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Ski resort of the week: Solitude

History: The history of Solitude goes way back into the annals of Utah skiing, starting with Robert Barrett, who made his fortune as a uranium miner during the heyday of mining in Moab in the early 1950s. He took up skiing when he moved to Salt Lake City. Story has it that while skiing one day at Alta, he was denied access to a restroom that was open for "guests only." So, he challenged, he'd build his own resort. He started construction in 1956, and the resort opened in 1957. The early years were somewhat turbulent for the Big Cottonwood Canyon resort. After an exchange of owners, a former member of the Solitude ski patrol purchased the area and started it on the road to world recognition. Dave DeSeelhorst purchased the resort in the late 1970s and continued the process, making it the first resort in Utah to introduce skiers to the now-popular high-speed quad in 1989. The DeSeelhorst family also spent eight years planning and building the resort's quaint European Alpine village, complete with lodges, dining and shops. The first of the buildings, the Creekside, was completed in 1995. The resort was also the first in Utah to introduce "hands-free, ticketless" access to the lifts.

What you know: The most popular run at the resort starts at Sunshine Bowl and goes into Hal's Hallow. It is a long, intermediate run accessed off the Eagle Express, the first high-speed quad in Utah. The new alignment of the lift opened a vast array of different runs — both intermediate and expert — leading to other lifts and areas. It also gives access to what is said to be the steepest groomed black-diamond run in Utah — Challenger. Expert skiers like to head off into Honeycomb Canyon, where they find some great tree skiing and challenging single and double black-diamond runs. This is an especially popular area after fresh snow has fallen. Solitude's upper lift also offers access to the connection between Big and Little Cottonwood canyons via the "Highway to Heaven," a vital link in the six-area Interconnect ski adventure.

When it comes time to eat, the traffic flows toward the Last Chance Day Lodge, which features not only the standard hamburgers and chili but also signature meals, such as its famous tacos and burritos. Because this is a popular locals resort, Utahns have learned that some of the best skiing is between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. This is the time of day when skiers are most likely to run into a lift line, albeit somewhat short in most cases.

What you should know: Not everyone is aware of Solitude's "hidden gems," which include Solitude Canyon, Summit Lift and Honeycomb Canyon, which holds the Honeycomb Lift. A little exploring into Solitude Canyon opens up some great intermediate runs, as well as several for the aspiring expert riders. Runs to consider include Dynamite, an intermediate groomed run, and Corner Chute, a challenging run that is steep but wide open. Heading into the Honeycomb area, strong intermediate-to-expert skiers will find a wide selection of runs, including Woodlawn, the area's longest groomed run. Experts can also traverse along the east-facing wall in the Upper Canyon area to find a bunch of challenging runs.

As is the trend with many skiers these days, the key to avoiding crowds is to arrive early and ski late. Because of the number of runs people can access during a day with the high-speed lift, most people tire long before the lifts close. Mornings are especially nice because of the lighting conditions, especially in Honeycomb. The best place to pick up a little powder a day or two after a storm is, again, in Solitude or Honeycomb canyons.

The better skiers will also want to take the Summit lift and head west along the west-facing wall and test some of the runs, especially Buckeye Jr. or Black Forest.

When it comes time to dine, one option is the Creekside Restaurant, which offers quiet, sit-down gourmet meals. Former San Francisco chef Lane Pellinger is said to offer diners some of the best soups in Utah. The most popular dining item is baked polenta with woodland mushrooms. Also popular is the Wasatch. This restaurant's signature Italian-style meatloaf is made from veal, pork, Gorgonzola cheese and fresh herbs and is topped with oven-roasted tomato sauce and melted provolone, on focaccia. Skiers also have the option of eating at one of three on-mountain restaurants. Solitude also operates the Nordic Center, at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon. The center provides 20 kilometers of prepared trails set for both classic and skate skiing, and offers instruction and equipment rentals, as well as snowshoe rentals.

Ski School: The most popular instructional program at the resort is called the "Learn to Ski" workshop for kids. The cost is $95 and includes an all-day lesson, lift ticket, lunch and ski rental. The program is open to kids between the ages of 4 and 12. There is also a similar program for snowboarders, but students in this program must be 7 or older. This is not a traditional children's program. Instructors in the Snowsports Academy combine a fun atmosphere and small group size to help children improve their technique and develop more confidence on the snow. In fact, the academy is the only program to offer instruction in all four on-snow disciplines — alpine skiing, snowboarding, telemarking and nordic skiing. The resort also offers instruction through a special Devo Team or Development Team. Enrollment is limited to 30. Each team member must be at least 6 years old and have skiing abilities that include linking turns on intermediate runs and turn completion in a parallel stance. Members must be able to ride a chairlift without the coach's help. The training days include drills on skiing fundamentals, moguls, snowblade skiing, all mountain free skiing, mountain awareness, safety and race training. Registration begins at the start of the season. Also, members of Solitude's professional ski patrol will guide groups of up to 10 guests through the Highway to Heaven and into the Wasatch backcountry's untracked powder. The daylong journey includes a lift ticket, lunch at the Creekside Restaurant, use of an avalanche transceiver, backpack, free-heel adapters for alpine skis, climbing skis and/or snowshoes.

Review: Solitude offers a long history of skiing and has long been considered one of Utah's "hidden jewels" when it comes to skiing. From either the Summit or Eagle Express, skiers are introduced to some wide-open, well-groomed, comfortably angled slopes. It's a nice place to ski and be introduced to a full range of skiing conditions, from steep tree skiing to the gentle rollers off Moonbeam.


Solitude facts

Number of lifts: 8 — 2 high-speed quads, 2 triple and 4 double

Number of runs: 63-plus

Longest run: Woodlawn, accessed off Honeycomb lift

Terrain: 20 percent beginner, 50 percent intermediate and 30 percent expert

Vertical: 2,047 feet

Skiable acres: 1,200

Top elevation: 10,035 feet

Snowboard: Yes