SALT LAKE CITY -- Sometimes a ski trip is just a ski trip. And sometimes it's a rock-climbing, taco-eating, dinosaur-and-dragon-viewing, skiing adventure.
Such is the case with Salt Lake City, where more than a half-dozen mountain resorts are within arm's reach. The closest, in the Wasatch mountain range, are less than an hour away. Which means that visitors can combine a trip to the slopes with museums, dining and other activities that a big city has to offer.
We got lucky, as our regular ski buddies picked the same week to fly in -- everybody on the same Delta flight from New York -- and their week looked like a typical ski bum's agenda: Ski, eat, sleep, repeat.
But thanks to some excellent tips from my contact at Ski Utah, who helped arrange our week, and Visit Salt Lake, my daughter and I ended up splitting our time between the mountains and the city. Here is what we found:
Tacos from the Taco Lady stall at the Woodbine Food Hall in Salt Lake City. Photo Credit: Rebecca Tobin
Salt Lake City's airport redo is about 10 years in the making, with more to come, but it is officially one of my favorites: The terminal is bright and clean, with loads of dining options and even a huge lounge in which to relax and watch the tarmac.
And it's fast. By the time we got off the plane and hied ourselves to baggage claim, our ski bag was already spinning in the dedicated, oversize-baggage carousel.
A car is extremely helpful for getting around and out of town, and SLC has a large car rental facility. If the snow is really coming down, the authorities will put a so-called traction law in effect in the mountains, which means your vehicle needs to have four-wheel drive and snow tires. Be sure you size up the right rental car.
Our setup included an SUV from Enterprise, which handled the snow with ease and also kept us comfortable and warm while we waited in endless traffic on our way up to the ski resorts in Big Cottonwood Canyon.
Dinosaur fossils on display at the Natural History Museum of Utah at the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City. Photo Credit: Rebecca Tobin
Day 1: Dinos and drop-ins
We took a day to acclimate to the altitude and hang out around town. Our first stop was the Natural History Museum of Utah, on the University of Utah campus, which is tremendous, with a strong focus on local environment and culture. If you like dinosaurs, be prepared to geek out over its impressive exhibit of fossils, especially from species discovered in the state (Utahceratops is a thing).
For lunch, we made our way to the Sugar House neighborhood. Utah has some fairly strict laws about alcohol consumption, and children are only allowed in bars that are designated as restaurants. Luckily, the Wasatch Brewery is a brewery in name but a restaurant in look and feel. We opted for burgers and nachos and weren't disappointed. Another state law: Beers on tap must have an alcohol content of 5% or less.
In the afternoon we made the Evo campus in the Granary District our home. The Evo Hotel is dog-friendly, kid-friendly hipster magnet that melds local art and fitness. But the campus is a destination worth checking out beyond the hotel itself. The building houses the Salt Lake Bouldering Project, the All Together Skate Park, a gym, two sporting-goods shops, a coffee shop and a bar.
The Bouldering Project wall at the Evo Hotel campus in Salt Lake City. Photo Credit: Rebecca Tobin
The entire space flows together, so visitors relaxing on upstairs couches can look down to the bouldering scene, and there are multiple windows into the skate park. People were shouldering skis into the shops; a dog was wandering around the lobby. The energy was infectious.
My buddies and I were in and out of the Evo store all afternoon: Gawking at skis, snowboards and bikes, trying on jackets, debating demo-ski rentals, etc. While all this commerce was going on, my daughter dropped in to the skate park for a half-hour, $40 lesson.
Hotel guests have access to the gym, yoga classes and a one-time pass to the Bouldering Project, but nonguests can also buy a bouldering day pass for $20, which includes shoe rentals, a satchel of chalk to help with your grip and a short intro to bouldering, which is like rock climbing sans ropes. The teenagers in our group took to the walls like spiders. I preferred sitting on the protective floor mats, looking like I knew what I was doing.
Needless to say, we worked up an appetite. About two blocks away from the Evo is Woodbine Food Hall, a small but satisfying take on the food hall trend. Options include ramen, pizza, sandwiches and some pretty excellent tacos from the Taco Lady.
The writer's daughter on the slopes at Brighton Resort in Utah in February. Photo Credit: Rebecca Tobin
Days 2 to 3: Mountain-bound
If it's winter in Salt Lake City, you're probably here to ski. Pro tip: Go to @udotcottonwoods on Instagram to get updated info about road closures (for avalanche mitigation) and parking lot closures (for popularity). Coming up or down from Big Cottonwood Canyon, the must-stop for caffeine is Alpha Coffee (there's a location in downtown Salt Lake, too).
We arrived at Solitude Mountain Resort and promptly checked in to the Inn at Solitude, a perfectly comfortable standard hotel with can't-beat views. We had slopeside accommodations and more powder than you could shake a snow globe at.
One of the more unusual on-mountain restaurants I've encountered is Solitude's Roundhouse, which specializes in Indian and Mongolian food. If you can, nab a seat around the circular fire pit.
After a long and excellent day "chasing the pow" at nearby Brighton, our group returned to Solitude's village for classic apres-ski activities: video games and pizza from Stone Haus for the kids and cocktails for the adults.
The Thirsty Squirrel is a typical apres hangout, but we preferred the snug bar, friendly bartender and the killer old fashioneds at the Honeycomb Grill.
Flying machines at the Leonardo museum in Salt Lake City. Photo Credit: Rebecca Tobin
Day 4: Salt Lake arts and science
The Salt Lake City Connect Pass, sold in one- to three-day increments, gives passholders free admission or perks to 18 attractions around town, including the Natural History Museum, the Children's Museum of Utah, fine art and contemporary art museums, gardens and the zoo.
We used the pass to access two surprising attractions.
The first one was Dreamscapes, about a 20-minute drive from downtown in Sandy. Two things to know: It's in a former mall department store; And it's an art exhibit/installation/immersive journey created by members of the Utah Arts Alliance. At once silly, sweet, serious and surreal, the journey through dreamland -- if you want to make a quest out of it, you can help the giant, rainbow-maned dragon bring back dreams to Happyton -- includes interactive media and art made out of found and recycled objects in every conceivable medium possible: Ball pits, stuffed animals, glowing mushrooms, a "dream tree" and a library of books are merely a sliver of Dreamscapes' lively universe.
Back in the real world, downtown's The Leonardo is a little more like a standard, polished museum, except this one is dedicated to the art and science of Leonardo Da Vinci. The focal point of the permanent exhibit is a giant airplane that kids can run and climb through, but there are several hands-on science experiments and an art studio. For an extra price, guests can partake in an immersive Art Through Experience show, where a master's art is enlarged and projected on walls, ceilings and floors around the theater.
We returned to the Granary District and the Evo. Around the corner, the Slackwater pizzeria could be a fun way to end a Salt Lake City adventure. Daring types can go for the pies inspired by Indian, Hawaiian, Cuban and Mexican cuisines, or for its best-selling California Sunrise, but there's also a Margherita on their menu.
Toast to the successful weekend with a local beer from Uinta or Kiitos.