Salt Lake City, Utah

The field-, stream-, and mountain-hemmed skyline of Salt Lake City     Photo: Corbis

POPULATION: 182,000 // MEDIAN AGE: 30 // MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $204,300 // AVERAGE COMMUTE: 19.2 min.

When the mayor of the largest city in Utah uses his annual State of the City address to evangelize about sustainability, greenhouse-gas reduction, and the downsides of Wal-Mart, you know something's brewing on the Wasatch Front. The speech, delivered in January by Rocky Anderson, a Democrat elected in 1999, is but one indication that Salt Lake City—a near-perfect location for avid outdoor adventurers—is gradually wriggling itself into the environmental forefront. In 2002, the city government independently latched on to the Kyoto Protocol goals, vowing to cut its emissions of greenhouse gases 21 percent by 2012. Light-rail lines, christened just in time for the 2002 Winter Olympics, reduce auto traffic by funneling 44,000 riders a day in and out of downtown, while the SLC sewage-treatment plant turns released methane into electricity to help run itself. All of this plays to mixed reviews in conservative Utah. "People who live in the city love [Anderson]," says Vicki Bennett, Salt Lake's environmental- programs manager. "The state legislature hates him." Politics aside, sunny SLC offers much more than its lingering Donny Osmond stereotype suggests—most notably, quick access to the Wasatch Range's dazzling canyons and near-12,000-foot peaks.

PROGRESSIVE CRED // Compact fluorescents now light city offices, and traffic signals glow with energy-saving LED bulbs. Plans for a 1.2-million-square-foot west-side "sprawl mall," as Anderson dubbed it, were tabled after opponents derided its dependence on car traffic and its threat to locally owned stores. On the negative side, because it's tucked into a smog-collecting basin, air quality in the Salt Lake Valley remains alarming at times. But, hey, you gotta start somewhere.
LIVABILITY // Yes, you can buy a cocktail, and, no, not everyone is a Mormon. (Just under 50 percent of city residents belong to the Church of Latter-day Saints.) Salt Lake earns glowing reviews these days from dog lovers, vegetarians, bookstore browsers, microbrew guzzlers, and especially recreationists. Within an hour lie the crowd-pleasing powder stashes of Alta, Snowbird, Deer Valley, and backcountry chutes galore. Singletrack abounds in Big and Little Cottonwood and five other canyons, and the Provo River is thick with trout. The University of Utah, the LDS church, and Delta Airlines all employ big numbers.
YOU'LL LOVE IT IF // You think living in one of the nation's most underrated outdoor meccas, in exchange for endless polygamy jokes from your out-of-state friends, is a pretty fair trade.

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