The massive Great Salt Lake, elevation 4200 feet never freezes since it’s so salty. So as the prevailing westerly winds blow across the lake, they pick up a ton of moisture all winter long. Then the winds are pushed up to 11,000 feet by the Wasatch mountain range to the East, where the moisture condenses as light powder. This “lake effect” snow, primarily deposits on the western (Salt Lake City) side of the Wasatch Range. The eastern (Park City) side of the range, generally gets about half as much yearly snow.
Finally, crossing an “avalanche” rope is a crime in Utah and dangerous to you and those below you. . Ski patrol will NOT be amused if you’re caught. But crossing a “boundary” rope that separates the resort property from the national forest land generally isn’t.
There are 4 resorts a short drive up the Little and Big Cottonwood canyon roads from Salt Lake City. All of them are actually quite close together as the crow flies; you can see the Snowbird Tram from the top of the Brighton Great Western lift. So they all share about 40 feet! of annual snowfall and base areas around 8000 feet, which makes the powder last longer. With such a short drive, and excellent bus service, it’s quite possible to stay and eat in Salt Lake City and commute to the resorts daily, saving a TON of money compared to staying and eating at the resorts. If you’re susceptible to altitude sickness, staying in town at 4500 feet might be preferable to spending your nights at 8500 feet and your days at 11,000 feet.
Unfortunately, the canyon roads are two lane and can get crowded on good powder days, especially on holidays and weekends. If you rent a car and want to drive to the resorts, make sure it’s 4 wheel drive. If you want to try the bus, parking at the canyon entrance stops fill up really early, so pick one farther away. The bus stop at 9400 S, 2000 E (next to Walgreens) almost always has plenty of places to park. Discount lift tickets are available in Salt Lake City at various skiinsee.com locations, but the ones at the resorts don’t offer them.
No dogs are allowed in either canyon (bummer). I’ve seen a few that were left in the car while the owner skied.
Alta is located at the top of Little Cottonwood canyon, 18 miles from I-15 exit 295 on highway 210.
Because it’s skier only (no snowboards), and there’s limited on site lodging, its clientele is somewhat older and more local. The town of Alta (pop 285) is miniscule. There’s a handful of lodging accommodations, mostly modest, with easy ski in ski out access. The snow and the terrain is outstanding. There’s something for everyone, from never ever to “hold my beer and watch this”.
If you prefer to ski off the trails, Alta offers a very good selection of ‘unimproved terrain” with a minor to moderate amount uphill hiking. Catherines area in particular is an easy hike and suitable for intermediate skiers who are familiar with powder skiing. Be aware that Alta frequently closes one or more of these areas after a heavy snowfall. Possibly so they can open one of them each day to provide fresh powder for a couple of days after the storm?
Alta closes around April 17th every year when their forest service lease runs out. There’s a campground open in the summer, and hiking is superb!
Snowbird is located on the same road as Alta, about one mile closer. Base area elevation is about 8000 feet, 500 foot lower than Alta. Unlike Alta, Snowbird is a world class destination, with modern 5 star accommodations. Built by the Bass family (oil money) it’s unique in that they own the land outright instead of leasing it from the forest service. So they stay open for skiing until the snow mostly melts, most years well into May. Unfortunately, they always close the Gad2 lift the day Alta closes, which irritates the dickens out of me. (Actually wrote Dick Bass a letter about it but didn’t do any good.) But there’s plenty of other places to ski that stays open late.
As at Alta, the snow quantity and quality is world class. Average snowfall is around 500 inches. The lift accessible terrain is tremendous. There’s 2 large bowls (little cloud and mineral basin) at the top that have huge areas of moderate, non-groomed skiing with few or no trees and high speed lift returns. There’s nice mostly blue groomed runs in the valleys on either side of the central ridge. Plenty of beginner/intermediate chairs and trails. There’s a tram that goes from the 8000 foot base all the way to 11,000 feet. From there you can enter the famous “cirque”, enter either bowl, or ski down the ridge line and drop into the double black terrain to the east or west anywhere you like.
For the more adventuresome, you can enter the gates to the west (when open) from the top of Gad 2 lift when open to ski more “unimproved” terrain. Take the red lens gate and an easy hike to access the Thunder Bowl and Figure 8 bowls (double black), and return via the Thunder lift. Or you can hike up the boundary bowl trail and ski into Scotty’s bowl, which is outside the resort and you end up on the road below. Technically when you leave the resort boundary, your supposed to notify ski patrol at the top of Gad 2, as snowbird owns the land on the other side too.Or you can take the path to paradise into mineral basin and keep traversing right into the bookends area (black and double black). If you keep skiing really low, you will have to hike uphill some back to the lift. And if you’re feeling REALLY brave and an expert, experienced backcountry equipped and informed member of a group, you can exit the resort to the south over the ridge line in the book ends area and enter the drainage that leads to Tibble Fork reservoir, up the American Fork Canyon. You will need to pre-position another vehicle at the lake parking lot, as its very remote, no facilities and not always accessible.
Snowbird resort is adjacent to Alta, and you can easily ski back and forth repeatedly on groomed runs with an ‘Alta-bird” pass. Or you can ski from one to the other through gates into double black terrain without a dual pass, and take the shuttle back to the other resort.
Brighton is located at the top of Big Cottonwood canyon, 16 miles from the I-215 exit 6 on highway 190. There is virtually no on-site lodging available, except for a hand full of private cabins slope side and private homes within walking distance downhill from the ski lifts. Once known as the snowboard capital of the US, its clientele is younger and mostly local. Very friendly to families with kids. Lots of terrain and easily accessible lifts for beginners. Similar to Alta, the snow and the terrain are outstanding, but with fewer lifts and inbounds area. For intermediate skiers, it offers a good amount of terrain with moderately sloped widely spaced tree areas.
For expert skiers, it offers an unusual amount of “side country” skiing. There are 2 out of bounds areas inside that offer challenging unimproved skiing that you can ski directly from and two the lifts without any hiking.
For the more adventurous, with proper equipment and skills, there’s a huge valley to the north east that’s accessible with no hiking also. You can exit the resort to the southwest and boot up to Pioneer ridge and ski down to Dog Lake, or exit to the North West and ski the Wolverine Circ down to Lake Mary also. Both require a modest hike back to the resort, and both are avalanche prone. Skier beware! The Utah Avalanche Center issues daily reports on conditions in the back country.
Solitude is located on the same road as Brighton about a mile below. Like alta-snowbird, the resorts are adjacent and you can buy a combo ticket and ski back and forth. However, the cross trails are often closed for avalanche control after storms, so best to check before you spend the extra money. If you do find yourself in Brighton with the trails closed, it’s possible to ski on the west side of the highway back to Solitude, near or on the cross country track. Easier to take the shuttle, or pay $2.50 to take the UTA bus.
Solitude has a plethora of Condo’s at the upper base area close to the lifts, so I imagine some are available for rent if you want to stay on site. The clientele is older than Brighton and mostly local. On nice days, there’s lots of tailgate parties in the parking lot, which is quite close to the lifts.
Although the base area is 500 foot lower than Brighton, the snow is still good as most of the ski terrain is north facing. Solitude grooms extensively, but, there’s a good amount of mogled areas in between in the sparsely treed, moderately sloped areas upslope from the base areas.
From the very top, go right into honeycomb canyon, which can have nice powder in the valleys and some steeper nice areas on the sides. Go left, then traverse right to access an area of more heavily wooded and steep terrain. Drop in early, or go all the way to the Brighton gate and turn left to traverse the ridge line for more difficult and rarely skied terrain.
Or go straight and exit the resort through the Highway to Heaven gate. Turn left to ski back country down to Twin Lakes reservoir, then traverse the far edge of the lake back to Brighton base, where you can ski to the base and take the shuttle back. Past the gate, turn right and traverse the Highway to Heaven traverse (moderate uphill effort) to the top of Alta’s grizzley gulch and ski down to Alta’s base area, where you can take a take a bus (ask the driver which ones) back to solitude if It’s not too late.
Finally, Brighton offer pretty good night skiing. Your night ticket is good at 4PM. Perfect for the locals that have a day job.
The Wasatch mountain range east of Salt Lake City rises steeply from 4500 feet to over 10,000 feet. Then it drops rapidly back down to 6500 feet on the Eastern side, where there are 3 more ski resorts on the “lee” side of the prevailing westerly winds: Deer Valley, Park City and Canyon lands (previously park city west).
So it’s important to remember that even though the top of Park City is less than 2 miles (as the crow flies) from the top of Park City, it gets only HALF the annual snow fall. In addition, the base area is 2000 feet lower than the base of Brighton, further reducing the snow quality. On the other hand half of 500 inches of snow is still 250 inches, or over 20 feet, so how much is plenty?? Most people will say more than enough.
Also, in general, its more expensive here than the Western side. A daily lift ticket is $169 at all three resorts for 2019, probably more for next year. Same for the food and lodging. While there’s a dizzying array of options for a cheaper lift ticket (Epic pass, Mountain Collective, Wasatch benefits, buddy passes, discount tickets in SLC, etc) if you’re staying more than a few days, their confusing and change constantly. Good luck with that.
Park City area is a world class destination. The town of Park City is a real city, with most of the things you would expect in an actual city, and if you stay there, you can take the “town lift” directly up the resort from the center of town, just like in Telluride, CO. Access by car is via Interstate I- 80 about 15 miles east, than a few miles south along 4 lane all weather state highway 224 directly to the resorts.
Park City and the Canyons resorts merged and are now one big resort with a single lift ticket and a gondola that connects them (closes at 3:30). Deer valley is adjacent to them and shares a common boundary separated by a rope, so you can cross over, but your lift ticket is no good. However a free shuttle service runs frequently between the three, as well as other spots in the area.
Lodging choices in the area are extensive. There’s several motel chains for the budget minded, ski in/out $10 million dollar homes in the Colonies, and everything in between.
Deer valley is skier only, no snowboards. They recently purchased the Solitude resort on the western side, so they might be some deals between them. Historically, it’s been an upscale resort, with fine dining, elevators, ample help staff, plenty of parking, etc. Meticulously groomed, usually not too crowded, great for families and beginner /intermediate skiers. Some interesting areas for advanced skiers.
The base area for park city is inside the town limits, so the parking area has not been expanded enough to accommodate the massive increase in its popularity. So on holiday and powder days, plan on parking well before lifts opens. If the lot is full, you can park at the much larger Canyons lot and ski over or take the free shuttle bus.
The lower terrain has extensive and very blue and green trails and lifts and multiple adequate restaurants. The signature feature of Park City is the Jupiter bowl, elevation 10,026. If you take this lift, the easiest way down is a double black. And that’s a Utah double black, not an east coast double black. From the lift, you can traverse to an extensive area of steep and deep, and access even more with some moderate hiking. Right behind the ski patrol shack at the top of the Jupiter lift is the boundary gate that leads to the drainage to Solitude (back country equipped and in a party of course). Mconney’s bowl below another lift offers similar terrain but has a sissy way out.
When you’re bored with all of that, you can take the Quicksilver Gondola over to the Canyons side. Or you can get off midway, hike up the ridge as far as your able and ski some really nice, seldom skied terrain back to park city.
There’s tons of high rise condos at the base of Canyons, and lots of restaurants and shops too. If that’s too expensive or not your thing, you can stay anywhere in the area (even Salt Lake City) and take the bus, or rent a car and easily drive yourself to the resort on short, good roads.
Canyons has a massive parking lot that very rarely fills up. And even if it does, the staff will usually direct you to alternate parking. They sell tickets at the parking lot, but there can be a long wait on powder days, so it’s sometimes best to take the parking lot minitram (no ticket required) up to the main base area and buy your ticket there or pick it up at will call if you pre purchased it.This resort is huge, with lots of terrain for everybody. The red pine lodge at the top of the Godola is where most beginner intermediate skiers frequent. If that’s you, consider riding the gondola back down at the end of the day, as it’s the only easy way down.
If instead, you take the Orange bubble chair up from the base, you can turn right and ski down to the Super Condor chair. From there, you can ski the blue run down the spine, and turn left on one of several steep and moguled up runs back to the chair. If you’re an expert, you can turn left immediately and enter the condor woods though one of the gates. Terrain here is steep, deep and thickly treed, with no way out until you enter the narrow ditch at the bottom. But lightly skied, and usually terrific snow. If you turn right through a gate, there’s small bushes instead of trees, which makes it easier to ski, but the sun shines on this side, so the snow can be bad. But there’s’ a cat track through the area that you can bail out on if you don’t like it. Or you can ride the blue run all the way to the bottom. The adjacent sun peak express chair has easier terrain and a nice, uncrowded restaurant at the bottom.The signature area for Canyons is the Ninety-Nine-90 chair and area (elevation 9990 feet). Similar to the Jupiter bowl at park city, but smaller, the easiest way down is a double black. There’s no real “trails”, nothing is ever groomed, so you just point them downhill and do what you want.
If you turn left or go straight, you can ski back to the lift. But if you turn right and traverse, there’s gates to access the shady side of the ridge with awesome powder. You end up at the boundary rope, and there’s some nice woods to the left on the other side, but you will have to take the Tombstone chair to get back to the lift.
Next to the 99-90 lift is the Peak 5 lift. You can ride that up and take some short, nice runs back, or turn left and enter the “Colonies” area, another “signature” area of the Canyons.
The “Colonies” area if filled with two features: gently sloped wide blue trails and multimillion dollar “ski chalets” all around them. It’s your chance to see up close how the other 1% of 1% of the people live. Don’t get too close, as some of those bozo’s put rocks in their yard to discourage that. In between the blue runs is often some really nice powder, but if you go too far you can find yourself at one of the roads that access the houses with no easy way to cross. Usually not too far to boot or pole back up to a bridge.
At the end of the day, it’s very tricky to get back to the car, as there’s only 2 ways down: ride the gondola back down from the red pine area, or take the “short cut” chair across the gully to the orange bubble ridge and ski down that. Save a little in the tank for the walk to the car, as it’s up hill.
The Snowbasin ski resort is about 40 miles north of Salt Lake City, on good roads. Take I-15 North to exit 324, highway 89 north to I-84 east, and the mountain green exit and follow the signs. Parking is more than ample, and shuttles run constantly from the lots.
The resort hosted some of the events during the SLC winter Olympics and it’s an absolutely first class operation. Five star for sure. The restaurants, facilities, the staff, etc. It’s located at the end of a dead end road, with absolutely nothing else around for miles. No lodging, no gas stations, nothing but spectacular scenery. Which is really nice!
Like Park City, it’s on the leeward side of the mountain, so gets half the snow, and its base is lower. But half of 500” is still 250” or over 20 feet, so that’s still plenty. And when they have snow, its’ awesome.
The average clientele is noticeably older and slightly better dressed. Another good thing, as you’re less likely to get hit. I’ll describe the terrain in three sections, right, center and left: The s right area is accessed from the John Paul chairlift at the base. This area is the one with the most tree cover, and thus the best powder. Turn right at the top, go through the gate and lean to the left for the most remote area or anywhere else that looks interesting.The gondola (the only other way up) takes you to the needles lodge in the central area at the top. From there you can ski down numerous black and blue runs to the left and right to several lifts beginning half way down. This area has lots of groomed runs, is not super steep, and has fewer trees.The left side is serviced by the strawberry lift. It’s a huge area, lightly groomed, and moderately sloped, very few trees. The gondola is fast, and the vertical drop down is about 3000 feet. On a good snow day, you bomb straight down, over and over until you drop. And the view of Ogden and the lake from the top is worth the trip. For the young in body, you can boot up a short way to the cirques at the top for some fresh powder. And there’s a short 5 person “tram” above the John Paul lift. Other than that, there’s very little extreme skiing like what’s available at say Snowbird.
Powder Mountain resort is located about 20 miles further east of Snowbasin. At the end of the road from Liberty, UT. Reportedly the steepest paved road in Utah. There’s a bus from Liberty if the road’s icy and your vehicle isn’t up to it. There’s three base areas; one on the left on the way up, the main base area where the sell tickets, and a parking lot at the top of the Hidden lake lift if your all set. Nothing near this resort either; no lodging, nothing.
The clientele is young. The facilities are best described as rustic? old? sparse? dingy? crowded? but It DOES NOT MATTER! If you’re a powder skier, you won’t even notice. If your country folks, you’ll love this place. Everybody’s super friendly. If you’re from NYC, go back to Snowbasin. Food is OK at the main base, but consider bringing your lunch if you’re a picky eater. The terrain is mostly moderately sloped with nicely spaced trees, and lightly groomed. The Hidden canyon high speed quad has nice blue and a few black runs surrounded by ungroomed areas for intermediate non power and young skiers. Most of the double black type terrain is on either side of the ridge below the Paradise lift down below the Hidden Lake lift. Nice powder on both sides.
There’s a poma lift off the Hidden Lake lift that provides access to a large, unimproved area lightly treed. You can ski powder back to that lift, or traverse right and ski to the lower Paradise lift. Really nice. Recently, they opened up a large, new area with 2 new lifts. It’s lightly groomed, not super steep and widely spaced trees. Perfect for easy glade skiing through the powder. Best part is, hardly anybody goes over there, so far.The “signature” feature of Powder Mountain is the out of bounds skiing. Ski off the back of the Hidden Lake lift into Powder Country “when open” and ski for miles wherever you like, until you get funneled by the mountain back to the road, where a bus will be waiting to haul you back for free. Do the same off the sundown lift at the lower base area on the other side. Or fork over $25 to ride a snow cat up lightning ridge for virgin powder. You can do all of that, with zero hiking, poling or booting uphill.
For the young in body, there’s nice places to skin or boot up too.
Robert Redford’s ski resort is located about 50 miles south of Salt Lake City, north east of Orem, UT. Being so far south of the Great Salt Lake, it doesn’t get a lot of lake effect snow. It’s an OK place, not too big, very nice, when the snow’s good, not as nice when it isn’t. Can’t think of any “signature” feature. Enjoyed myself every time I went but don’t seem to go very often. Inexpensive.
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