There’s been a lot of anticipation floating around the Wasatch Front lately. Skiers and snowboarders have begun performing their yearly ritual of glancing eagerly at their beloved mountains, watching for the first sign of snow, breathlessly awaiting the day when they can once again find themselves careening down a black diamond run.
I am decidedly not one of them. I’m perfectly happy to avoid the sensation of blisteringly cold wind rushing through my hair and ice chunks smacking me in the face. My winters are totally complete without the adrenaline rush of stepping off a lift, looking out at the glorious white wonderland and promptly falling flat on my ass, spinning around on my back for a while and then spending several embarrassing moments trying to get my skis reattached to my boots. I’ve tried it enough times, and I’m ready to admit it: skiing is not my sport. And snowboarding? I could swear I still have bruises from last winter.
So this year, I’ve decided to admit defeat. Utah’s famous powder will go untouched, at least by me. And yet, I’m too enchanted by the pink cheeks and numb toes that accompany winter sports to spend the season in my pajamas. I still want to bundle up and play outside, and to witness the beauty of Utah under its dazzling white blanket of snow. Luckily, there are plenty of cheek-pinking options here in the Salt Lake Valley that do not involve facing down a menacing murder-death slope (read: anything beyond “bunny hill”).
Cross-country skiing is a sensational horizontal alternative to downhill, and the snowy enjoyment factor is quite high, especially once you become proficient enough to enjoy the backcountry vistas. White Pine Touring Center, located at the Park City Golf Course, offers all-inclusive cross-country adventures for a relatively low price. There you’ll find both classic (traditional method of keeping your skis parallel) and skating (sliding your skis one at a time, like a longer version of ice skating) tracks that are groomed daily. An adult day pass at White Pine is $12, kids ages 6-12 can ski for $6, and children under 6 and seniors are free. Equipment rental is $12 for classic and $15 for skating. Kids can try either method for $7.
Eventually, however, a groomed track is going to sound less appealing than a serene canyon road. Millcreek Canyon, past the winter gate, is a popular choice. Solitude and Sundance ski resorts also feature cross-country options. A day pass to Solitude’s Nordic Track is $10, and an afternoon half-day pass is $7. You can rent cross-country equipment (the skis, boots and poles are different from those you’d use on the death-slopes) at any ski rental venue, but if you prefer your own, a full cross-country package at REI is going to run you about $500.
For the hiker in your heart, snowshoeing is a great way to stay acquainted with your favorite Wasatch trails. Snowshoeing enthusiast and REI employee Dave Fulghum explains one of the greatest aspects of snowshoeing: “Wanna know the difference between a novice and an expert snowshoer? Ten steps.”
The only skill you’ll need to master before you can embark on a snowshoeing adventure is walking. (Don’t laugh! Not all of us can walk without tripping over ourselves and running into large and very visible objects yet!) A great butt-burning activity for all ages, snowshoeing is as close as your favorite local canyon. And the only equipment you’ll need is a warm outfit, a pair of comfortable waterproofed shoes, some old ski poles, a backpack with a light lunch and, of course, a pair of snowshoes. Rental is available at both Wasatch Touring and Kirkham’s for $8 a day, and again, if you like your own equipment, REI’s snowshoes range from about $100 to $250.
To determine how big your snowshoes should be, you’ll need to do a little math. Any snowshoe will hold about one pound per square inch. So if you weigh 200 pounds, add about 15 pounds for clothes and 15 pounds for a bag with provisions, you’ll need about 230 square inch shoes. It’s best to stay under your weight limit, so aim for perhaps 10-inch by 25-inch shoes. Of course, Fulghum said, “after a fresh Wasatch powder, you can go to Home Depot and strap screen doors on your feet and you’ll still sink.”
Another vital component to look for in a snowshoe is the crampon—the little metal claw on the bottom that lets you dig into the snow. The less expensive shoes have aluminum crampons, but Fulghum recommends stainless steel, particularly for early or late-season snowshoeing, when exposed rock will wear down aluminum.
Millcreek Canyon, Reynolds Flats in Big Cottonwood Canyon, White Pine in Little Cottonwood, Mountain Dell Golf Course and City Creek Canyon are good, low-avalanche hazard spots. As with any backcountry mountain sport, though, always snowshoe in groups, carry a light and a shovel, and check avalanche danger before setting out.
While the great outdoors are fine and dandy, sometimes you want to experience your winter sports without breathing in a nasty temperature inversion. For the lung-conscious, the local ice rink affords many athletic options that are conducive to a post-workout hot cocoa.
For the competitive sportster, a hockey league is an option, although it’s certainly not for the cost-conscious. You’ll need some equipment: skates, helmet, gloves, stick, shin pads, pants, elbow pads and shoulder pads (coaches usually provide the pucks), for which an adult will shell out from $300 up to your credit limit.
Unless you’re gifted with a score of vivid imaginary friends, you’ll also need a team. The Salt Lake County Hockey League is separated into three divisions: A is for advanced, B is for, um, not quite as advanced, and C is recreational. The season lasts all winter (with an Olympic break this year), and the county ice rinks in West Valley City, Murray and Salt Lake City offer clinics in the off-season. Adults sign up for the league as already-formed teams, but if you don’t have that many friends, the rinks will make your name and number available to team captains. The cost per team is $2,500 a season, which usually breaks down to $150 to $200 per player. Off-season clinics cost $50 for four sessions.
If you want to take to the ice but don’t have that lust for blood and violence, then plain old ice-skating might be a better option. The county ice rinks offer “Learn to Skate” programs individually for youth and adults of all skill levels, and can recommend private instructors for more advanced skating techniques, such as figure or speed-skating. All county and private skating rinks offer public skating hours, and the cost is always under $5.