It'd be hard to fault someone for struggling to come up with any off-the-cuff facts about Utah.
It's nestled away near the centre of the western US, known to most, after a few ums and ahs, by a handful of defining characteristics — some which bear a striking resemblance to New Zealand.
Both have prevalent, but diminishing majority populations: our sheep to their Mormons; the location of award-winning movies: our Lord of the Rings, to their Dumb and Dumber; and stunning natural landscapes: Utah's five national parks to our... well, entire country.
Both also share one other thing: world-renowned ski resorts. Utah takes this so seriously it trademarked the phrase, "The Greatest Snow on Earth" and chucked it on its number plates — and successfully defended the claim in court. It also hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics.
The stunning Victorian-era mining town of Park City — 40 minutes from downtown Salt Lake City and 2000m above sea level — plays host to two of the region's most classy, distinguished ski resorts: Deer Valley and Park City Mountain.
The smaller of the two resorts, lavish Deer Valley caters to the most discerning snow users. Since its inception in 1981 by the hotelier Edgar Stern, it set a groundbreaking new benchmark for ski resort quality. Stern wanted to create a five-star mountain resort package, extending from the snow experience to luxurious hotels and gourmet food, as well as high-quality amenities and the "best employees in the industry".
It's raison d'etre is to provide a service-oriented ski experience. Staff, dressed top to toe in matching forest-green uniforms, refer to customers as "guests". Tissues are provided at the bottom of lifts. A valet takes your ski gear from you as you pull up to the resort's entrance. The majority of runs are groomed for hours every night. Mountain concierges are scattered around to offer helpful advice on run choice or direction.
It even seems nature has been tasked with squeezing out a little extra — the snow feels that much fluffier and the air fresher. Most uncommonly, it is at times silent.
Spread across more than 2000 acres of skiable area with 21 chairlifts, I'd often not see or hear another human for minutes at a time, feeling like I was carving through my own personal ski field. If it wasn't for the extensive signage and grooming, I'd be almost second guessing whether I'd taken a turn into an off-piste, avalanche-risk area. But no, the serenity of a fresh canvas is just the Deer Valley experience.
So why is this place not crawling with critters? Two reasons, both Deer Valley's mandate. And surprise surprise, done with customers' — ahem, guests' — experience in mind. Firstly, it limits daily ticket numbers to 7500, no more, resulting in almost no lift lines. Once it hits this number, it turns paying customers away. Secondly, and skiers let me see you wave your poles in the air for this one: no snowboarders allowed. This caused me some initial doubt; I was an evangelical snowboarder. Why you'd ever want to deal with three extra pieces of gear and clump around in torturous moonboots was beyond me. (Keyword "was" — I've been converted.)
Deer Valley's attention to providing a complete package for riders is nationally raved about and recognised. For five straight years it was Ski magazine's number one ranked ski resort in North America, and consistently ranks in the top three in numerous categories.
The resort's motto is "Ski the Difference". Once you've experienced Deer Valley, there's no way you can disagree. It's the first class of ski resorts; the Gucci of frozen water.
PARK CITY MOUNTAIN
Just across the ridge from Deer Valley is its monstrous, intimidating sibling, Park City Mountain Resort. With higher peaks, more difficult terrain and almost three and half times the skiable area of Deer Valley, Park City's selling point is its sheer size and variety of runs and features.
Until last year, Park City Mountain Resort was the biggest ski area in the United States. Its 7300 acres comprise 324 marked runs, serviced by 41 lifts and four gondolas. If you rode all day, every day, hitting each run only once, you'd still be pushing yourself to complete everything in two weeks. It's a monster. It blows anything you've ever skied out of the (frigid) water.
Surprisingly, it felt more densely populated than Deer Valley — at least on the proportionally small number of runs we managed to tick off. But, despite carving down runs called Serenity and Sleepwalker, as a whole it was more challenging.
While without a doubt high class, the feel of riding there was a little more relaxed than Deer Valley — less heaven on earth and more mountain on earth. A snow experience closer to the commoner, perhaps.
It's more of a snow playground, with eight different terrain parks scattered across the area and no shortage of boxes, rails and death-wish jumps.
Park City caters more to those who have ridden before than it does beginners, with about 90 per cent of its runs classified as intermediate and advanced-level tracks. Both resorts have comprehensive ski schools for all levels of expertise, however. Park City permits all snow orientations to take part, forward-facing or sideways.
With these two resorts within 10 minutes of each other, it's no surprise Park City is the United States Ski Team headquarters and base for its athletes and administration.
While the choice of snow adventures on offer for an individual or a family is vast — from tranquil carving on intentionally sparsely populated plains, to high intensity tree skiing and aerial acrobatics for the more daring — Park City's two resorts have one thing in common: supreme, transcendent, thoroughly well-rounded experiences. It really is the greatest snow — and show — on Earth.
Getting there: American Airlines flies from Auckland to Salt Lake City via Los Angeles.
Further information: See visitparkcity.com