AdventureSnow Sports

Scouting Report: No-Hassle Family Skiing at Canyons

Canyons Resort. Photo: Scott Markewitz

Last week I was at Canyons Resort in Utah on official Outside business, and for the first time in months, I had to leave my children behind. Solo traveling has its pros and cons. On one hand, without little bodies pattering into my bedroom at 3 a.m. or hollering “Rise and Shine!” while it’s still black as night outside, the assignment was surprisingly relaxing. I actually came home more rested than when I’d left. On the other, it’s a kind of strange to find yourself at the epicenter of family adventure without, well, your own family.

Then again, because I wasn’t spending every free second bundling little ones into snowsuits and wrangling their gear, I had time to dial in the details on a sweet family ski trip.

With more than 4,000 acres of skiable terrain, Canyons is the third-largest ski resort in the country. And a quick 40 minutes from Salt Lake International Airport, just off I-80, and four miles from Park City, it’s easily the most accessible. You can land at 11 a.m. and be on the lift by 2. Show the ticket office your boarding pass, and you’ll ski for free the same day you fly. This is a sweet deal—especially when it’s dumping snow like it was the afternoon I arrived.

Hit the beach. The ski beach, that is. Photo: Dave Newkirk

But in this corner of the Wasatch, it’s not just about the skiing and the riding. And it’s not just about winter. Ever since opening in 1997, Canyons has been redefining what ski resorts do and reinventing itself as a legit four-season playground.

The Grand Summit Hotel is the big daddy at Canyons, a sprawling multi-story hotel right at the base of the lifts. Despite its commanding size, it’s still pretty unpretentious and has everything you need for setting up a family base camp in style: studio rooms with small kitchens, an outdoor pool and hot tub, indoor saunas and a steam room, a gym for off days, a café, general store, ski check, daycare, and the Red Tail Grill, a Southwestern-style restaurant where you’ll be tempted to eat all your meals. Doubles from $513.

While massive in its own right, Canyons doesn’t have the most vertical or the steepest shots, and its expert terrain can feel a little skimpy. But when little kids are in the picture, fewer black-diamond temptations can make skiing with kids less fraught. What it does have is lots of flawless corduroy, a slope-side ski school for rippers three and up, and a convenient layout that makes ferrying little ones up the mountain a snap. Take your littlests up the Red Pine Gondola to make some turns on the Sweet Pea Magic Carpet, conveniently located next to hot lunch care of the Red Pine Lodge.

When it’s really frosty (think negative 10 on one recent morning) take the gang and do laps on the signature Orange Bubble, the only heated bubble chairlift in North America. You carve on fast, fun blues like Lookout and Doc's Run, or connect to the Super Condor lift for steeper terrain. The mountain has four terrain parks, including a Burton Riglet Park for snowboarders ages three to six. Get up early for the coveted First Tracks program on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and you’ll get first dibs on fresh corduroy in the company of former Olympic skiers like Kaylin Richardson, followed by breakfast at the Red Pine Lodge.

Lift-assisted adventure is only part of the program at the Canyons. The resort offers guided snowshoeing tours, half-hour sleigh rides at dusk, and after-hours grooming tours on the snowcats. Or careen along a 2,000-foot cable 200 feet above the ski slopes. The Canyons has two ziplines that operate from mid-mountain and run all winter (yup, even in sub-zero temps).

Give your legs a break and go dogsledding with All Seasons Adventures on Big Canyon Ranch, about 25 minutes east of Canyons. Your guide might be a lanky, bearded musher aptly named Racer and his team of 12 huskies. He’ll take you on a few fast laps through the trails and around a frozen pond, and maybe even invite your littlest musher to climb aboard the back of the sled and help drive. Keep your eyes open for bald eagles and bull elk on the ranch. All Seasons also runs guided winter fly fishing trips on the Weber or Provo Rivers.

At nearby Deer Valley, the tony ski-only resort, drive your own snowmobile through the Wasatch high country. No experience necessary—the guides will give you a quick lesson and then set you loose on a half-mile-long meadow/”race track” before leading up to a ridge overlooking all three of the area's ski resorts: Deer Valley, Park City, and Canyons.

Mushing at Big Canyon Ranch. Photo: Katie Arnold

The Grand Summit’s Red Tail Grill serves up an impressive Southwestern menu at the bar and in the dining room, with house-made chips still warm from the oven and a mean chile relleno. Next door, The Farm does high-end local/sustainable in style (and was named best new restaurant in Utah in 2012). Pretty much everything on the menu—pork belly, beet salad, braised rabbit, and roast quail—is sourced within 200 miles. Get a babysitter—this one’s made for date night. And on Saturdays, the Red Pine Lodge puts on a swinging western BBQ with a live country band. Wear your cowboy boots, bandana, and a Western shirt: Young and old, people get decked out.

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—Katie Arnold

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