A Tale of 2 Ski Hills – Deer Valley and Jackson Hole

Jackson Hole – wild, wooly, in your face, hard-core, deep powder, tight trees, lousy grooming – VS – Deer Valley – elegant, fashionable, respectfully, friendly, warm, happy, sunny, clear skies, awesome grooming.

A Tale of 2 Cities – Jackson, Wyoming and Park City, Utah

It’s odd how cities with so much in common can be so fundamentally different. So lets start with what they share.

Bourbon and Burgers – Way too expensive for what it is

Give the Montage credit for calling a dog a dog. Bourbon and Burgers says – we’re serving burgers. And knowing it’s in the Montage, one of Deer Valley’s seriously expensive hotels means you have to know it’s not going to be cheap.

But over $150 for 5? For Burgers? We didn’t even have any Bourbon.

But you pay for luxury – and the Montage serves that up in spades. Driving up the windy road into the mountains that surround Park City, you turn into the Montage access road – and are immediately surrounded by glowing trees on all sides. The impact is magical. Continuing the experience, a valet greets you at the entrance, a concierge welcomes you to the Montage and directs you to your destination.

The location of Bourbon and Burgers is upstairs a bit from the Apex, the Montage’s high-end restaurant. It has a commanding view of the surrounding ski slopes, totally dark of course at this time of night. Deep dark wood, a roaring fireplace, a full bar, and elaborate service – even if they are only serving burgers.

The menu – true to its name – consists primarily of burgers. I totally enjoyed the ahi tuna ‘burger’, the rest of our group ordered more standard fare – the double burger and the classic. We also ordered an appetizer of fried pickles which was very disappointing, and every one ordered a different flavor of fries – I had Sweet Potato Fried – but there were also orders of Truffle Fries and Garlic Fries. None were outstanding – all were seriously expensive.

After dinner we wandered the public spaces of the hotel, spending most of our time in the Vista Lounge. Huge space, giant fireplace large enough to stand in, luxury games including a wooden version of Clue that featured inlay rooms, and offerings of Fondu, mulled wine and mulled cider. Best of all – the quite enjoyable piano player who unobtrusively provided background music. The Vista Lounge was definitely the best part of dinner.

Bottom line – if money is no object – go and enjoy the burgers. As for the fries – Montage – you need to up the anty on those. And either fix the fried pickles – or take them off the menu.

Shabu Shabu – Fun – but 5 minutes later you are still hungry

Park City is a very cool place with a wild geography. There’s an awesome Main Street – with tons of restaurants – all with prices to match. So while you can count on quantity of options, and probably some pretty decent quality – you are also going to be paying the price of being on Main Street.

Getting off Main Street offers lots of options but not things are definitely going to be further apart. About 7 miles away towards the highway is an area called RedStone. It’s really an outdoor mall (there’s a Best Buy and a Bed Bath and Beyond) with a collection of restaurants – one of which is Shabu Shabu.

We opted for the drive because the price was very right – and the restaurant promised to be a bit different from what we’d been enjoying. And different it really is.

One Park City Restaurant Observation – despite the cold weather, Park City Restaurants do not believe in Vestibules or curtains over door ways. So every time a guest walks in – so does a cold draft. The trick is to pick a table far from the door – preferably around a corner.

So – since the Shabu Shabu is long and thin with no corners – finding a table away from the draft proved impossible. Annoying, yes. A reason not to go back? No. But do choose your seats careful.

On to the food concept. The idea of Shabu Shabu is individual cooking pots. Holes in the granite table tops are specially designed to hold good quality cooking pots securely on flat top cooking elements. The pots contain water which the water seasons according to your taste (mostly soy sauce), and then you pick your dinner protein off the menu. There’s beef, pork, chicken, various fish, even Kobe Beef. Each protein option is presented with vegetables, udon noodles and rice.

You take your platter of protein and veggies and pop them into the hot water. Instructions from the waiter tell you to put certain veggies in earlier – other protein in later depending on the cooking time. Since all the proteins are sliced extremely thin cooking time is minimal. Also since they are sliced so thin, it’s hard to tell exactly how much meat you are getting – but given how hungry we were shortly after leaving the restaurant – I’m guessing the portions are a lot smaller than they appear.

Price depends on Protein type – ranging from a low of $14 for a ‘Regular’ portion of Pork or Chicken to $26 for a ‘Large’ Portion of Kobe Beef. The amount of veggies and noodles didn’t seem to vary.

You cook, you eat, you leave. Meal done.

It’s quite social since it takes time to cook and you can chat during the cooking time – and it’s quite good. But you are cooking yourself, and you are in control of the seasoning, so it’s hard to tell how much effort the ‘chef’ contributed.

The only problem – and it’s easily solved – we all ordered ‘Regular’ portions – and honestly – ‘Large’ would have been a better option. While we were full when we left – I’m not kidding about being hungry 5 minutes later. Good think we had ice cream in the fridge.

So choose your seat carefully to avoid drafts, order ‘Large’, and enjoy.

Windy Ridge Cafe – Bill White for the Budget minded

I’m still in Utah – having gotten myself a nice ‘boot bruise’ which trust me isn’t much fun. So I’ve been keeping myself interested by watching TV, answering email, Skyping with anyone who calls – and eating out.

So tonight we decided to try Windy Ridge Cafe. The deciding factor was a 2 for 1 entrée offer from the Bill White Group – that and the no reservations required vibe.

The restaurant is not on Main Street. Which means that you are going to go by car or bus – which in Park City is ‘off the beaten track’. This probably keeps the prices reasonable – and on a Wednesday night – the crowds away.

The menu entrees run between $20 to $30 dollars – with my Utah Red Trout crusted with almonds was just $23. Nice price – and it came with 2 sides, veggies and my choice of potatoes. My fish was a bit overcooked – but the Sweet Potato Fries made up for any lack on the fish. Other entrees at the table included a Ruben Sandwich, a French Dip (bread was gummy – but the meat was great), pesto salmon over linguine and my favorite on the table – a mushroom crusted Sirloin which was seriously yummy.

Desserts – while relatively low-priced (just $5.50 each) were ok – but honestly nothing to write home about.

Bottom line – casual atmosphere is great, food is good to a bit better than good, but dessert is better eaten at home (sorry Windy Ridge).

Windy Ridge Cafe on Urbanspoon

Bangkok Thai – A must enjoy if you go to Park City, Utah

My husband and I have been fortunate enough over the last 10 years or so to spend at least 2 weeks enjoying the skiing, the people, the scenery, and the food in Park City, Utah.

Home to the Sundance Film Festival, and some completely amazing ski hills, Park City hardly lacks in restaurants to enjoy. Unfortunately, many of them are seriously expensive – and during Sundance time – incredibly crowded. So every year we tend to stay out of the main city area during Sundance – but the one restaurant in Park City that we always make time to enjoy is the Bangkok Thai.

Main Street in Park City during Sundance is definitely a must see and a must walk. There are people everywhere, and outlandish dress is the norm. Fur is every where – as are high heels (in January – in Ski country?), there are celebrities to see, movies to watch, and lots of free stuff to grab. I particularly like the L’Oreal booth which offered free min-make-overs.

But this blog isn’t about Main Street and Sundance – it’s about our fab meal at the Bangkok Thai!

The restaurant itself is tiny, and normally seats maybe 50, but for Sundance they cram in extra tables – beefing up the number of people they can serve to around 100. Yes – it’s crowded, but never mind – the food is worth it.

The Bangkok Thai offers 2 tasting menus in addition to its elaborate menu. Feeling hungry, we opted for the 9 dish Signature menu since it had all the standard yummy dishes – including a to-die-for sea cod dish. We checked that they were willing to do the tasting menu – even during Sundance – and once we got an ok – we sat back to enjoy the meal.

First up was a lobster spring roll, delicate and light. Next was one of my favorite dishes – a tuna tartare – served on a crisp cracker. Yum. I also really enjoyed the Pad Thai, the Gentle baked Prawn, and the curry was outstanding – sweet and spicy at the same time. It was actually hard to be sure to leave room for the Sea Bass 3 ways – but I did. The only let down was the desert – which one has to wonder why they bother.

Service – given the crowded conditions and demanding clientele – was actually excellent. Fast when we wanted it to be fast – and slow when we started to feel full.

Bottom line – if you get to Park City – check out the Bangkok Thai – it’s definitely worth enjoying!

Bangkok Thai on Main on Urbanspoon

Tarahumara – Impossible to pronounce – but awesomely good Mexican

I’m in Park City, Utah – home of Sundance Movie Festival, Deer Valley Ski area – and some pretty incredible Mexican food. And the very best of the bunch is not located in Park City – it’s actually in Midway!

Located in a small shopping mall, this family run restaurant literally packs people in. We tried to go on a Friday night – too many people. We tried again on a Tuesday – and things were lots better – crowds had dispersed – and it was family night. There was a clown doing face painting – free – but you don’t go for the family entertainment.

Nope – you go for the food. On the blackboard over the simple counter is the list of intriguing options – from Mango and Pineapple Chicken Quesadilla to Mole Poblano, Scallops in Passion Fruit & Tomatillo Sauce to a selection of Burritos and Tacos.

You line up to order – get handed chips to carry back to your table, along with your table number. A quick trip to the 30 item salsa bar nets you a selection of different salsas – from ‘kids salsa (my favorite)’ to 3 fire versions that are clearly way hotter than I’m willing to try!

Weaving your way past table after table packed with families on a Tuesday night out, you finally score a table – make sure your number is visible, and wait. Sooner rather than later, your order arrives – more food than you can possibly eat at a price that makes you want to come back the next day. Can you say – Wow?

I got the Mango and Pineapple Chicken Quesadilla – and it was outstanding. Other dishes that appeared on our table included the Scallops, a Mole Pablano, and a yummy Ceviche. For dessert we shared the home-made cherry pie – gently warmed. And I picked up a giant-sized cookie to take skiing with me the next day.

Inexpensive, delicious, memorable, and fun. A prefect recipe for a repeat trip!

Tarahumara on Urbanspoon

Mahre Ski Camp – Deer Valley Uath – Feb 2013

Mahre Camp – Or how to learn to ski much better in just 3 days.

According to the Deer Valley website – the Mahre Ski Camp is for skiers at all levels – I mention this because I’m a pretty good downhill skier. I take lots of group lessons – and unless the competition is very stiff – I place in the top group. As I will freely admit – I can ski pretty much any run that’s in bounds – badly!

So this report is from my personal experience – I didn’t interview other ‘campers’ – and I didn’t take a survey to determine group attitudes. This is how I liked it – a Personal bias – but there it is.

I’ve taken ski clinics before. Well just two actually – a Centered Skier week about 30 years ago and a much more recent clinic at Deer Valley. This more recent experience – before the Mahre camp – was a women’s 3 day clinic. Unfortunately, I was so disappointed with it that I gave up ‘clinics’ for several years. I found it way too social, the featured “Ski with an Olympic Skier” consisted of a quick glimpse one afternoon, and there was simply not enough about getting better on moguls, powder, and trees. One skier in our group was afraid of powder (and you call yourself an expert – I think NOT!) – and the group ended u avoiding things she was afraid of doing. Not good. While skiers with less ability might have had a good time – I was mostly annoyed.

But that said – I’ve been eying the Mahre Clinic folks for several years now. I liked the idea that Steve and Phil Mahre were very involved – although I wouldn’t have know how much until I took the clinic, and I liked the idea that they used a system of exercises that had been tried out and evaluated on skiers of all kinds of abilities. I also liked the promise in their literature – we form groups on ability – not on friendship or relationships. In any case – Feb 2013 the stars aligned. I was going to be in Park City, Utah on the right dates, my friends were willing to ski without me for 3 days, and I had a bit of money to spend on lessons.

The Mahre Clinic takes place at one of my top favorite (after Jackson Hole) places to ski – Deer Valley. It’s not just the grooming and the food that’s great there – they have lots of hidden powder stashes, and there are some short – but very nice mogul runs to play on. In addition, if the snow is good, there are plenty of tree runs to explore – at lots of different ability levels.

So – long story short – I decided to sign up for a 3 day clinic. They offer 3 and 5 day versions – and after chatting with lots of people who had some knowledge of the clinics, I knew that while the 5 day was ‘better’ – taking the 3 day would be OK too.

Like all clinics, you start with a breakfast gathering – a chance to chat up some of the other people participating, and meet some of the instructors. To my surprise – the Mahre brother were there as well. In fact – they were involved and on the ski hill or in the video room or eating lunch with us every minute of all 3 days. Wow – that’s what I call a personal involvement. Of course it’s a bit hard to tell which is which – as they are identical twins. One brother – I think it’s Steve – wears glasses – but otherwise – can’t tell them apart. I didn’t realize they were twins actually until we were on the slopes – and saw both in quick succession.

After breakfast, they did the traditional ski off – on a fairly flat section of trail. They weren’t looking for our ability to do moguls, they wanted to see how balanced on our skis we were. But before the ski-off they divided us into 2 groups – those who had done a Mahre Clinic previously, and those who had not. A surprise to me – about 1/3 of the 40 participants were repeats. That’s a lot! Says something good about the clinic when people take it over and over again, eh?

One negative comment – they also asked people who wanted to be in the same group to ski down one after the other – I assumed that they would be put in the lower skier’s group – it’s bad to have a better skier in your group, but it’s a disaster to have a worse skier. Why? Because the class will naturally gravitate to that level – making it too easy for the other members of the group. That is what happened in my last clinic – I assumed that it wouldn’t happen in the Mahre Clinic. Turns out that in at least one group – I’d have been wrong. So moral here – if it happens to you – Speak up NOW! Don’t let them get away with doing that to you – it’s all fine for the people who want to ski together – but it will ruin your experience.

Enough of the aside – I placed in the 3rd from the top group. But since there were only 2 other skiers – both male – I wasn’t complaining. At least the social aspect would be kept to a minimum. And I thought they were both good skiers . Our instructor was Don Hill – like all Mahre instructors, a PSIA level 3 – (that’s the top) – with additional training in the Mahre method.

Another disclaimer here – I ski hard. All day if I can. So I’ve had issues with ‘skiing’ better skiers under the table. It’s not that I’m that good – I just don’t stop. So at 3:30, when the other members of my class are begging for a break, I’m looking forward to another mogul run. This can be a problem if the group isn’t equally determined to ski, ski, ski. But this group looked strong. I was optimistic.

We started off with simple balancing exercises – a bit touchy-feely – but the idea was to make us aware of exactly how we balanced on our skis. According to the brothers, there
are 3 keys to great skiing – Balance, Balance, and Balance. By this they mean fore and aft balance (I’m good at that – I don’t ski sitting backwards – thank goodness), lateral balance (need to work on that. I just don’t angulate like I should. Oh well), and vertical balance. (I’m good at getting down – not so hot on getting back up!)

Day one, except for 2 mogul runs after lunch, was basically spent exploring and correcting obvious balance issues. First they had to make you aware of your issues – and trust me – denial is the name of the game there. I couldn’t believe that I don’t angulate (do the banana) enough – but sure enough….

One key message of the day – skiing shouldn’t make you tired. If your legs hurt – you are doing it wrong! And you shouldn’t need to rest 1 day in 3. Your skis might – but you should be able to ski day after day if your balance issues are under control.

Day two we got to ski with Phil Mahre in the morning – and then after being video-taped, he personally critiqued our skill level. Imagine – an Olympic Gold Medalist and World cup Skier looking at your video and slowly and patiently explaining what he could see were problems to be corrected.

The rest of Day Two was spent with Don, our instructor with his two new knees and one new hip, going over and over what Phil had pointed out were our personal issues. In the evening, Steve gave us a summary lecture of their key techniques – and then spent time talking racing tactics. Worth the price of admission. He actually got tears in his eyes when he was describing one particular race. I was very impressed.

Day Three was the most interesting for me. We re-did the video taping, and again our flaws were pointed out (and thank goodness – some improvements), and then spent the afternoon working on mogul skiing techniques. Effectively, we took the balance lessons and applied them to more intense terrain. Not too surprisingly – I ended up alone with the instructor at the end of the day. Managed to ski both my fellow skiers under the table. At least they had the smarts to quit before they got hurt. Even Don eventually had to quit – but here’s the best part. When we got back to base – Phil was taking some people up for one last run – I gleefully joined in – and got 2 more runs in before the mountain shut down the lifts on me. Well – that worked out well.

That evening, each instructor gave each of their students something to remember their lessons by – a pair of glasses with ski tips attached (so you stop looking down), a toy motor bike to remember to keep your hands in front, and in my case – a mantra – Do the banana (Angulate) and what goes down MUST come up!

But it’s not during the lessons that the quality of a clinic becomes clear. It’s in the days afterwards when you find yourself able to ski with grace on terrain that you’d avoided in the past, and in my case – while still not at the speed of my husband – at least coming a lot closer to keeping up!

Bottom line – I would definitely take the Clinic again – just for the personal nature of the very directed instruction, and I would highly recommend the clinic to any skier – regardless of ability. During the ‘awards’ party – it was made very clear that there were plenty of participants with precious little previous skiing ability – all the way up to speed demons and mogul buffs. So the lessons, as explained, apply to everyone!

Thanks a bunch Steve and Phil. I had a really good time. Learned a lot too!