USUALLY WHEN I ASK for ice with my cocktail, it isn't delivered to my right knee. But that was exactly what happened when
I ordered a Corpse Reviver No. 2 at The Farm, an innovative restaurant at Canyons Resort in Park City, Utah. Lily, our auburn-tressed
server, spied my propped-up gam and nodded her head knowingly. In a flash, I had a cold pack on my knee, part of the RICE response to a fall - Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Sigh. It had been going so well . . .
After a three-year absence from the slopes, I vowed to ski it or lose it this year. As a baby boomer - you know, the generation that believes we can do anything at any age? - I was ready to get back in the game.
Turns out skiing has never been better for those of us over 50, thanks to advances in shorter skis, lighter boots, adapted skiing styles (less knee, more hip) and high-tech gear that keeps us comfy on the slopes. The segment of skiers over the age of 55 has risen from 7 percent in 1998 to 17 percent last season, according to the National Ski Areas Association.
With my fellow boomer, Philly pal Perri Ann Evanson, I headed to Park City, a world-class ski destination in Utah's stunning Wasatch Mountains. Three neighboring resorts there - Deer Valley, the Canyons and Park City Mountain Resort - offer a slew of extras that make skiing a seamless, hassle-free experience for skiers our age.
For starters, you can literally land in Salt Lake City and be on the slopes in Park City in an hour's time, a rarity when it comes to skiing out west. Salt Lake City is also a USAirways hub, which makes flying there out of Philly a breeze. A random fare sampling in February showed nonstops available for $511 round trip. You don't need to rent a car, either. There are constant shuttles to the resorts and a free eco-friendly bus system to get around in Park City itself.
At Deer Valley, the swankiest of the three ski areas, there's a Fed Ex center for shipping your own gear to and from the resort, no schlepping.
Another schlep-free experience is provided throughout Park City by Ski Butlers, a sweet service with the "butler" tech coming to your condo or room and fitting you with all the best gear.
Armed with my height/weight and ski ability, Jeb Hodges of Ski Butlers had me on 143s by Rosignol - shorter, wider skis with rounded tips (sounded a bit too much like my boomer body type) that he promised would just about turn themselves. And he was right. Pricing is competitive to rental services - about $25 more per person per day for this kind of personal TLC.
At the slopes, ski valets carry your skis from the bus to the lift area, no problem.
I'd never been a great skier, but for the past 20 years or so, I've enjoyed the heck out of the sport. A solid beginner with an aversion to speedy descents, I ski for the mountain vistas, the chance to ride a chair lift up over the tree line, searching for signs of critter tracks below in the deep powdery snow. I like the camaraderie of the sport, traveling with multigenerations of friends and family members united by a love of the outdoors and the apres ski eating and drinking scene that awaited after a day on the slopes.
After three years away, I felt slow and unsure of myself, so a lesson seemed like a smart idea. Deer Valley's Gordon McGrath was the perfect instructor for me, a handsomely craggy 60-something transplanted New Yorker with a level-three certification who has been teaching for 42 years.
McGrath teaches a lot of boomers and finds that managing fatigue can be key to lasting longer on the slopes when you're not 21. "Pace yourself, take time to enjoy the scenery and take a break along the way," he said. He's also found that skiers of all abilities can benefit by watching how-to-ski videos on YouTube before they hit the slopes.
With Gordon's coaching - "push down on your outside ski, flex those ankles, turn with both legs" - I went from riding the little moving carpet up the bunny hill to confidently swooshing down a long green run called Success. I was feeling my ski legs coming back, leaning into the turns, bringing those skis together. I felt pretty darn good.
Then it happened. Somehow I got in a tangle coming off the high-speed quad and before I knew it I was ass over teacup, staring up at the crystal blue Utah sky, a warm throb of pain dancing between my tailbone and my right knee. Nothing was broken (other than my pride), and I was able to get myself down the mountain. Best to explore some of Park City's other features before hitting the slopes again.
Park City panache
Although my skiing was hobbled, there was nothing wrong with my appetite. The apres ski scene in Park City is lively and sophisticated, a boon to foodie Boomer types like myself.
Home to the annual Sundance Film Festival (Jan. 22-Feb. 1), the town and its historic Main Street are also home to more than 100 restaurants and bars, including High West - Utah's first distillery since the 1870s and the world's only ski-in distillery and gastro-saloon, right on Main Street.
Just slightly off the beaten path, I discovered Good Karma, Houman Gohary's cozy Indian Persian palace of exotic spices, homemade chutney and comforting vegetarian options. Gohary spent much of his career at The Ritz Carlton Hotel Company, and recently founded a culinary school in Park City to bring local talent into the resort mix.
Another highlight is the newish Handle, at the foot of Main Street. Not only does the bartender shake some off-the-chart craft cocktails - the "H" on the egg-white foam on my Rattlesnake cocktail should stand for "HELL YEAH!" - but chef/co-owner Briar Handly's small-plates cuisine is flat-out innovative, not just for this New West ski town, for any town.
The meat and cheese plate comes with house-cured charcuterie, along with yummies like creamy burrata and biting Humboldt Fog. Other small plates include fried olives stuffed with sunchoke and curried mussels bright with bits of chili for heat. Salted caramel pudding, served in a jar with Chex mix on top, is a comfort dessert with a side of sly style.
Back on the slopes
As I nursed my knee, my ski pal Perri soaked up the unseasonably warm temps and zigzagged her way down multiple mountains. She found that each of the resorts has its own personality.
"Deer Valley is definitely more groomed, and it's all skiers, no boarders," she said. These conditions, coupled with upscale lodging with lots of ski-in, ski-out options, attract an older demographic and a steady stream of multigen families to the resort.
At the Canyons, Perri loved that beginner and intermediate skiers can access the top of the mountains, with the option to ski long, somewhat narrow runs, down to base. "It feels like you can just ski forever there," she said.
The Canyons is also home to the Orange Bubble Express, a high-speed heated chair lift with seats that can warm up to about 55 degrees and a bubble shield to keep the winds at bay during a restorative nine-minute ride to the top of the mountain.
Park City Mountain Resort offers a more natural, less groomed setting, wide runs and bowls designated for different abilities. There were a good number of snowboarders on the mountain. There is diversity in the 25,000 lodging rooms, too, ranging from well-used condos to fancy hotels and resorts like the St. Regis and Montage. As of November 2014, Vail Resorts owns both the Canyons and Park City Mountain Resort, big news for ski hounds since an eight-passenger, high-speed gondola will link the two by the beginning of next season - part of $50 million in improvements that will create the largest ski resort in America, with 7,300 acres of skiable terrain.
Even though my Park City trip didn't turn out exactly as I'd hoped, I can't wait to go back. This time around, I was reminded that at any age, skiing is like life - you never know when an unexpected bump in the road will take you down.
If you are lucky, you get back up and ski another day. OK, so my form may not be perfect. But staying in the game, in my book, that's what it's all about.
For more info on Park City, Utah, go to visitparkcity.com.