Wonderful Wintry Ways to Spend Your Holiday Break
Let’s face it, around the time Santa is loading up his sleigh, not much gets done at the office. That’s why it’s the most wonderful time of the year to take advantage of the icy weather. Here are a few rousing ways to spend the holidays. Fair warning: None of them involve standard American entertainment, like how best to portion a bird carcass or how to get the best deals on electronics at 2:00 a.m. If an alpine start is involved, there had better be a snowy magic carpet ride to go with it. If you’re the type who would rather share experiences than exchange gifts, consider this your holiday shopping cart.
Visit the white room in style. Skip the lines and holiday tourist traffic chaos at the resorts and sign up for a full day of heli-skiing in Utah’s backcountry powder paradise. Prices start at $1,100 per person and include 6–7 runs with a professional guide for every four people. Guests are divided into groups by ability levels and are guided through according terrain, so whether you’re moderately comfortable on expert terrain or the best skier on the mountain your lines will be worthy. Here’s a tip between you and me that isn’t on the menu: if you’re looking for just one drop, you can fly for as low as $250 per person with Wasatch Powderbird Guides and it comes with a guide. Diamond Peaks, Wasatch Powder Guides, and Park City Powder Cats operate heli-ski tours in the Wasatch.
If you don’t want to pay to “chopper in,” you’ll find that snowcat-skiing provides great access to backcountry skiing/riding and costs much less. In fact, Powder Mountain sells single-ride passes for just $18 and will drop you at the top of Lighting Ridge where you can access 700 acres of freshies or hike another 30 minutes to the summit of James Peak for some bonus vert. Alta Ski Area has a $325 package for five runs, or you can opt for the full monty and hop on board with Park City Powder Cats for $399 per person for 8–12 rides. Discounts are given for multi-day trips and group reservations.
C’mon don’t be a sissy, winter camping can be magical and is an underutilized source of peace and quiet—especially if you have the right gear. Having winter-specific gear that is made for cold weather camping can be the difference between a happy camper and a hypoxic camper. Get a permit from the Public Lands Information Center and camp close by at the Jordan Pines Campground in Big Cottonwood Canyon where there are seven sites available November through February. This is a great base camp for nearby access to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails. All of Utah’s national parks offer limited winter camping options and some have heated restrooms, which are a welcome amenity to midnight loo-goers. The US Forest Service has good information on their website about restrictions, availability, and potential dangers.
Build an Igloo
What a merry excuse to use your ski touring snow saw and shovel! You know, aside from the joy you derive from using them to perform extended column tests. The beauty of this project is that you can do it in your backyard, provided there is enough snow; or if not, grab a few friends and explore a remote locale where there is plenty of snow for your icy edifice. After you’re done mixing drink specials at your new ice bar and doing whatever other totally normal things one might do in an igloo, the Forest Service requires that you destroy your industrious accomplishment to maintain the integrity of the wilderness area. Click here for detailed instructions on igloo construction.
If you’re after a little solitude and communion with nature, going on a hut trip is just the ticket. Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation operates the Big Water Yurt in Millcreek Canyon, which sleeps 4–8 people in double bunk beds for $75 per night and has a wood stove, a propane lantern, and detached restrooms. You can also try the East Canyon State Park Yurt System, which has availability for yurt stays year-round by reservation. These yurts accommodate up to six people, cost $60 per night and include couch seating, a propane stove, electrical outlets, and nearby drinking water and restrooms. Reservations can be made up to 16 weeks in advance. White Pine Touring owns a Yurt at Castle Peak that sleeps nine and rents for $99 per night. It features a wood burning and propane stove as well as a sauna hut to keep you toasty! The Utah State University Outdoor Recreation Program rents four yurts in Northern Utah for between $64–$120 that sleep up to 12 people and feature (drum roll…) a kitchen!
Bobsled and Skeleton Rides
Have you ever gone 80 mph on a bobsled? If you have then you already know that it’s 60 of the most exhilarating seconds of your life. If you haven’t, you’re in for quite a thrill. After your first ride you’ll want to hop in line to do it all over again. The Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation runs Comet Bobsled winter rides by reservation starting mid-December. It costs $200 per person—that works out to $40 per every one G of force. For an extra $25 you can also try the Rocket Skeleton Ride head-first down the Olympic Track at 50 mph.
This is a great activity for all ages. Teams of 12 gorgeous Malamute and Husky dogs whisk passengers through snowy backdrops for one to three hours with a meal stop along the way. Tours include a bit of mush training too. Why is this not a form of everyday travel? Custom tours are available for groups and routes depend on weather conditions. Rates vary, but you can expect to pay about $375 per hour. This kind of holiday cheer will have you singing loud for all to hear. Plus, for no additional charge, you also get to cuddle and play with the pups. Some operators include photographers so you can focus on enjoying the ride instead of manning the camera. Several companies offer tours from the Park City area including Pawsatch, North Forty Escapes, and Rocky Mountain Recreation. When you’re booking ask about their sleigh-rides and you can combine these two adventures for a full day of frosty fun.
Escape to a Cabin
Get out of town and head to a cabin in the woods. Check in at Utah’s Sundance Mountain Resort to treat yourself to winter activities galore. Lodging starts at $159 per night for standard rooms, but you can also reserve a studio, suite, loft, or mountain home. In addition to alpine skiing (day or night), guests can take advantage of yoga, cross-country skiing, winter fly-fishing, and night-owling. This does not mean a late night at the resort’s Owl Bar. It’s a guided snowshoe/Nordic skiing tour on well-groomed trails in search of owls and other night creatures with wildlife experts, but the Owl Bar is cool too. If you stay during the right moon phase, you can delight in a full moon snowshoe tour. When you’re done playing outside, head to the spa for some profound relaxation with a deep tissue massage. The Mountain Suites include a fireplace so you can cozy up while you decompress from all of the snowman-making and other fun-having things you did during your holiday getaway.