More than 50 percent of a Tribune poll's 1,107 participants designated Alta or Snowbird as the best, primarily citing their exquisite snow and varied, challenging terrain. And when it comes to picking one special place to carve turns, more people would choose to do so on either Alf's High Rustler at Alta or in The Cirque at Snowbird. Those two bastions of the "steep and deep" tied for first place among 196 different runs, bowls or ridges named as individual favorites in the unscientific online poll.
Alta ultimately came out No. 1 as the "Favorite Resort," its prohibition against snowboarders and overall ambiance elevating it over Snowbird.
Readers also made a statement in responding to the "Least Favorite" question? More people declined to name a resort than to single out a specific one; 150 left that category blank, while 29 offered opinions similar to that of Rick Carter - "The least of Utah is better than the best of most states" - or Bonnie Flint - "Picking a least favorite resort is like picking a least favorite child." But for those who did answer the question, their criticisms were reserved largely for the three Park City-area resorts and Brighton, with each knocked for different reasons.
And, finally, the question "Why don't more Utahns ski or board?" produced a predictable response: 472 people, almost 43 percent, cited the cost of lift tickets and equipment. Laziness, fear, dislike of cold also were cited, along with a fair amount of cultural bashing: too many children, too many church responsibilities, too little remaining time and too little regard for outdoor activities.
"After paying 10 percent to the LDS Church for tithing they can't afford to ski," said Mike Montmorency. "I pay my tithing to the snow gods."
FAVORITE RESORTS Like Montmorency, many respondents described skiing at Alta, just being at Alta, as a spiritual experience. While Snowbird devotees gushed about its terrain and the quality of its snow, few described the 'Bird with the reverence Alta advocates regularly reserved for their favored resort.
"God's country," "close to heaven" and "mecca" were three descriptions with religious connotations, along with another conclusion that Alta has "soul." Others called Alta "a purist's mountain," "old school," "the granddaddy of the class resorts" and a "hidden treasure." Andrew Stevens summed it up: "It's cheap (relatively), the employees are friendly and helpful, the terrain is incredible, and the snow is always fantastic. But most of all, the skiers are there to ski, not to be seen, not to judge other's abilities. It's a very pure skiing experience." Or as Billie Daugherty opined: "No snowboarders and as close to heaven as you can get." Ah, yes. No snowboarders. Of the 294 people who designated Alta their favorite resort, 114 (39 percent) cited no snowboarders as one reason why. Conversely, 43 of the 60 people (72 percent) who ripped Alta as their least favorite resort based their answer on the snowboard ban, as did 22 percent of those who designated Deer Valley, which also prohibits 'boards, as their least favorite.
"It's an Olympic sport," protested Brian Winberg. "It's here to stay." Only seven respondents cited Snowbird's openness to 'boarders in declaring it their favorite resort. The 'Bird was applauded instead for having the Tram (17 comments) and drilling the tunnel to Mineral Basin, the length of its season and terrain diversity, from the Big Emma beginner hill to gnarly steep chutes.
"The terrain is vast, varied and steep," wrote Jake Carling. "The snowstorms up Little Cottonwood are legendary for great powder days. And Snowbird does a great job of opening different areas throughout the day so all the powder isn't tracked out by 10 a.m." Critics also mentioned the lift system, blaming aged Little Cloud chair for contributing to long waiting lines, and seven said the mountain was too hard. Attitude was the main complaint, however, from owner Dick Bass's environmentally offensive expansion plans to the arrogance of customers and staff.
Snowbird was the only resort that picked up votes for its children's program, 26 coming in a sequence and part of 109 submitted by Snowbird employees (other resorts also had smaller bloc votes). But the poll's outcome was not impacted. Two Snowbird employees even voted for other resorts - one for Alta, the other for Solitude.
Solitude fared well in the poll, posting a 3.1-1 ratio in favorite/ least favorite votes and receiving numerous plaudits for its Honeycomb Canyon powder shots, its consistent lack of lift lines, good snow and family friendly atmosphere.
"The name says it all," said Andrew Huffaker.
"I still feel like I am in a somewhat wild and natural environment when I am skiing there," added Kellicq Bellon.
Its few detractors complained about too many flat areas and, as Bud Hertig put it, "the high-speed lifts take you to boring areas, while you can only access the good stuff by lifts that are slow." Snowbasin also enjoyed strong popular support with limited criticism (a 4.2-1 ratio). It was hailed for its varied terrain, with long intermediate runs, great powder shots in the John Paul area and thrills aplenty on the Olympic men's and women's downhill slopes (Grizzly and Wildflower). Lack of crowds and luxurious lodges also factored into its appeal.
"The gondolas make life on the mountain very comfortable, the food is great, the staff is friendly and the snow is phenomenal," said Nancy Stukan. "Let's not let the secret out about the lack of a crowd." But moving from quaint little resort to Olympic venue came with a price: Higher lift tickets and, as Greg Greer saw it: "I'm all for high-end skiing/boarding, but I don't like the elitist attitude that sometimes accompanies it."
PRAISE MIXED WITH CRITICISM For Park City area resorts, the Tribune poll showed that people can look at a situation and come away with completely different perceptions.
The Canyons, for instance, drew almost equal amounts of applause and criticism for its expansive layout. Half of respondents claimed it led to long, boring runouts and connector traverses ending in long lift lines. The other half praised the resort's spread-out nature for dispersing crowds.
Deer Valley, similarly, took big hits for the opulence and tender- loving care that makes it famous worldwide.
"Awesome service and you've got to love the drop-off curb in the morning," said Emily Blankenship. But not if you're among the 42 people who described the resort and its crowd as "pretentious," "elitist," "snooty" or "stuffy," objecting to its high lift prices and overly groomed runs.
Some of the harsher comments were voiced about Park City Mountain Resort for having boring terrain, long runouts, weird fall lines, lifts that break down frequently, big crowds and marginal snow. "I am told that 'Park City' is an ancient Ute expression for 'flat land without snow,' " said Chris Adams.
Brighton had its backers, but 80 people listed it as the worst resort, not simply because it caters so heavily to snowboarders but because the 'boarders it attracts tend to be teen-age boys who, in Wendy Bradley's perception, "have a very short and inattentive span to the fact that others are also on the mountain." Power Mountain above Eden and Beaver Mountain above Logan, clearly have loyal fans who said they appreciate the northern Utah resorts' good snow, low prices, short lift lines and family atmospheres. But they are too far away from the Wasatch Front to receive much attention. And poll participants didn't seem to know much about Brian Head, Sundance and Wolf Mountain because they are small and outside the circle of better known resorts.
Utah resorts have runs to suit every taste, from perpendicular thrillers to Park City Mountain Resort's terrain parks, the mining theme-park trail at Snowbird and the south slope of now-closed Blue Mountain resort outside Monticello. Thirty-three runs were named as favorites by at least two people, 17 had 6-10 fans and nine more had 11-20.
Another 16 respondents said they would never tell. One, a guy named Christopher, offered only this nickname: "Better than Sex. At least that's what we call it. If I told you the real name then more people would ski there and the lack of fresh powder would make it less than the best run." Other accolades: Alf's High Rustler - "It IS what skiing is supposed to be." The Cirque - "If you can beat all the grizzly old regulars, you can ride powder like you see in videos." Powder Mountain backside - "Solitude and powder. What else do you need?" Jupiter Peak's middle chute, Park City - "Steep, long, fun to get scared on." Honeycomb Canyon, Solitude - "2,000 feet of vertical 2 or 3 days after a storm." Candyland, Brighton - "Groomers, trees, park or powder. You can mix and match your route in the moment." Mushroom Valley, Power Mountain - "Go and snowboard it and you will see why!!" Mach Schnell, Snowbird - "With a name like Mach Schnell, how can it not be cool?"
WHY DON'T MORE UTAHNS SKI?
Bill Emmett summarized most "too expensive" comments: "To outfit a family of five or 12 is pretty dang expensive, even with discounts, ski swaps and bargains." Resorts also were panned for not offering more affordable season passes for adults. "Look at the pass rates in Colorado," said Andrew Huffaker. "$379 for unlimited skiing at three resorts [Keystone, Breckenridge, Arapahoe Basin]. $379!*&"? That's less than a third of the cost of most season pass rates in Utah." While cost was the overriding factor, other reasons cited included: - "Living so close to the greatest snow on earth makes it too easy to take it for granted. When you travel for a ski vacation, you are a captive. When it's so close, it's easy to say, 'I'll ski tomorrow' but tomorrow never comes." - "Shhh. We don't need any more namby pamby whiners on our slopes. We have enough New Yorkers." - "The dominant culture is suburban and doesn't promote risk taking or outdoor pursuits. The culture promotes looking good, not feeling good, so shopping and doing your hair appears to be a more popular pursuit than putting on a hat and enjoying the Utah outdoors."
MIKE GORRELL can be contacted at email@example.com" Target="_BLANK">firstname.lastname@example.org or 801-257-8734. Send comments about this story to email@example.com" Target="_BLANK">firstname.lastname@example.org.