It's sunny with no clouds. Cold, but not too cold. I am in my ski jacket and pants but rather than skis and poles, I've been outfitted with a harness, a helmet and a backpack containing a gizmo that will have me zipping across a cable, 140 feet above the air (way, way, above the treetops, making it more nerve-wracking than most Costa Rican zip line tours).
I'm told repeatedly that this zip line, a brand new feature at Utah's Canyons Resort, can hold an airplane, but as I was being hooked onto the line on a platform perched precariously on the mountain's edge, all I could think was, why the heck did I agree to this?
But once I pull the "go" handle my adrenaline kicks in and I find myself flying across the canyon. I don't dare look down but I do manage to catch glimpses of the beautiful snowcapped Wasatch Range as the wind whips in my face. It was exhilarating. And, thankfully, in less than a minute it was over. Though I'm a city kid through and through, while in the mountains, I was definitely game for an action-packed, high-altitude weekend -- but first, a pot of fondue and glass of red on the deck of Lookout Cabin (elevation 8,250 feet) was in order.
Utah is known for its world-class ski resorts, many within in a half-hour drive of Salt Lake City International Airport (the truly ambitious can catch an early flight, arrive in the afternoon and still get in a powdery run or two before the lifts close). Clustered around the town of Park City, whose Victorian-style Main Street is lined with restaurants and high-end boutiques, are three world-class ski resorts, Deer Valley, Park City and Canyons.
Lesser-known Canyons is a bit of a hidden jewel among locals who love its wide trails and overall laid-back vibe, but this season, aided by a slew of new amenities, the resort (owned by Toronto-based real estate company Talisker) is poised to be much more front and center. In addition to the zip tour, there are several new restaurants, as well as an expanded snowshoe program (our group were the first to wear the new high-tech aluminum snowshoes), a heated express chair lift and perhaps most significantly, new ski terrain: Iron Mountain, offers skiers and boarders 10 new trails, making Canyons, now with 4,000 skiable acres, one of the country's largest ski resorts.
Back in my room at the Waldorf Astoria Park City -- a five-minute gondola ride from the Resort Village -- I was busy checking out the fab amenities including a terrace, washer/dryer, king-sized bed with a plush faux-fur throw and full kitchen. Sadly, I wouldn't get to utilize the kitchen during my stay but I could see how handy it would be for a family staying the week.
From the whirlpool tub, I could watch TV on the small flatscreen mounted on the bathroom wall and due to some stellar space management, I could still see the gas fireplace in the bedroom (there's another one in the living room). In fact, there are fireplaces just about everywhere in the 175-room resort, from the huge one in the lobby surrounded by comfy couches and oversized chairs to the outdoor fire pit near the heated pool where, during après ski, you can snuggle under a blanket while making smores and sipping a hot toddy. But my favorite flame was in the spa, which just so happens to be a Golden Door (one of only five in the world). After nearly dozing off in the toasty Fireside Lounge (be sure to try the vitamin-rich spicy tomato broth), I enjoyed a deep-tissue aromatherapy massage in one of the 15 treatment rooms.
Visitors to Canyons won't be lacking for dining options, all of which are under the direction of Talisker's culinary guru John Murcko. Opened just in time for the season is Slopes by Talisker, the restaurant at the Waldorf with chocolate-colored mohair walls, buttery leather chairs and a modern American menu. In the Resort Village is another just-opened spot with a seasonal, farm-to-table menu appropriately called the Farm, whose open kitchen, elegant dining room and a see-and-be seen outdoor deck make it perfect for both lunch and dinner. As you sip a glass of red wine you might spot former Olympic skiers like Holly Flanders, Erik Schlopy and Kaylin Richardson (who serves as Canyon's official Ski Ambassador) or celebrities such as Hilary Swank, Justin Bieber and Will Smith (many more are expected now that Sundance is in high gear).
I sampled the pickled beet salad and Columbia River salmon with braised kale with wine pairings from Talisker's Director of Wine & Spirits Sean Marron. To finish up my Utah experience, I headed to High West Distillery & Saloon, serving house-made whisky and vodka in a former livery dating from the town's silver mining days. A distillery in Utah? Believe it. I tried the double rye whiskey and a surprisingly strong but smooth peach vodka. Certainly, Canyons holds many surprises so bundle up and check them out for yourself this winter. Zip tour highly recommended.
Follow Jill Fergus on Twitter: www.twitter.com/fergusjill