Jordan Bond is at one with the other-worldly slopes at well-to-do ski paradise Deer Valley.
I'd never woken up with a bleeding nose and cracked lips before. Stark, white morning light filtered into the room to expose these magenta-coloured smears across my pillow. I lifted my hand to my lips and could feel raised skin starting to flake. My body was strewn across the bed, my facial skin dry and stretched taut across my cheekbones. Rolling over, it took me a second to realise I wasn't at home.
And there I saw it next to my bed — this kettle-looking object, filled with water and its plug sitting on the floor next to the socket, uselessly. It was a humidifier — yes, for adding moisture to the air. They'd told me I'd regret not using it, and boy did I, being more than a mile high in a state where humidity can drop to 10 per cent.
Welcome to Park City, Utah: population 8000, elevation 2000m.
I'd been excitedly researching Park City in the couple of days before I'd arrived. It had two world-renowned ski resorts: Deer Valley, an upscale, five-star snow experience, and Park City Mountain, one of North America's largest ski resorts.
As I slopped half of the hotel's complimentary hand moisturiser on my arid face and pulled on my polyprops, I remembered I was learning to ski that morning, entirely from scratch.
Shoot. I'd snowboarded a bit before, but the well-to-do ski paradise of Deer Valley doesn't allow it — seriously.
Luckily for me and my slowly recovering face, my lack of skiing skill resulted in me spending the entire morning at such a low altitude I was essentially still in the carpark.
When you're competent at a skill it's easy to forget how difficult it was at the start. I'd spent years laughing at rookie snowboarders spending most of the day on their rumps.
And now that was me, but with even more equipment flailing around, and I was even worse than most of the people I'd laughed at. At one point, while listening to Jerry, my lovely, patient instructor at Deer Valley, I found myself quietly sliding backwards, picking up speed and unable to stop. Jerry's voice faded as I slipped further away, shrugged, and resigned myself to the fact this was how it was all going to end.
Utah, and Deer Valley particularly, has light, dry, powdery snow — even on the beginner's slope, which always has the most overused, compacted snow on the mountain.
In fact, Utah modestly copyrighted the phrase "The Greatest Snow on Earth". It owes this to its geography. A typical snowstorm develops off the coast of California, and as it travels over the Sierra Nevada mountain range and the Great Basin Desert, the snow loses a lot of its moisture, creating dry powder. In the past winter this place had an absurd 11m of snowfall.
They were ideal conditions for learning. I was starting to pick it up. With encouraging words from The Nicest Man in the World, Jerry, each run down the beginners' slope started to feel a little less difficult and a little more rewarding.
Eventually I was passing preternatural toddlers who had been upstaging me earlier.
Jerry let me and my unfounded confidence fly free to try the upper mountain for size.
For my first proper run, our group decided we'd go to the peak of the 2865m Bald Mountain to ski an easy, tree-lined run called Homeward Bound. The snow was other-worldly — a far cry from the ice shards I'd come to expect at home. It made for silent, relaxed skiing; only a soft swish as your edges floated through.
In addition to the snow quality, Deer Valley has some industry-leading guest policies. It surveys annually, and unusually, it's not a token gesture to disgruntled customers that it plans to "improve its services" — it actually listens to them. As a result, Deer Valley maintains two major points of difference, which have now become part of its identity.
It limits on-mountain numbers to 7500 at any one time. Spread out across 2000 acres, this often means completely empty runs and no lift lines — unheard of, and a skiers' dream.
I'd often have runs to myself, competing with no one and not an utterance to be heard for minutes. It was sheer serenity; a bluebird dream, hypnotically rolling my body left and right and left again, gazing across the magnificent Rocky Mountains.
Secondly, it doesn't allow snowboarders — one of just three resorts across the United States to do so. This became so infamous that leading board manufacturer Burton offered a $5000 cash reward for video footage of riders snowboarding at Deer Valley.
Having only skiers meant the Deer Valley experience was one of harmony. It was as though we were dancers performing orchestrated movements. There was no one sitting around, as snowboarders are wont to do, and people skied in an unhurried, relaxed, considerate manner.
Both of these measures would be laughed out of the boardroom of other major resorts. It means a family of five, with one snowboarder, take their business elsewhere. And during peak season, Deer Valley hits the daily maximum most days, leaving money out in the carpark. But it doesn't care.
Deer Valley does this to uphold the vision of its founders, Stein Eriksen and Edgar Stern, who wanted to create a truly five-star snow experience with no compromises.
Deer Valley has recognised and fixed everything that can be frustrating about skiing. It replaced the overcrowded runs and long lift lines of other resorts with sparsely-populated runs and immediate chairlifts. It has completely flipped my expectations of what mountain food can be by providing a huge variety of substantial, delicious, hot food for reasonable prices.
This attitude and attention to detail has seen it ranked one of North America's greatest ski resorts for a number of years in a row. It's clear by the amount of money it's leaving on the table, that it puts customers ahead of profit.
It has created a ski experience I really didn't think possible.
Almost as large as the ski culture in Park City was the apres-ski culture; a chance to unbuckle your boots, slip off your jacket and lounge around drinking cocktails and eating hors d'oeuvres on the porch of a luxury hotel.
In New Zealand, my usual apres-ski (the term hardly fits) is enjoying a couple of warm Speight's in a tepid spa at the cheapest rental house we can find.
In this case, it was the five-star, ski-in-ski-out St Regis Deer Valley, and in my hand, the St Regis special: the 7452 Bloody Mary, crafted in-house and topped with wasabi, celery espuma, cayenne pepper and black lava salt.
The night flowed on to dinner; a wild-meat trio of elk, venison and bison at the Riverhorse on Main St, before some late-night orange juices at the packed, open-air No Name Saloon down the road.
My chance to snowboard the revered, behemoth Park City Mountain had arrived. Like Deer Valley, Park City hosted a number of events at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Its sheer size, quality and variety has earned it a reputation as a sort of pilgrimage destination for snow enthusiasts.
The United States ski team still use Park City as their home resort, 15 years on from the Olympics. It has 7300 acres of skiable area and everything you could possibly want in a mountain — here I was: Mecca, or Heaven, or whatever.
It was another glorious, jacket-unzipped day, careening through more difficult and bigger terrain. Park City's international sales manager, Brenda, took us out for the morning and showed us around.
A couple of years ago, Park City combined with the neighbouring Canyons, creating, for a time, the largest resort in the United States.
It would take weeks to ride every run — 314 of them, serviced by 41 lifts, and an enclosed, eight-seat gondola to transfer you to the far reaches.
On-mountain guides were stationed at the top of chairlifts to offer advice on run selection, thankfully.
Park City is challenging; less than one in 10 runs are beginner level, and the rest are split evenly between blue intermediate and black expert runs.
Its eight peaks means Park City Mountain has a ton of expert-level bowls and chutes for backcountry skiing and hike-to boarding, which I didn't need any convincing to steer clear from.
I spent hours exploring diverse and demanding runs, terrifying myself witless, navigating between trees and going higher and faster than I ever had, experiencing a near constant exhilarated rush.
Park City's huge features and variety attract a lot of people who go big.
On its Olympic superpipe, I witnessed the largest, fastest, most technical manoeuvres I'd ever seen.
In the afternoon I thought I'd take my over-confidence to a couple of the terrain parks — which is where the fragmented remnants of it now lie, beaten out of my chest by the downside of a rainbow rail, to be specific. It was of course directly beneath a full chairlift of youth, who all winced in unison for me as I body slammed it hard and slid down the remainder on my chest. Time for a drink.
Resort towns are often an afterthought to the main attraction of the mountain. It's not the case here. People lived here and created a liveable city long before any organised skiing took place.
Park City central is full of shops, bars, restaurants and art galleries, and is home to the Sundance Film Festival. It has a rich cultural and mining history, which can be seen all over town, including dozens of now-protected 19th century Victorian-era miners' homes. Forbes Travel Guide voted it one of the 20 prettiest towns in America.
And it is magical. Its snow-frosted Main St and vintage buildings feel cinematic. Despite being late winter, the nightlife vibe was jovial and energetic and bars and restaurants busy. On a day off from the slopes, our group snow-mobiled 32km across a historic, mountainous ranch, entered a geothermal crater lake and did yoga on paddleboards. We hurtled in a bobsled down the official Olympic track, explored nature on the city's doorstep and ate and drank our way through the finest food in the city with new friends.
It was a superb break in a glorious wee town; satisfying, adventurous, extravagant and leisurely.
A week of long, childlike days, aimlessly wandering and doing something I do too little: admiring nature. You stop to breathe, look up, to stand and appreciate a mountain, a bird or a building. And you don't have to rush because there's nowhere to be.
The value of a holiday is much more than financial. It doesn't matter whether the break is skiing in the US or camping at a beach an hour away. It's the contrast to routine and monotony that satisfies. It's during time off that we breathe deeply in awe, exhilaration or relaxation. In return, breaks breathe something into us. A chance to forget, if needed, whatever is happening in the real world.
It couldn't last, and we all knew that, but it doesn't stop us from longing. It's the sanctity of our mortal lives. Nothing lasts. And that's why we cherish things. "If all the year were playing holidays, To sport would be as tedious as to work," the Bard once said.
It's in contrasts in which we find joy. Nothing lasts forever.
Even this Speight's tastes a little sweeter.
American Airlines flies from Auckland to Salt Lake City, via Los Angeles. aa.com