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Deer Valley and Park City skiing and lodging

Park City, Utah – By their lonesomes, the three big ski resorts in and around this former Wasatch Mountain mining town would have to be considered remarkable.

Combined, they make for one of the best ski destinations anywhere in North America. And they just keep getting better, much to the joy of the thousands of skiers and snowboarders who flock here each winter to play.

In fact, my family and I could easily double the four days we spend here each winter skiing at The Canyons, Deer Valley and Park City Mountain Resort. And we still wouldn’t fill half of our wish list of things to do.

But we try by going on horse-drawn sleigh rides, dog-sledding, tubing and even flying down the Olympic bobsled track. All that is in addition to trying out what’s new on the slopes.

Bill Battersby, an Illinois native who grew up skiing at resorts in southern Wisconsin, says he’s long preferred skiing in Utah to other parts of the country.

“For starters, we have incredibly light snow here,” said Battersby, who first skied at Park City in the 1970s and lives there full-time now.

“The resorts keep adding new runs, opening up glades or expanding terrain parks. Then there is all the out-of-bounds skiing and riding available. That why I live here.”

For starters, you can catch an early morning flight from Milwaukee and be on the slopes by noon for a couple of hours of skiing because Park City is only a 35-minute drive from the Salt Lake City airport.

Better yet, thanks to a program called Quick Start, that first day is free if you present your airline boarding pass and fill out an www.visitparkcity.com/quickstart/?quickstartstep=1″>online voucher at www.visitparkcity.com.

My family’s most recent visit started at The Canyons, which had some big changes. The resort re-contoured its base before last season, moving the existing gondola and adding an enclosed Orange Bubble chair lift, complete with heated seats.

When I rode this lift with my kids in January, it was as if we were inside a giant auburn pair of goggles.

“Way cool,” said 9-year-old Anders.

“And the seats really are toasty,” mused Maddie, 11.

With the addition of this new lift, which is just steps from the Grand Summit Hotel, the resort’s uphill capacity from the base mountain increased by nearly 50%. Moreover, skiers and snowboarders can now get to the top of the mountain at nearly 10,000 feet in just nine minutes.

The Canyons, which was already Utah’s largest resort, also added 300 acres and 10 runs to its southern flank by opening the Iron Mountain quad lift. The new pistes range from intermediate to expert and bring the total number to a whopping 182.

This addition means the Canyons now spans 4,000 acres, making it one of the biggest in North America. It also has a vertical drop of nearly 3,200 feet, nine separate peaks, five bowls, six natural half pipes, 19 lifts and one of my favorite on-slope restaurants in the Lookout Cabin.

When we visited The Canyons, my kids spent the day at the resort’s top-notch ski school. I connected with my buddy Craig McCarthy, who led me all over the giant resort. We started at the north end, zipping down runs off the Super Condor Express lift, worked our way south to ski pistes above Red Pine Lodge and then flew down trails, under bridges and past massive vacation homes owned by the uber-rich off the Tombstone chair.

And when we finished lunch at the Lookout, we got some of the first runs of the year on the slopes off the Iron Mountain chair, which debuted during our visit. There is plenty to do for non-skiers, too. While the kids and I schussed, my wife visited a masseuse at the VIE Nouveau Spa to work out some of her aches and pains.

Lift goes into town

Down the road at Park City Mountain Resort, which has a lift that goes directly into the former mining town, a newly dedicated beginner zone was added with two conveyor lifts for novice ski and snowboard school students of all ages.

The 3 Kings lift was also replaced, doubling its capacity to carry skiers and riders to top of 3 Kings Terrain Park. And for those looking for a different kind of thrill, there’s a new zip line that operates year-round.

Park City Mountain Resort now has 114 trails spread out over 3,300 acres, eight peaks, nine bowls, one super pipe, 16 lifts, a 3,100 vertical and 10,000-foot summit. It also boasts the well-run Kids Signature 5 program, which guarantees that no more than five children will be in its ages 6-14 ski and snowboard lessons, all winter.

And no story on this resort would be complete without the mention of its excellent grooming on steep slopes – dubbed the Signature runs – so intermediates can feel like experts.

Skis only, please

Just to the south of the town of Park City is Deer Valley, which is known for pampering its skiing visitors – snowboarders are verboten – more than any other resort.

For the past five years, readers of SKI Magazine have rated Deer Valley the No. 1 ski resort in North America. And the lift lines? There aren’t any because it limits lift ticket sales.

The big news at Deer Valley is the luxurious Montage hotel, located in the Empire Canyon area of the resort, which has a spectacular mid-mountain location served by three high-speed lifts.

Under construction for nearly three years, it opened last December and has the feel of a classic national park hotel. It boasts a 35,000-square-foot alpine-inspired spa, a pool modeled on one at the William Randolph Hearst estate in California, 220 guest rooms and suites, ski concierge and several restaurants. It’s also adding a skating rink come December.

“Montage looked at around 14 different mountain resorts before choosing Park City and Deer Valley,” spokesman Dan Howard said. “The service levels at Deer Valley fit perfectly with our aspirations for our guests.

“Add to that its culinary reputation, excellent skiing, proximity to the airport and the authenticity of historic Park City, which is also home to the Sundance Film Festival,” he added.

What my kids liked best at the Montage was Daly’s gastropub – named after a silver mine in the area – that featured bowling lanes, billiards, darts, arcade games, free Wii, widescreen televisions for watching sporting events, and a menu filled with tasty pizzas, burgers, shakes, sodas and other fare.

It’s an elegant addition to Deer Valley, where former Romanian National ski team member Simona Popescu has been teaching for several years now. She was our guide for a morning of schussing around the resort, which boasts a 3,000-foot vertical decent, 2,026 acres, 100 runs, 21 lifts, six peaks, six bowls and a summit of 9,750 feet.

Once derisively called Bambi Basin for its easy terrain, Deer Valley has expanded from its early days to include steeps, including runs off Empire Peak that offer the most expert terrain at the resort. Be forewarned, there are no green runs off the top of Empire. And the Daly Bowl and Chutes will challenge even the best skiers.

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If you go

For more information on lodging, dining, skiing, snowboarding and other activities around Park City www.abodeparkcity.com