Ski spree


POSTED: Sunday, April 19, 2009

Suffering from survivor's guilt and depression after 18 coworkers had been laid off, I didn't feel like going on my first-ever ski trip during spring break. It seemed insensitive taking a weeklong ski vacation in Utah. But the trip had been planned months before, I had nonrefundable plane tickets and felt I'd better use them.





        » Skiers Accommodations, owned by Tom and Nancy Kronthaler, is a one-stop shop offering a variety of vacation rental homes within minutes of the ski areas. Discount ski-lift tickets and assistance in booking car and ski rentals available.

» Call: (800) 943-2426 or (801) 943-2426


» On the Net: www.utahskilodging.com/index.htm


» A five-bedroom, three-bath duplex with living room, dining room, full kitchen, loft, two-car garage and Wi-Fi connection for one week for 18 persons: $3,000 (about $166 per person).


» Other accommodations available in one- to four-bedroom units and for larger groups.




However, what I thought was a ski trip turned out to be much more.

I found myself being welcomed into the company of a delightful group of families and friends who had turned their passion for skiing into a 19-year tradition.

Except for my friend from Waipio Gentry, Dan Tanji, who invited me to join his volleyball friends, they had been a group of strangers. No matter, I just wanted to ski. But this bunch had found a way to frugally pursue a passion, instilling it in their own children.

The initial draw was Utah's world-class powder. Thanks to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, most skiers know pricier Park City. But the lesser-known ski resorts of Alta, Brighton, Solitude and Snowbird, clustered in the Wasatch Range, have the same snow at a cheaper price. Despite being lesser known, the world-renowned ski areas attract people from all over the globe. I heard German, Italian, French and Spanish being spoken.

The group of 18 rented a 2,800-square-foot, three-story, five-bedroom duplex in suburban Cottonwood Heights (30 minutes from the airport and about the same from the ski areas), on the outskirts of Salt Lake City. The cost: $3,000. Divided by 18, that's $166 per person. Brownbagging lunches and cooking breakfasts and dinners also helped cut costs. For six nights, my share for car rental, food and lodging: $280.

Food prices at the neighborhood grocery store, Smith's, were markedly lower than in Hawaii. At Smith's a gallon of milk costs $1.69 and a loaf of bread is 78 cents.

Staying at a vacation rental home has other advantages. The Hawaii kids made a snowman in the falling snow in the back yard, built and snowboarded down a ramp of packed snow alongside the house and everyone threw snowballs.

Trip coordinator Margie Nishio of Kailua said it is the people and not the skiing that make it special. She insists everyone shares meals together, and being under the same roof allows vacationers to enjoy one another's company after skiing rather than retreating to separate hotel rooms.

The laughter and conversation around the dining table were memorable.

I was skeptical when the “;children,”; now mostly in their 20s, except for two sisters, 13 and 14, were assigned to cook dinner. But they prepared surprisingly tasty dinners, and made everything from beef stew to baked salmon. Margie said when the parents cooked, the kids usually just sat around playing video games or watching TV. (The early-rising parents and other older ones cooked breakfast.) And the activity of planning and preparing a meal added to the fun and drew them closer together.

Cecily Kaya, a 22-year-old student at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, said it's a huge responsibility to feed such a large group, and took seriously preparing two pasta dishes and a strawberry dessert with her boyfriend.

Her single mom, Karen Kaya, who lives in Waipio-Gentry, said 15 years of ski trips have kept her close to her children, who are now in their 20s and living on both coasts. Her son, Jasen, 25, lives in Washington state. On the snow, however, they shed the usual parent-child roles and are just friends. And their love for snow sports provides endless fodder for conversation.

“;It sort of levels the relationship between all of us since it's a common activity,”; said Cecily. “;She's less of a mom on this trip. Now we kind of hang out together.”;

Margie's son Brice, 23, who's been skiing with his family since age 5, now is proficient at snowboarding.

“;This is the rare time we do stuff with our parents,”; along with siblings, cousins and family friends he's grown up with, he said.

Margie's son-in-law, Jason Young, 29, said when he and her daughter were first dating, Margie was already planning a ski trip and asked, “;You don't know if you guys are still going to be together when we go skiing?”;

Fortunately, he quickly caught on to snowboarding and got in good with the family.

The ski areas are all a convenient half-hour to 45-minute drive from Cottonwood Heights, depending on the weather.

Several young adults snowboard. Some in the group have switched from skis to snow blades—shorter, slower but more maneuverable. The group divided up on the slopes, but at noon, everyone gathered at the back of the vans and cars, where we assembled our own sandwiches.

That saved a bundle. One ski resort cafeteria sold a small soda for $2.25, a burger $6.45 and fries $4.25.

As for the resorts, everyone has their favorites.

Margie loves Brighton for its slopes, which she finds easiest and friendliest, and because it caters to families.

Karen finds Alta, with its long, wide runs, superior to the rest. There the powder is left for skiers alone. No snowboarders are allowed to scrape powder off the slopes.

Henry Leong, 51, of San Francisco, likes Solitude for its steeper, more challenging runs.

Cecily's boyfriend, Mike Park, 22, who skis on the East Coast, said Alta's his favorite. “;Trails are a lot wider, so you have more freedom ... and you can make your own runs very easily.”;

“;The most important thing is the powder is very light and very dry, so you can cut through inches and feet of snow,”; compared with the wetter and heavier snow in the east, he said.

As for my beginner skiing, I fell several times in the first two days.

I lost control, often speeding down the slope at breakneck speed and looking fabulous skiing side to side, then having my skis and legs end in a tangled mess.

I lost confidence skiing down a steep icy blue run (more difficult than a green run), which Dan claims he was not aware of at the time but only confessed later.

As I attempted to make my way down, Margie, with her uncanny ability to drain any drop of confidence in me, skied by yelling, “;Plow, plow.”; Of course, I was down in seconds.

Her unnerving way of watching “;in case something happens”; seemed to doom me to fall. Sure enough, I went down about five times during that single run. I could even sense her presence. Whenever she came along, boom, I ate it.

Due to the recent fatal skiing accident of actress Natasha Richardson, I was sporting a helmet, but my head was never injured. The bruises were lower.

Suffice it to say, I loved the thick mantle of powder after two storm systems moved in. I didn't mind the gray skies and poor visibility due to the heavily falling snow. I love the luxurious feel of soft snow beneath my skis, and the pillowy softness it provided whenever I landed in it.