The Canyons -- Heavenly's sister act

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With two days left on a ski trip to Utah, it was time to check out the Canyons, sister resort to Heavenly with both part of the American Ski Co. empire.

Real estate is the name of the game at The Canyons. Condos, vacation homes and mansions crowd the mountain. And as there are no Olympic events scheduled there things are pretty well in place.

The approach for those who aren't rich enough to have a condo at The Canyons is by the Cabriolet, European for convertible. The parking lot at the base of the Carbriolet is vast, bigger than Squaw Valley's. The ride up is in open gondolas, big enough for eight people with skis.

A couple of terrain parks are off the short Red Hawk quad chair, but to get up the mountain you take the Flight of the Canyons Gondola, and from there the Saddle Express -- well, the name of the place is The Canyons, and that's what you're dealing with. Canyons extend up the mountain like the fingers on your hand, often requiring a trip to the base level to reach another section of the hill.

But the snow was good, despite nothing new since Monday night and this was Sunday. There was plenty of powder in the trees where you could ski a couple of hundred yards of the fluffy stuff.

And make no mistake about it: Utah powder is real powder. David Rittenhouse, my partner on this trip, reveled in the powder while I, nursing a slightly swollen knee, made short excursions off packed trails into the powder but hustled back on the hard stuff quickly.

The Ninety Nine 90 Express high-speed quad services only black and double black runs and is enough to make timid skiers and boarders think twice before boarding. It peaks out at 9,900 feet, of course, and is the highest at the resort. But all the rest of the lifts -- and there are many scattered across the panorama -- include at least one blue bail-out route. One of the unusual things at The Canyons is a double blue trail designation. We tried several of them and decided the double blue was a slightly hyped regular blue but not a real difference.

From the look of the high ridges, Utah skiers are also hikers as they leave figure-eight evidence of traveling to the high country. (We noticed this at all kinds of places where normally only elk would roam. And yes, we did see elk off on the high ridges.)

Several of the runs at The Canyons have gates on some of the black diamond runs, and these gates are serious. Avalanches are common on the mountain and the gates offer some protection.

My favorites? The blue served by the Saddleback high-speed quad, the Dreamscape two-seater and the Tombstone high-speed quad which offers both double-blue and black diamond runs. A pair of learning lifts at the top of the Flight of the Canyons put beginner and tyros up on the mountain.

The best of all was the Upper Apex Ridge off the Super Condor Express, a big blue that goes on and on and on.

Lift tickets are $58 for adult all day, but there are lots of wiggle room type reductions.

There are several exits to the back country that open vast areas to explorers.

Canyons restaurants offer the usual grub at prices about 25 percent higher than around Tahoe.

Snow is the crucial element for skiing and snowboarding and The Canyons provided plenty of it, both groomed and soft. This is not a resort for beginners as there are few or no green trails. But what The Canyons has is long runs, good snow and short to no lines on weekends. Heavenly could well pick up on some of its many features.

Finally, we'll try venerable Alta, the resort where there are no snowboarders but plenty of excellent snow and a tradition that goes back to the 1940s.


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