Getting to Salt Lake City, Utah – Part 1 of Collecting Mountains

Late last year, I purchased the Mountain Collective Pass as I was really into snowboarding and wanted to explore some of the supposedly top ski resorts in North America. For $379, it gave me 2 nights each at 6 different resorts, and any additional days are at 50% off daily lift tickets. Since a 3-day Edge card was retailing at around that price for Whistler Blackcomb which is my ‘home’ mountain, I decided to combine my love for travelling and snowboarding. My first stop outside Whistler Blackcomb was Alta/Snowbird which is essentially 2 resorts in the outskirts of Salt Lake City. Though Alta is a skier-only resort so I would be spending 2 days in Snowbird and a day for sightseeing in Salt Lake City as I have never been there either.

Getting there was simple enough as I searched for airfares using Hipmunk, and the lowest fare turns out to be from Delta, but they were gone before I finalized my travel plans. The next best alternative was to fly with US Airways, and this involves a connecting flight via Phoenix. I bought the tickets on Economy class but about 2 weeks before my flight, I was surprised that US Airways kind of gave me their premium Gold Dividend Miles Preferred status. I am guessing that was because over the past 2 years, I have been purchasing a lot of miles from them to redeem for some awesome First Class flights and have taken some flights with them as well for travel within North America. As a result of this newly found status, I actually got upgraded on 3 of my 4 flights to Salt Lake City, and paid a total of US$440 for the airfare.

Departing Vancouver, I was upgraded to First Class on both flights and this was even before I checked in. The main benefit of frequent flyers seeking status in US-based airlines is perhaps for this purpose since most Gold members and above at the major carriers (United, American, Delta and US Airways) would get upgrades frequently on flights. American and US Airways actually have unlimited upgrade whenever available exists! This upgrade allowed me to check in my snowboard bag with no problem at Vancouver and even allowed me entry into Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounge on the transborder side, which I have reviewed before. There was some minor confusion though, the first one was that the mobile boarding pass on Passbook apparently did not work for US Airways baggage drop off and I had to return to the check-in counter to get a physical one for the agent to scan. Then the immigration wait was very long since I had to clear US immigration first as the only agent was just catering to Nexus passengers first. Thus even though I was third in line, I had to wait about 20 minutes.

Cell-free seating area
Cell-free seating area at the Maple Leaf lounge in YVR

When I visited the lounge, they were serving lunch with a variety of salads, soups and sandwiches. The spread was actually very good for a North American airline lounge. In addition there was 2 beer taps serving Molson Canadian and Coors Light, while a fridge contains all sorts of chilled soft drinks. There was also a bar counter with a variety of liquors but since I do not drink, I did not try them at all.

Salad bar counter
Salad bar counter
Beer tap and pretzel bowl
Beer tap and pretzel bowl
Drinks fridge
Drinks fridge

Since I already had lunch, I did not have any of the salad, but got some Iced Tea and mini pretzel packs to snack on and grabbed a couple of magazines to read. The Maple Leaf lounge also has a great selection of magazines and newspapers (Globe and Mail, Vancouver Sun and Financial Post). One thing to note was that the internet was not working while I visited so that was a bit of a letdown to the lounge facilities. Thus I had to move towards the dining area to get free internet provided by the airport (thanks YVR!). Past lunch hour, which was around the time I left the lounge to board the plane, there was only nachos, cookies and some fruit bowls left when I passed the dining area to leave for the boarding gate.

Nachos and dips
Nachos and dips

Another thing to the like the Maple Leaf Lounge was that I usually get to see the incoming plane and today’s flight was to be operated by a US Airways Airbus A319 in a special livery featuring the mascot of the Arizona Cardinals. The whole design made the plane looks like an Angry Birds jet!

Arrival of the US Airways A319
Arrival of the US Airways A319

US542 Vancouver International YVR – Phoenix Sky Harbor PHX
STD-STA: 1429 – 1830
Actual: 1451 – 1816
Airbus A319 N837AW “Arizona Cardinals”
Gate E86 Seat 2F

For the flight to Phoenix, I sat beside a nice gentleman who was returning to Phoenix from a ski trip in Whistler and I was one of the last First Class passenger to board the flight thus I had to place my onboard carry at the back.

The city center of Richmond, BC
Flying over the city center of Richmond, BC
Richmond and Steveston
Richmond and Steveston from the air, with a view of YVR on the right

Last time I was on US Airways, the flight to Phoenix was very scenic since I was seated on the ‘A’ side. On the opposite side of the plane the southbound flight was beautiful too but the photos did not turn out to be excellent due to the glare from the setting sun.

Umatilla National Forest in Oregon
Umatilla National Forest in Oregon

Service on board the flight was just the crew going about her duties with minimal interaction. As usual, there was only a snack basket provided on this 3-hour flight. I would have expected a light meal at least but I guess passengers cannot expect much these days when flying within North America. Good thing the crew came around twice with the snack baskets and asking for beverage refills were not too difficult either.

Chips and pretzel snacks onboard US Airways First Class
Chips and pretzel snacks onboard US Airways First Class
First Class cabin on the US Airways A319
First Class cabin on the US Airways A319

The scenery and reading the books I had pre-loaded on my iPad helped pass the remaining of the time before landing in Phoenix. My experience was average but I was really pleased to get the free upgrade to the front cabin with the complimentary beverage and snacks. The wider and more comfortable seating also helped in this case!

Overhead seat controls on the Airbus A319
Overhead seat controls on the Airbus A319
Highway 202 in Phoenix
Highway 202 in Phoenix
Arizona Cardinals logo on US Airways A319
Arizona Cardinals logo on US Airways A319

Disembarking at concourse B, I was planning to head to the US Airways Club there but it was closed for renovation and thus I headed to the lounge between gates A7 and A9 since it was closer to the gate my next flight is due to depart from. In addition, this was also the larger lounge which I visited last time. Actually while I was at the lounge, I was feeling particularly disturbed as that was when they announced the missing MH370 flight, which till this date has yet to be found.

Signs for the US Airways Club
Signs for the US Airways Club

US454 Phoenix Sky Harbor PHX – Salt Lake City SLC
STD-STA: 2110 – 2252
Actual: 2135 – 2253
Airbus A321 N521UW
Gate A11 Seat 2D

Onboard magazine and A321 safety information
Onboard magazine and A321 safety information

There was a slight delay before boarding for the flight and this gave me some time in the lounge where I had some good mushroom bisque and sweet potato chips for my dinner. For those who are more hungry, there was a Mexican restaurant and a burger stand in this concourse and other dining options in the different concourses. Upon boarding the captain announced the delay was due to the need to do some system reset in the cockpit as the plane would continue on to Charlotte after the stop in Salt Lake City.

US Airways Domestic First Class seats
US Airways Domestic First Class seats

The larger Airbus A321 was slightly more comfortable and featured slightly newer seating which seems cleaner at the same time. I was seated beside a lady this time who went to nap immediately after taking off, only awaking upon landing. For this really short flight, the crew conducted one snack and beverage service though I did get extras again since I did not have much for dinner.

The rest of the flight remained without incident except during the descent into SLC which was a bit bumpy and the pilot had to made a go-around. Even with the slight issue, they still arrived on schedule.

US Airways A321 at SLC airport
US Airways A321 at SLC airport
Arrival at Salt Lake City airport
Arrival at Salt Lake City airport

Salt Lake City airport was somehow quite busy tonight and what I noticed was the dedicated baggage claim area for skis which was plastered with an advertisement for a ski resort. This made me think I had made the right decision since all the visitors were just excited to be here to ski and board! The only downside though was how slow it was to collect my snowboard bag since I must have waited like 20 minutes.

Ski baggage collection area
Ski baggage collection area

With my bag in hand, I head out to the car rental counters which is opposite the terminal in a separate building and got a Ford Edge before driving out towards Cottonwood where I will stay for one night. Getting to Salt Lake City might seem like a longer route but I did not mind since I got upgraded for the flight and paid quite a good rate as well.

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