Many changes on tap as Utah optimistic for upcoming ski season

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Ski kids at Park CityUtah, which boasts some of the top ski resorts in the country, suffered a disappointing 2008-2009 winter season, thanks in part to the vagaries of Mother Nature coupled with a shaky economy. In all, the state's ski industry lost 6.5% of its annual skier visits compared with the previous year.

That said, the 2007-08 season was one of Ski Utah's fifth consecutive record-breaking years, and the state's industry experts are bullish that the upcoming season will put Utah back on top.

Slippery slopes

In addition to what Ski Utah calls "The Greatest Snow on Earth," with about 500 inches of snow a year, 11 of Utah's 13 ski resorts also have the advantage of being within an hour's drive of Salt Lake City Airport, which was recently ranked No. 1 in on-time flights, according to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

This proximity means that skiers and snowboarders can hit the slopes on arrival day. And because many of the mountains are near each other, reciprocal lift tickets also are widely available. The Ski Salt Lake Superpass, for example, is valid at Alta, Brighton, Snowbird and Solitude.

To make skiing in Utah even more attractive for the coming season, local legislators have done the unthinkable: They changed the state's long-standing liquor laws, opening bars to the public and eliminating the private club system that had been in place for four decades.

Improvements on the way

Following is a sampling of improvements under way at Utah resorts for the winter season.

• The Canyons Resort is targeting high-end visitors with the new ski-in, ski-out Dakota Mountain Lodge & Golden Door Spa, a Waldorf-Astoria Collection property. The 175-room hotel, which opened in July, features everything from double rooms to six-bedroom suites, all decked out with kitchens, fireplaces and private terraces. In addition to the spa, the property features the Spruce Park City restaurant, overseen by chef Mark Sullivan. Dakota Mountain Lodge is offering introductory rates starting at $139 per night through Dec. 15.

• Deer Valley Resort also is the site of a new luxury property, the 248-room St. Regis Deer Crest Resort. Features include the 13,000-square-foot Remede Spa, an infinity pool and a manmade beach. The property, which is opening Nov. 5, is offering starting rack rates of about $200.

• Park City Mountain Resort, just 36 miles from Salt Lake City Airport, has created two Kids Adventure Trails designed to coordinate with the Signature 5 Program for children ages 6 to 14. The program guarantees class sizes of no more than five students per day, including during holidays. A Signature 3 Program focuses on on- and off-slope fun and instruction for kids ages 3½ to 5.

Powder's fresh

• Powder Mountain is offering new Sunset Safari guided snowcat tours of the summit, followed by an outdoor sunset dinner on the mountain and a return trip by moonlight. Tours, which require reservations, are priced at about $75 per person.

• Snowbasin Sun Valley Resort has gone all out this year with enhancements to its terrain parks, including 20 new trails designed to appeal to adrenaline seekers. There are three parks in all, ranging from small to large, and instructional programs include lessons in using the parks system.

• Wolf Creek Utah is trimming prices at its Mountain Learning Center by 25%. A full-day lesson is priced at $55; $40 for a half-day.

Visit www.skiutah.com.

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