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Today is the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, and while many of us dread the season’s chilly days and long nights, here at IndependentTraveler.com we’re looking on the bright side. Pack your snowboots and mittens, and join us for a virtual trip around the world’s winter wonderlands.

northern lights norway

Norway is one of several countries where you can see the northern lights color the night sky.

yaksaam temple winter south korea

Yaksaam Temple is part of Geumosan Provincial Park in South Korea.

quebec city

Quebec City celebrates winter with numerous activities, including toboggan rides along Terrasse Dufferin.

japan snow monkeys

Outside of Nagano, Japan, visitors can get up close and personal with snow monkeys keeping warm in the area’s hot springs.

vatnajokull glacier iceland

In winter, you can hike through one of the ice caves near Vatnajokull Glacier in Iceland.

bryce canyon in the snow utah

Utah’s spectacular Bryce Canyon, a national park, looks even more striking under a dusting of snow.

moscow in the snow

Moscow‘s famously chilly winters make for picturesque scenes like this one.

Quiz: Where Should You Travel This Winter?
How to Pack for a Winter Vacation

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Today’s post is part of a weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two larger-than-life attractions.

Would you rather…

… travel to Utah to see the red rock formations of Monument Valley, or …

antarctica penguins

… gaze up in awe at the massive stone heads of Easter Island?

polar bears arctic canada

Tell us your preference in the comments below!

Nine Easy Hikes That Will Take Your Breath Away

— written by Dori Saltzman

Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

This week’s shot captures a vivid sky over Monument Valley, Utah.

monument valley utah

Photos: 9 Easy Hikes That Will Take Your Breath Away

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

The Lure of Revisiting a Familiar Place

— written by Sarah Schlichter

It’s the most accessible winter sports destination in the United States: You can fly nonstop to Salt Lake City from any major gateway, take a 35-minute van ride to Park City, and hit the slopes that same day. Moreover, Park City’s three ski resorts — Deer Valley, the Canyons and Park City Mountain Resort — offer free lift tickets to first-day arrivals. Between the three resorts you’ve got 9,000 acres of downhill terrain (Vail, the largest single ski resort in the U.S., has 5,300) and accommodations at all levels (starting at $40 a night at Chateau Apres). Plus, you don’t even need a rental car because Park City has the best shuttle system in ski country.

Pretty sweet. But the three resorts have found ways to make things even better this year. Here’s what’s new:

1. The Orange Bubble Express
The Canyons is huge — 4,000 acres huge — and its endless glades are a big draw for advanced skiers and snowboarders. But up until this year, everyone had to take one gondola up from the base village; not only was the line huge, but getting to the gondola — located at the very far end of the village — was a hardship. And these boots were not made for walking. So this year the gondola has been moved to the center of the village, which is also where the cabriolet from the parking lot ends. Moreover, there is now a second lift, the Orange Bubble Express, which has heated seats (ahhh) and a bubble top to keep out the elements.

orange bubble express

2. Zip Lines
Canyon Mountain Sports (435-615-3440) at the Canyons has two new zip lines: an intermediate zip line that takes you on an 800-foot tree-top ride through the Red Pine area, and an advanced zip line that flies across the canyon between Lookout Peak and Red Pine Lodge, spanning more than 2,111 feet. Ticket prices haven’t been released yet; expect something like $20 for the longer run. Not to be outdone, Park City Mountain Resort has a new summer and winter Flying Eagle Zip Line ($14) as well as a ZipRider ($20) on which you can race your friends (just in case skiing or snowboarding don’t provide enough thrills for you).

zip line

3. New Restaurants at the Canyons
There are several new restaurants — and they’re both kind of surprising. The Farm, which features locally sourced, seasonal cuisine like the entree shown below, is the sort of place you’d expect to see at Deer Valley, the zillion-star resort at the other end of Park City. The Farm’s executive chef, John Murcko, was recently named the best chef in Salt Lake City. A second place, Bistro at Canyons, is the first certified glatt kosher restaurant at any American or European ski resort. It has an Orthodox synagogue next door, too, so you can finally find out if davening really does stretch your leg muscles for skiing.

the farm

4. Deer Valley Resort’s Better Grooming
Deer Valley, which readers of “Ski Magazine” have named the best resort in North America for four years in a row, has slopes so flawless that my Colorado friend wonders if they bleach the snow. Even so, the place has four new snowcats, including two Prinoth Beasts that upgrade trail grooming by 40 percent. Improving Deer Valley’s grooming by 40 percent is like boosting Scarlett Johansson’s attractiveness by 40 percent.

trail grooming

5. Kids’ Stuff
Deer Valley is decidedly not snowboard friendly, but in every other way it’s exceedingly family friendly, so this winter the resort is rolling out a new children’s outdoor play area next to the Snow Park Lodge as well as a trail map designed just for children and families. The map is light on the snowcat and heli-skiing, but strong on more parent-approved ways to enjoy the place. Deer Valley has also installed four new conveyor belts to transport kids and beginner skiers up the mountain. Meanwhile, Park City Mountain Resort has a new Beginners Zone with two conveyor belts for ski and snowboard students of all ages.

ski school

6. The Superpipe at Park City Mountain Resort
The new dirt-work foundation for Park City Mountain Resort’s 22-foot superpipe doesn’t sound that important. After all, you can’t even see it. But it will allow the resort to open the facility earlier in the season; that’s pretty remarkable, because even without this new foundation, onthesnow.com had singled out Park City Mountain Resort for having the best terrain parks in America. (Of the three resorts, P.C.M.R. is also the one with a lift that’s right in town.)


7. Snowmamas Rock!
Snowmamas.com, a new microsite sponsored by Park City Mountain Resort, is an online community of moms (and dads) who live in town. They’re real people, too; their faces are on the site, and you’ll run into some of them in town. They tell visitors about local deals and offer insiders’ tips to us flatlanders. And best of all, there’s an “Ask a Snowmama” widget on the site, so you can get answers to specific questions about gear, baby sitters, shopping, child-friendly restaurants, anything.


— written by Ed Wetschler, the executive editor of Tripatini.com, the travel social media site a.k.a. “Facebook for travelers.”