By Kara Williams, on November 27, 2014

What’s new at Utah ski resorts

Here’s the beauty of planning a ski vacation in Utah: World-class resorts are only a 40-minute drive from the Salt Lake City International Airport. That means travelers from the East Coast can hop on an early morning flight and—thanks to the favorable time change—hit the Utah slopes after lunch to fit in a couple of hours of skiing or boarding before lifts close in the late afternoon.

Of course, I also recommend easing into a ski vacation—acclimating to mountain elevation, checking out local restaurants, and soaking in the hotel’s hot tub (there’s no harm in soothing travel-weary muscles before your outdoor workout).

Plenty of mountain improvements welcome Utah’s skiers and snowboarders this season. Here’s a snapshot of what’s new at some of state’s most popular ski areas.

Deer Valley Resort

In August 2014, the Deer Valley Resort, a 5-minute drive from downtown Park City, opened The Brass Tag restaurant in the Lodges at Deer Valley. Serving dinner nightly year-round, the eatery specializes in brick-oven menu items, including house-cured duck and parma prosciutto flat bread, brick-oven shrimp skillet, and tandoori-rubbed quail. The name of the restaurant reflects the area’s history: Local miners used brass tags hung on a board to check in and out of work in the mines.

The upscale resort also has invested heavily in on-mountain equipment, including new snow-making guns, snowcats, and snowmobiles; and has added four Cadillacs to the lodging transportation fleet. In related news, Deer Valley Resort has entered into an agreement to purchase Utah’s Solitude Mountain Resort and is scheduled to begin operating that property in May 2015.

Viewfinder Tip: Pack sunscreen and lip balm to use on your face while skiing in Utah. You’ll need it for the strong sun at high elevation in the mountains.

Canyons Resort

Park City’s Canyons Resort (pictured at top) has revamped Cloud Dine atop Dream Peak, one of the ski area’s most popular ski-in/ski-out dining locations. The resort replaced the restaurant’s temporary building with a permanent space that nearly has doubled its seating capacity for those skiers and snowboarders who flock to the resort for its average 355 inches of snowfall. The menu continues to include made-to-order salads, homemade pizzas, and specialty sandwiches.

Park City Mountain Resort

Earlier this year Vail Resorts, which also owns Canyons Resort, acquired Park City Mountain Resort and its 3,300 acres of novice-to-expert terrain. Not all locals welcomed this news with open arms; some longtime PCMR fans feared too much “change” to their beloved mountain. But according to a PCMR spokesperson, no big changes are on the horizon—at least for the 2014-2015 season. The new ownership is a huge bonus for Vail Resorts season pass holders, as its “Epic Pass” now offers skiing at both Canyons and PCMR, as well as 20 additional resorts around the world. Access to PCMR also is included on the Epic 4-Day, Epic 7-Day and Epic Local Pass this season.

Alta Ski Area

Regular visitors to Alta Ski Area, about a 40-minute drive southeast of downtown Salt Lake City, will find a totally new Corkscrew run. While I’m not personally familiar with this trail, apparently it had been appropriately named: The trail had a too-steep top-end pitch, a blind corner, and a funnel where skiers all came together in a traffic jam. Now it has a relatively consistent pitch and width, with much better visibility.

Snow Basin

Snowbasin Resort, 35 miles north of downtown Salt Lake City, is known for its excellent groomed conditions. It has purchased three more snowcats to make grooming even more consistent. The resort also invested in new snow-making equipment with 30 energy-efficient snow guns.

Nordic Valley Resort

First it was Nordic Valley Resort, then it became known as Wolf Mountain, and this year the ski resort an hour north of Salt Lake City, is reverting its roots, with a name change back to Nordic Valley Resort once again. New owners are upgrading the ski area by mapping and cutting brand-new trails, which will add nearly 800 vertical feet to the current 1,000-foot ski hill.

Cherry Peak Resort

A bit further afield, Utah’s newest ski area, Cherry Peak Resort, is in Richmond, Utah, nearly two hours north of Salt Lake City. It’s the first brand-new ski resort to be built in the state in decades. With three triple chairlifts and 20 runs, it’s not huge by any means, but Cherry Peak does have a full snow-making system and a 500-foot magic carpet for beginner lessons. It also boasts tubing lanes, ice skating, and floodlights for night skiing.

What do you look for when booking a ski vacation?