Open the Beverage Within
A Articles Clearinghouse of Olympic Information
The Olympics still matter, to paraphrase a recent national magazine news story. Despite the money, the scandals, those damned terrorists, and what seems like unending construction, there is a spirit to the Olympics that cannot be equaled in any other medium.
You understand it when you see, for example, the downhill run at Snowbasin - stand at the top and peer down, and your heart cannot help but race. And you see it in the huge stadium now resting at the base of Deer Valley, which will fill with spectators in a few weeks as they witness the slalom and aerial events. And you can see it when you exit I-80 at Kimball Junction and right then the Olympic Park comes into view, with its two huge ski jumps like metaphorical statements for ... for ... for something I can't exactly place.
All this is true because the Olympics, at their base, are about sport, and sport itself is an ancient pursuit, practiced without regard to politics, that embrace balance, speed and grace. The Olympics have always been about this.
There was a time when the number one worry about hosting the Olympics in Salt Lake City was how a bloke could get a drink, or if the valley's infamous 'fog' would put a damper on the festivities. It still might. Then September happened, and a new order of nervousness was given to the world and the Games. There are still worries, to be sure, and an element of risk will likely linger after the Games have ended, but when jumpers hurl 600 feet into space at the Olympics Sports Park, or approach the 80 mph barrier on John Paul at Snowbasin, equality will return to Earth, if only for a moment. Equality, justice and order. There was a time not too long ago that a lot of people were considering canceling the Games. That's silly, of course. We need them more than ever.
This is it - the Olympics will be here in just a matter of days. What I've got here is a wrap up of Olympics-related items and some information I hope will be useful for Olympics visitors or anyone else who finds themselves in the Beehive State in the next little bit.
Are You a Beginning Skier?
I started skiing when I was four, and luckily had parents who were veteran skiers, and gradually from them, I guess, I learned my way around ski areas. Still, I realize that skiing can be a confusing and intimidating thing, especially if you are a beginner.
Luckily, though, most of the areas in Utah are geared towards families and eager to welcome beginners. Still, if you are new to the sport it pays to do a bit of research ahead of time to make your first hours at the are resort positive.
The first thing to realize is that most ski areas have designated beginner areas, and often these areas have their own parking lots and base lodges. For example, the Moonbeam Learning Center at Solitude is one entrance before the main resort area. Likewise, beginners heading to Alta would not want to park at the Collins base area - it's all expert terrain there. Instead, head to the Albion Basin parking area, where the ski lessons meet. At Deer Valley, most beginners head to Snow Park Lodge, while at The Canyons the beginning area is actually accessed by riding the gondola to mid-mountain, where several lifts serve a delightful beginners' meadow. Then typically, from these beginner areas it is easy to access intermediate and even expert terrain.
Most if not all areas offer beginners' packages, which typically include a lesson, rentals, and a lift ticket - often for a price that is only a bit more than you'd pay for a regular lift ticket. While it is fine to show up at the resort in the morning and sign up for this, it can be beneficial to sign up beforehand - that way you can find out in advance where the group is meeting, where the rental shops are, and what time things get going.
But even if you are not signing up for a lesson it is still a good idea to find out ahead of time where the beginners' area is. In the case of Alta and Brighton, lift ticket sales are close by to the easy slopes, meaning less walking with heavy ski gear.
How to Buy a Drink in Utah
I have had more than one person tell me they would not go to Utah because they couldn't get a drink here.
You can get a drink here, you just need to know how to do it. Actually, the ability to consume alcohol in Utah has progressed remarkably since I have come to Utah. It was not too long ago that if you wanted a mixed drink you actually would carry your own bottle of alcohol into a bar, buy a mixer, and then pour drinks yourself.
While I like to think that Utah is great enough of a place that you don't have to worry so much about drinking, here is a bit of a primer:
The legal drinking age in the United States is 21. Alcohol salespersons in Utah are required by law to check for age identification.
Beer: Beer containing 3.2 percent alcohol can be purchased in restaurants, bars, grocery stores and mini-marts across the state with few restrictions, though you typically can't buy it after 1 a.m. and sometimes not on Sundays. Beer containing regular amounts of alcohol can be purchased in state liquor stores, which are generally open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and can be found in most decent-sized towns, though some larger metro stores are open until 10 p.m. Some private clubs have regular alcohol beer.
Wine and Liquor: Wine and hard liquor can be purchased in state liquor stores and in a growing number of restaurants and private clubs. Prices in Utah are somewhat more expensive than elsewhere. In private clubs and restaurants where liquor is served, the rule says drinks may only contain 1 ounce of liquor (most bottles have measuring spouts on them) and only one alcohol at a time.
Bars: Bars serve 3.2 beer until 1 a.m. 7 days a week. Almost all of them allow smoking.
Private clubs: Aren't really 'private' at all. You are supposed to purchase a membership to enter, but there are many ways around this. Most allow smoking and all have beer and hard liquor, while some have wine and regular-alcohol beer. Annual memberships to the clubs cost about $20, while some have temporary, week or month-long memberships for $5. If you want to go in but don't want to buy a membership you can ask to be sponsored, and often the person in line behind you will have a membership and sponsor you, and more than once I have been to clubs where the doorman sponsored me. If you have to buy a membership, you can buy a temporary membership, then sponsor all of your friends.
Restaurants: Many restaurants, especially in Salt Lake City, serve beer, wine and even hard liquor. It used to be you had to ask the waitress for a beer or wine list, but a recent federal court ruling paved the way for servers to ask the patron if they would like to see a beer or wine list - sometimes they will say, 'Would you like to see a beverage list?' That's a clue for booze. It also used to be the case that if you, say, wanted tequila in your margaritas, that you had to specify when ordering that you wanted the tequila in there. That doesn't seem to be the case as much any more, but it doesn't hurt to make sure. Two details: you can't smoke in restaurants, and you have to order food if you order alcohol.
Dance clubs: Utah has a proliferation of no-smoking, no-drinking clubs, though most of them appear to be in Provo. Most regular dance clubs are private clubs and have full bars. Oddly, it is illegal to dance in Salt Lake City after 1 a.m., though the mayor, bless his heart, is trying to change this.
Remember Powder Mountain
If so, you might have trouble recognizing it in a few years if a group of developers take over.
A group of Park City developers has proposed turning the sleepy, funky mountain - I'd call it my favorite ski area in Utah - into a four-season resort complete with plenty of lifts and - gag - luxury slopeside homes and a golf course.
This gem of a resort in northern Utah cannot stay a secret forever. A developer is proposing 15 lifts at the mountain that now has essentially four, and two golf courses designed by Jack Nicklaus, plus several hotels, several hundred condo units, and a host of five-acre lot homes.
While its hard to argue against a few new amenities at Powder Mountain, like nicer lifts or a new lodge, it would be sad to see the small-scale operation go corporate
Coming to Salt Lake City for the Olympics? Bring a sweater, bring a ski jacket, and bring some sunglasses and sunblock - February can have a wide variety of weather.
February is typically still winter around here - that means plenty of snow and stormy weather, though conditions can range from sub-Arctic to springlike. It's best to prepare for cold weather and some snow, though there will likely be blazing sunshine for several days during the Games.
Should you forget something, don't fret: You'll find whatever you need in Salt Lake City, Ogden, Provo or Park City, and often at reasonable prices.
Athletes at the Village will fest on such tempting plates as roast beef and watercress wraps, goat cheese and zucchini pizza, grilled tuna, and penne pasta capresse with smoked mozzarella. The price? Free, as are the accommodations - two to a room with two bunks, two desks, two nightstands and a shared bath.
The Village will house some 3,500 athletes in restored and newly-constructed housing in a Civil War-era fort near the University of Utah and the Olympic Stadium. The fort is on a hill overlooking the Salt Lake Valley.
Also in the Village's 70 acres is a bank with international exchange, ticket office, calling center, dry cleaning and tailoring, flower and card shop, hair and manicure salon, post office, Internet café, coffee shop which will have live music, games, television and poetry readings, a musum, a game center, a fitness center, a church, and a club, which will feature a mechanical bull. The Village is strictly off limits to the general public - so off-limits, in fact, that university dorm students were kicked out weeks ago and the school's Spring Break will be during the Games.
Getting Around SLC
The word during the Games will be to carpool, take the bus or light rail, or just walk: make no mistake about it, traffic will be a big deal during the Olympics, especially if it snows.
The Utah Transit Authority has beefed up its bus routes and light rail train routes during the Games in anticipation of heavy usage. Also, there are dedicated busses running from Salt Lake City to most Games venues, especially those in the Park City area (the cost for that run is down to $5 from what had originally been a $20 fare!). Still, it pays to plan wisely and leave well in advance.
The Olympic committee has released a variety of transportation-related information. Much of it is available on-line at www.utahcommuterlink.com, or is detailed in the 'Olympic Transportation Guide,' a thick pamphlet available around town and at Smith's grocery stores. For reservations on the Mountain Venue Express, the bus that runs up to the Oly venues, call (866) 566-4428.
The Wasatch Overland
The great thing about the Wasatch Overland is that there is really no good way to do it: downhill or telemark skis are good for the downhill stretch but cumbersome on the run and the climb. Snowshoes are light and quick - uphill, at least. Cross-country skis are agile and handy, but tough to use when descending the mountain.
Climb? Run? Descent? Two below zero at start time? That's the Wasatch Overland, put on for the 25th consecutive year last week. The race begins at Brighton, heads down a road and then up one, then climbs a mountain only to descent to Park City. Racers typically run down the road until they hit snow, then sprint up the mountain and ski down. The fastest competitor this year, who was on cross-country skis, completed the course in about 35 minutes. Articles? Panting somewhere towards the back of the pack. It took more nearly an hour and a half to complete the race, though my excuse is that I stopped to take lots of pictures and was very, very, very sick that day. I came in about 90th out of 150 racers. The finish was a treat: soup and beer - and that's at 11 a.m.
The race benefits Splore, a Salt Lake City based group that leads people of all abilities on wilderness adventures in Utah's backcountry.
A Note to Readers
This is an end of sorts - and end to weekly Olympics-related coverage. Starting next Monday I head back to weekly travel stories. Look for upcoming missives on Nordic Valley Ski Area, the Hill Air Force Base Flight Museum, Ruby's Inn at Bryce Canyon, and others. Stay tuned - it'll be a great winter and spring in Utah.
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