PARK CITY, Utah
Trail maps, those colorful pocket-sized guides to mountains and the types and location of the lifts to access them, are best studied before heading for the slopes.
But, as handy as they are, the best way for intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders to learn where to go and how to get there at a major resort is to sign up for a free mountain tour.
And it doesn't get any better than when the guide, Brian Kahn, is a native Pittsburgher from Point Breeze, an excellent skier and shares some of the same friends back home.
Kahn, 37, a market technician for Responsible Asset Management who grew up skiing at Hidden Valley and Seven Springs, lives in Park City, Utah with his wife, Jessica, and Shane, their 3-year-old son. He's a part-time mountain host for Deer Valley, rated by Ski Magazine readers as the best resort in the country from 2007-12.
We met him at Silver Lake, a mid-mountain site that's a short walk in ski boots from our rooms at The Chateaux Deer Valley, an AAA Four Diamond Award facility. Its Ski 'N See rental shop just off the lobby saved us the trouble of schlepping our skis, boots and poles from home.
We sampled four of the resort's six mountains, four of its 13 high-speed quads, two of its five triple chairs and eight of its 100 slopes and trails. We skied tree-lined runs over and under stone-arched bridges and admired the homes bordering the trails in the high-rent district. It was a great morning.
Kahn studied tourism management at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
"Our classes focused on properties and resorts that were number one in guest service and customer satisfaction," he said. "What a dream come true to work for and help to represent a top-ranking resort."
Barbara McElhinney, a part-time mountain host at Park City Mountain Resort, the only local resort that offers night skiing, introduced us to a series of lifts and runs on the upper sections of the mountain.
Park City has 114 slopes and trails that descend from eight peaks and nine bowls. It has 16 lifts, including four high-speed six-passenger chairlifts, three high-speed quads, seven triples and two triples. The learning area has three Magic Carpets.
McElhinney, 58, a smooth skier who works full time for Utah's workforce services department, stopped at several historic sites related to the town's rich mining history. More than 1,200 miles of mines were dug to extract silver, gold, zinc, lead and other minerals.
"I love being a Park City Mountain host," she said. "I receive a season pass as well as ski benefits for my son, Dylan Johnson, and friends."
Christiaan Boer gave us a sampling of the terrain at Canyons Resort, the largest single ski and snowboard resort in Utah (4,000 acres) and one of the five largest in the country. It has 182 slopes and trails, 21 lifts, nine peaks, five bowls, six natural half-pipes and three terrain parks.
Boer, 25, who makes skiing seem effortless, is the communications coordinator for the Park City Chamber/Convention & Visitors Bureau.
We started out on the Orange Bubble Express, a high-speed quad that features heated seats and an orange cover that can be pulled down in windy weather. It's a comfortable way to start the day.
During our stay we enjoyed lunches at The Farm at Canyons and Legends Bar & Grill at Park City, and dinners at Talisker on Main and Zoom in Park City and Cena Ristorante & Lounge at Deer Valley. You won't leave hungry.
Larry Walsh writes about recreational snowsports for the Post-Gazette.