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Olympic Emeritus: Salt Lake City, UT

After the Games, better access to Utah fluff turns.

[Editor’s Note: The Sochi Olympics kick off February 7. We’d rather revel in winter’s cold sting and icy beauty with games of our own. Join us, and check in each week through February 11 for a visitor’s guide to North America’s past Olympic hosts: Lake Placid, NY | Squaw Valley, CA | Calgary, AB | Vancouver, BC]

Skiing in Utah has always been easy. Fly into Salt Lake City and your bags are often waiting for you—not the other way around, as is far too often the case in Denver. Catch a shuttle and you can be booting up at one of seven resorts in 45 minutes. That’s part of the reason why the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games were such a resounding smash. The other reason is the tired but no less true “Greatest Snow On Earth” factor.

Still, to ensure that the Games would fly without a traffic snarl, Utah went crazy investing $59 million into its transportation infrastructure, expanding I-15 and building two light rail lines. (All the funds were paid back.) More recently, they’ve added two more hyper efficient light rail lines, with three more in the works. All of which serve to pull even more cars off the roads. Which, for good or ill, frees up the Interstates for skier traffic—hopefully in shuttles or buses.

I fly into SLC two to three times each winter, and even during storms I’ve never been held up from airport to resort. True, now that everyone is a powder skiing magnate, a big day will cause delays in Little Cottonwood, but in my experience that’s often more of an avalanche control issue than a volume deal. It’s also a good excuse to head to Deer Valley in Park City for a day of untracked. The takeaway from all this “Greatest Access on Earth” talk? It’s entirely possible for me to chase a storm to Utah—and be skiing quicker than if I’d driven from my home on Colorado’s Front Range to Beaver Creek.

The Vancouver Games brought similar enhancements in accessibility to Whistler Blackcomb. Beyond the venues and the good feelings, efficient transportation is probably the most lasting and important benefit of landing the Winter Games. The 21st century version of the Olympics may not be the stuff of small towns (Lake Placid) and mountain valleys (Squaw), but if you’re going skiing in Utah today, your five-day vacation means five days of skiing. You simply do not need to rent a car. All thanks to the Games.

Ski: Eleven ski resorts sit an hour’s drive from the airport. Visit Snowbird for steeps. Try night skiing at Brighton. Unleash your inner park rat at Park City Mountain Resort. Escape the crowds at Snowbasin. Each area has its unique charms; all share Utah’s infamous blower pow if you catch a Wasatch storm. Or maximize your visit with Ski Utah’s Interconnect Tour and ski up to six resorts in one day.

Olympic Connection: Load up on G forces and adrenalin at Utah Olympic Park with a bobsled ride, or take icy curves head-first on a skeleton sled. This Park City training ground is also the place to catch tomorrow’s Olympians in action—national team athletes in ski jumping and aerials train here year-round.

Down Day: Catch annual cultural mainstays like the Sundance Film Festival or the Kimball Arts Festival in Park City. Wander among the dinosaur bones at the Natural History Museum of Utah and get hands-on with science and technology at The Leonardo, a museum in downtown Salt Lake City. Or head to Park City for free Nordic skiing and fat biking.

Local Knowledge

Autographed race banners, white tablecloth service, and a Continental menu give Adolph’s in Park City an Old World feel.

In 2012, Powder House Ski Shop opened a storefront in the Salt Lake Valley, bringing 60 years of experience in Little Cottonwood Canyon to a more accessible location.

With the guides of Utah Mountain Adventures, chart a human-powered interconnect of Wasatch ski resorts or explore backcountry zones farther afield.  —Marc Peruzzi | Photos by (in order) Mike Brown, Douglas Pulsipher, Ilja Herb, and Steve Greenwood

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