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Utah’s ski season peaks in January

Hop on a plane to Salt Lake City in the morning, and you could be skiing by the afternoon. For free.

Accessibility of ski resorts is only one of the reasons why Utah makes a great January destination. Lodging prices at the ski resorts drop between New Year’s and Martin Luther King Day, and Utah’s national park areas are also cheaper and less crowded than in the warmer months. Plus, the state hosts several January events including the Sundance Film Festival, a freestyle ski competition, and a bird-watching weekend.

Throughout the ski season, you can find ways to keep your Utah vacation under budget. Salt Lake City can be an affordable alternative to mountainside lodging, and free or cheap public transportation to the slopes eliminates the need to rent a car. Salt Lake is a Delta hub, as well as a Southwest destination, so airfare remains reasonably priced. Plus, free activities mean the alpine challenged can enjoy less active pursuits while the skiers and snowboarders take advantage of Utah’s abundant champagne powder.

Why Utah in January?

Skiing is Utah’s biggest January draw. Many of the ski resorts are easily accessible from Salt Lake City and from each other, so vacationing skiers and snowboarders can experience several mountains in one trip. Utah’s resorts also offer cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and tubing. Plus, Deer Valley will host the 2006 Freestyle International World Cup on January 13 and 14, with free general admission to all aerials and moguls competitions.

Aside from winter sports, Utah’s most famous January event is the Sundance Film Festival, held from January 19 to 29 in Park City. The public can buy tickets to screenings online or at the box office, or merely stroll around town hoping to see celebrities. While lodging can be quite expensive and tough to find in Park City during the festival, the slopes are virtually empty as everyone’s packed into the movie theaters. If you stay outside the main resorts and commute to the slopes, you’ll have the snow all to yourself.

Salt Lake City itself has many attractions that are winter-weather friendly. The Mormon Temple Square is open every day of the year, and all activities are free including tours, exhibits, films, and concerts by the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir. (Note that the Tabernacle itself is undergoing a seismic retrofit and will be closed to the public.) The city also has a symphony, opera company, and an NBA basketball team.

Salt Lake City and its neighboring towns hosted the 2002 Olympics, and some of the venues are still open to tourists. The University of Utah is home to the Olympic cauldron and arch, as well as a visitor’s center with exhibitions and a movie about the 2002 games. Public skating is available at the speed skating oval in Kearns, and in Park City, you can visit Olympic Park and pay a premium to ride in a bobsled.

For a completely different winter experience, head south to Utah’s national parks. You’ll find lodging discounts and few crowds. Zion has a moderate climate with only the occasional snow squall, and Bryce offers the chance to cross country ski to the rim of the canyon. St. George hosts a bird-watching event from January 26 through 29 with field trips, presentations, and workshops for bird enthusiasts.

Utah travel and ways to save for January

Salt Lake City is the main gateway for air travel to Utah. Delta has a hub there, and despite scaling back service in other areas, the airline has actually expanded its flight schedule at Salt Lake. You’ll find many nonstop flights from major U.S. cities. Southwest also has a presence in Salt Lake, which helps to keep prices down. Look for airfare sales from these and other major airlines. If you’re headed to southern Utah, you can also see if flights to nearby Las Vegas offer better deals.

You’ll find the best January lodging rates in the dead weeks between New Year’s and Martin Luther King Day. You can also save by staying in Salt Lake City, which has a range of lodging options from Super 8 to the five-diamond Grand America. From Salt Lake City, you can pay $3 to take public buses to Alta, Snowbird, Brighton, or Solitude ski areas and not worry about renting a car.

Ski Utah and offer lodging “hot deals,” so you might find the best bargains online. At press time, promotions included the “Snowball Special,” which offers five nights for the price of four or seven nights for the price of five at select properties in the Deer Valley, Park City, and The Canyons areas between January 3 and 16.

Once in Utah, there are many ways to save on skiing and snowboarding. Lift tickets range in price, but the new Wolf Mountain resort is offering passes for $20 all season long. If you want to stretch your ski legs on your first afternoon in Utah but don’t want to pay full price for just an hour or two of powder, Alta offers free skiing every day after 3 pm and Park City offers free skiing on the day of your arrival (just present a used boarding pass for that day at the ticket window). If you’re staying in Salt Lake, you can buy a $47 pass for transportation to the slopes and all-day skiing at Snowbird, Brighton, Alta, or Solitude. The price is less than that of a lift ticket alone.

Kids can also find incredible bargains on the slopes. For example, kids 12 and under always ski or snowboard free at Brighton, and up to two kids 12 or younger can ski or ride free at Snowbird when an accompanying adult purchases an all-day ticket. Powder Mountain offers a three-day lift and lesson package for kids ages six to 12 that breaks down to $55 per day.

On the slopes or off, you can enjoy Utah’s winter wonderland without freezing your assets. If you take advantage of January discounts, you can experience the best the state has to offer while often avoiding the peak winter season crowds.

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