Endless Winter: Utah
Many people are hurrahing as this winter of discontent comes to a welcome end and memories of icy roads and flight cancellations start to fade. But not everyone wants to see the snow melt away just yet.
Plenty of ski resorts keep their lifts running well into spring, so there’s no need to put away those skis and snowboards. Late season specials include heavily discounted lift passes and accommodations generally cost less than do in mid-winter. Best of all, the weather is more pleasant, which means the mountains are less crowded, and more daylight makes for longer opening times.
A good rule of thumb for the best spring skiing is to “head high.” The altitude of the Rockies makes the western U.S. especially attractive this time of year. While Colorado might be more popular, Utah can be just the place to go, particularly if you want to do more than just ski!
It was only twelve years ago that Salt Lake City hosted the XIX Winter Olympics. Thanks to the The Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation, many of the venues used during the games are now open to the public, including Snowbasin, Utah Olympic Park, and the Utah Olympic Oval Facility.
My first stop during a recent trip to the Industry State was to the 389-acre Utah Olympic Park just outside of Park City. During the 2002 Games, the Park hosted bobsled, luge, ski jumping, and the nordic combined events. Today, it serves as a training center for athletes and is open year round to visitors.
The three-story Joe Quinney Winter Sports Center, which houses the Eccles Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games Museum can be checked out for free. But the main attraction is the Comet Bobsled Ride, where up to three passengers can ride with a professional pilot down the entire length of the Olympic track.
In less than a minute, you’ll slide through 15 turns and reach speeds of up to 80 mph with 5 Gs of force! At $200 per person, this once-in-a-lifetime experience doesn’t come cheap. (Also note that riders must be at least 16 years of age or older and at least 100 pounds to ride.)
If that’s not crazy enough, you can also experience what it’s like to take a ride on the Olympic track on a Skeleton sled. That’s the one where you go down face first! This attraction has slightly lower bars, in terms of age, cost, and speed. You have to be 14 years or older, and for $50, you will be taught how to navigate the sled down the track through four curves, reaching speeds up to 50 mph.
The next stop is the Utah Olympic Oval near downtown Salt Lake. Known as the fastest ice on Earth, this is where the Olympic speed skating events were held and where the U.S. Speed Skating team now trains.
We non-Olympians can skate around the 400-meter ice oval that holds more Olympic and world records than anywhere else. And if you’re so inclined, you can even take an intro speed-skating class taught by Olympic gold medalist Derek Parra and his coaching staff.
Speed skating isn’t the only Olympic sport taught at the Oval. You can attend a hockey clinic, refine your figure skating techniques, or, best of all, learn to curl. You know, that sport that looks like people playing shuffleboard, on ice, with brooms. All kidding aside, the Utah Olympic Oval Learn-to-Curl Program, taught by certified instructors, is a great way to develop an appreciation for the sport.
The final stop is the Snowbasin Resort located just east of Ogden. To round out my “mini Olympic fantasy camp,” I made my way over to the black diamond Grizzly trail, the same one used for the men’s downhill course in 2002.
Dropping 2,900 vertical feet in just under two miles, the Grizzly is considered one of the most difficult downhill runs in the U.S. Even though it’s now evenly groomed and its jumps ironed out, the spectacular view of the Great Salt Lake remains the same.
Rainer Jenss is a featured contributor for Intelligent Travel. Follow him on Twitter @JenssTravels.