down the hall. (For holiday weekends, book spa treatments when you book your room.) Aerie Sushi Bar, on the top floor, is first-rate (the crab in the California roll is real). DETAILS Doubles from $229; Hwy. 210, Snowbird entry 4; 800-232-9542 or snowbird.com.

Where to Eat

Collins Grill Watson Shelter, a lodge that served the best on-slope meal at Alta, was torn down and rebuilt with a sleeker look last summer. Happily, Collins Grill returns upstairs this winter, and it has the same hearty food: bacon and Swiss cheese tart, cassoulet and chocolate-truffle cupcakes. DETAILS Near Collins Lift; no phone yet.

Vicky Lowry is an editor at Elle Decor.

Published December 2005
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