Sometimes, a bit of urban is unavoidable en route to ski country, but that doesn't have to be a bad thing. Whether you're flying in, or in need of a road trip down from the mountains to the city, we've got the lowdown on North America's three biggest ski commuter hubs: Denver, Salt Lake City, and Vancouver. Read on for where to stay, eat, and drink, plus tips on the best (and fastest) ways to reach the pow.
Vancouver: What's not to love about this progressive, outdoorsy aquatic city overlooked by the North Shore Range? Just two hours south of Whistler, Vancouver is an easy trip by car or rail, but you'll want to allow at least a night- preferably two- in BC's sweetest city. There's a banging dining scene, and the happening Gastown and Yaletown 'hoods, (the latter located in a renovated warehouse district), are full of shops, bars, and cafes. Read on for where to get your eat and drink on, and why you should really consider a long airport layover (perhaps even overnight).
Sleep: If you're going to do commuter Vancouver, it makes sense to be based downtown. The Burrard is best-described as "ACE Hotel meets 1970s West Hollywood/Miami (blame the canary yellow and turquoise accents and design of this former 1956 motor hotel)." Renovated in 2011, it's now sporting a hipstery midcentury mod vibe that is self-described as, "like Melrose Place, only there's no pool to drown in." There are free cruisers for exploration, but even if the weather is dreary, the rooms are airy and stylish.
If you're on a layover with an early connection, the Fairmont Vancouver Airport is what all airport hotels should be. Hell, this airport is what all airports should be. Besides the gorgeous indigenous art installations, abundant natural light, and stylish design, there are concourses' worth of specialty shops and Duty Free regional specialties like maple cream cookies (delish) and smoked salmon. Be sure to check out the living wall, which over 30,000 plants call home.
For longer layovers, $15 will buy you a sesh at the Fairmont's swanky health club, pool, and Jacuzzi; there's also a full spa. The high-style hotel is also a great place to make the time go by, perhaps over Canadian whiskey at the Jetside Bar, or a juicy burger at GlobeYVR, anointed with seasonal produce and herbs from the hotel's own farm (located nearby). The 300+ rooms at the Fairmont YVR all overlook the runways (soundproof glass is key), with modern, spare decor, cushy bedding, lots of light, and select quirky design touches like telescopes. One floor is reserved for hypoallergenic bedding and skin products, while others are pet-friendly (everything from rabbits to dogs is cool). If you want to head downtown for shopping or dinner, the clean, efficient Canada Line public transit system connects to the airport; 10 minutes and you can be walking into a sushi joint.
Eat/Drink: From Chinatown to Yaletown, Vancouver has dining for every budget and taste. Yolk's, bed-rolling distance from The Burrard, is a food truck that draws fanatics; the breakfast sammies and truffled potato hashbrown skewers are a must. Whistler's much-loved purebread bakery just opened its first Vancouver location early this month; fuel up for the slopes from the insane selection of goods including housemade granola, vegan and gluten-free treats, and breads like the "Seriously seedy loaded with crunchy peanut butter and sliced banana."
For lunch and road/ski-week snacks, cab over to Granville Island (about $10 from downtown), home to the city's spectacular public market. After stuffing yourself on chewy, Montreal-style bagels packed with juicy smoked meat at Siegel's Bagels, hit up Okanagan Valley fruit, Benton's Fine Cheese (Canada makes some spectacular varieties, especially those from Quebec), and Stuart's Bakery. Edible Canada's bistro and retail shop, across from the market, is the place for serious regional craft foods in travel sizes: think bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup, preserves, and the like. Score a bottle of BC wine from Liberty Wine Merchants next door (hello, Blasted Church Vineyards' Hatfield's Fuse), and you're ready to roll.
If you've got loonies burning a hole in your pocket, consider blowing them at Chambar, a North African/Euro-inflected Vancouver fave that just relocated to a new space. The wine and cocktail program are especially clutch, as are the drinks at UVA, near The Burrard. For serious beer, The Alibi Room in Gastown has one of the city's best regional craft beer selections. For some dive bar action, The Railway Club is a nearly 100-year-old beery, sticky-carpeted spot with great live music.
Getting to the snow: Canada's national and regional rail systems are a wonder (hear that, Amtrak?), but the Rocky Mountaineer Sea to Sky Climb doesn't run in winter. Still, no need to rent a car when you can save fossil fuels and enjoy the views with someone else at the wheel. If you're okay with the Dirty Dog, then Greyhound is the most affordable option/locals preference. There's also the more spendy Snowbus, a great way to meet other snow enthusiasts.
Denver: Beer aficonados know that Denver is where it's at, but with the July opening of Union Station- the biggest-deal historical preservation/renovation project in the nation- there's a whole new vibe to the city, and LoDo is the epicenter. The 1881 Beaux Arts building, known as DUS, is now this historic downtown district's anchor. While you'll have to wait until early 2016 for the Light Rail connect to Denver International Airport, it's an easy Super Shuttle or cab ride.
The gorgeously restored station- until recently a totally ghetto eyesore notable for its perma-stench of old cigarette smoke and urine, battered floors, and hideous fluorescent lighting- is now a combined public market/transportation hub home to some of Denver's most happening restaurants and bars. The 12,000-square-foot Great Hall is surrounded by eateries and a couple of boutiques; the 65-foot, original plaster arched ceilings are festooned with repros of the original chandeliers, while the restored moldings are edged with over 2,300 hand-carved Columbine flowers. The Crawford Hotel- a one-of-a-kind, 112-room indie property, is located on the upper three levels. You can fly in, and spend an hour, a day, or a weekend, and not get tired of exploring DUS, Denver's showpiece and a model for public markets nationwide. P.S. If you stay at the Crawford, they provide free Tesla service within a 2-mile radius, and also have a fleet of cruisers for mild weather.
Sleep: The Crawford offers three styles of luxe accommodations, each paying homage to Denver's glam, late 19th/early 20th century era of rail travel. Some have an Art Deco vibe, recalling Pullman-style sleeping cars, while others capture the Victorian aspects of the day. The Loft rooms, located in the station's former attic, have incorporated the original beams and vaulted ceilings. Each room features quirky local art, oddities (multiple jackalope mounts, anyone?), and plentiful natural light. Art lovers, should in fact, rejoice: the hotel has 600 pieces of vintage, Western, and salvaged/found site artifacts and materials on display, as well as a self-led guide for the intrepid. Fyi, the Denver Art Museum is also walking distance from the station).
If the Crawford is booked- and you'll need to make reservations well in advance- its historic, 19th-century sister property, the Oxford Hotel, is across the street (Crawford guests have free access to the Oxford's fitness center, salon, and spa). On a budget? The 11th Avenue Hostel is on the outskirts of LoDo, a mile-and-a-half from DUS. Housed in a vintage multi-story, the digs ain't pretty, but they're clean (usually), cheap (dorms start at $20/night, private rooms with shared bath are $41) and convenient. Expect some sketchball activity on the street, but the staff are pretty on-the-ball about keeping the crackheads out.
Eat/Drink: Clearly we're stoked on DUS, but design aside, here's why: Where else in Denver can you have access to some of the best high-end restaurants, baked goods, craft brews, cocktails, and locally-owned/sourced fast-casual dining? Exactly. Start off with drinks at The Terminal Bar- located in the former ticketing office- and choose from over 30, mostly Colorado craft draft brews. Feeling fancier? Make a reservation at Cooper Lounge (walk-ins just need to go to the reservation desk by Amtrak on the ground floor). Located on the second level, this seductive 1930's-style spot is all glam trappings (marble bar, cut-glass crystal barware, vintage décor), and overlooks LoDo. Bar manager/resident charmer Marcel Templet, formerly of Capitol Grille, specializes in unpretentious but intelligent seasonal cocktails like The Meridan (Infinite Monkey Theorum Muscato, Spring 44 Honey Vodka, lemon bitters), with an emphasis on Colorado spirits.
After imbibing, have a blow-out meal at acclaimed chef/Princess of Porc Jennifer Jasinski's Stoic & Genuine (half-pound lobster roll, perhaps?), or award-winning chef Alex Seidel's Mercantile Dining & Provision (the cocktails are also to die for, and have names like Shotgun Wedding, and Rough Rider). The rustic-yet-sophisticated farmhouse fare- some of it sourced from Seidel's farm and sheep dairy- is intensely flavored and first-rate. Don't miss the pastas or anything with Seidel's Fruition Farms cheese on it. By day, Mercantile is a cheese, charcuterie, and specialty foods shop offering breakfast items like bacon sticky buns and other house-baked items, and takeway travel-friendly fare like pate, rustic breads, preserved foods from Seidel's and other local farms. Snooze, which also provides room service to the Crawford (the Kitchen Next Door Community Pub provides lunch and dinner), is also a great, creative breakfast spot. Ready to hit the road and the slopes? Stop by Pigtrain Coffee, Acme Burger & Brat Corporation, Milkbox Ice Creamery, or Fresh Exchange, a salad/sandwich/wrap shop. Don't forget to stop at Bloom's flower kiosk or 5 green boxes (artsy ethnic jewelery and housewares) for a housewarming or holiday gift, and the The Tattered Cover for reading material.
Getting to the snow: I-70, unaffectionately known as the "Parking Lot" by weekend warriors, sucks. That's why weekdays or Colorado Mountain Express are so wonderful. In peak season, depending upon your destination (CME serves the Front Range region resorts, from Keysone to to Aspen), you might end up in one of their cushy Mercedes Sprinter vans, which makes the trip exponentially better. Barring the shuttle, you're going to have to resign to self-driving; fortunately, there are a handful of local's secret-type historic towns near some of the major resorts. They make for an ideal budget overnight, so you can beat the weekend traffic.
Note if you're If you're flying into Denver, there's now expanded international and national direct daily service, from Panama, Japan, Australia, Canada, Germany, Iceland, Mexico, Panama, and the United Kingdom. From DIA, travelers can reach many resorts in two hours or less (weather permitting), including Eldora Mountain Resort, Loveland Ski Area, Winter Park Resort, Arapahoe Basin, Copper Mountain, Vail, Beaver Creek, Ski Cooper and Ski Granby Ranch.
Salt Lake City: Despite the ongoing kefuffle over the city's rebranding, Ski City USA is an increasingly cool hub that invites commuters stay awhile. Yes, Virginia, you can even drink if you're of age.
Sleep: Would you expect any less from SLC than for its luxury hotel to have 775 opulent, if foofy, rooms, each "individually decorated with handcrafted Richelieu furniture" and marble bathrooms? The lobby of the famous Grand America ain't too shabby, either, nor are the views of the Wasatch and Oquirrh Ranges and the hotel's centralized downtown location. SLC's core is small, so if you can't afford the high-end hotel, Curbed Ski is fond of the absolutely frills-free Howard Johnson Express, just blocks away and across the street from the Salt Palace Convention Center. There's free parking, too.
Eat/Drink: Les Madelines, (featured in our Top Spots for Pastries, Breads & Treats guide) is the place to go for a pre-ski breakfast in SLC. Besides the classical French patisserie and drinks of the caffeinated kind, you'll find all manner of Asian-influenced goodies like cardamom cupcakes with rose syrup and pistachio buttercream, rosemary butter cookies, and delicate macarons in flavors like passion fruit, jasmine, rose, and sesame, and breakfast sammies. The Rose is a fabulous coffee house/cafe with delicious baked goods, tea lattes and hipstery varieties of porridge (espresso-maple syrup...mmmm) and excellent sandwiches. For to-go lunch options, Whole Foods Sugarhouse is a great pick. Be sure to pick up the amazing local products from Beehive Cheese Company, Rockhill Creamery, and Creminelli Fine Meats (salumi).
For a sexy splurge, Forage is the place. Award-winning chef Bowman Brown's elegant, Euro-inspired seasonal food is like art; envison wintery dishes like elk with elderberries, pork and carrot roasted in Piñon wood, apple with woodruff and pine, and pear with rosemary and caramelized bread. Sounds pretentious; it's not. For killer Mexican fare, the Red Iguana has long waits in a questionable 'hood, but it's worth it.
Get your drink on at Bar X. This dark, moody, if inevitably Prohibition-style bar has been around since 1933, so it's fitting that the current incarnation serves up the best classic cocktails in the city (try the Corpse Reviver #2, or Blood and Sand). Trivia: It's co-owned by actor Ty Burrell of "Modern Family." Thanks, Ty. At Epic Brewing, famously known as Utah's first brewery since the afore-mentioned Prohibition to serve high-octane beer, you'll find quality craft ales and lagers. Just note you can only imbibe if you purchase food (hot and cold sandwiches, soups) in the "Tap-Less Tap Room."
Getting to the snow: Few things are easier than accessing the region's many resorts, all of which are at most, an hour's self-drive away. If you don't mind the slight inconvenience of public transit, the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) provides bus service to/from Alta, Brighton, Snowbird, Solitude ,and Sundance starting early December through April. Do factor in wait times for bluebird, pow, and holidays. For transportation to Park City and nearby resorts, there are various affordable airporter shuttles servicing all of the resort areas. Speaking of the airport, SLC's is conveniently located to downtown, pleasant, and generally minus big-city-style hassles.
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· The 18 Essential Ski Town Spots for Dining & Drinking in Park City [Curbed Ski Archives]
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