Utah is lucky for snow lovers. Our multitude of long and thin mountain ranges get covered every winter with layers of light, fluffy snow. The Wasatch Front alone contains both Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, with four famous resorts: Alta, Brighton, Snowbird and Solitude. There are also numerous other resorts in Ogden and Park City.
Every resort is different. You may want one that’s just plain fun, where you can hang for the day with friends. You may want endless slopes where you can turn up your speed or you may prefer a romantic atmosphere or thrilling terrain parks or a good pipe. Whatever you want, there’s a mountain perfect for you.
Here are this year’s changes, as well as details most folks don’t know about the famous snow resorts at the top of Utah:
ALTA: Alta has a vast beginner and intermediate area, a whole mountainside, with long easy slopes where beginners can sharpen their chops. Just 20-50 feet away are more challenging pitches. Beginners can ski with more experienced friends, each on their own terrain. Take the lifts at the top of the free rope tow to get to this terrain; or park at Albion Basin if you can find a space.
For serious steeps, test your daring on High Rustler—the jaw-dropping pitch you see high above all else, slightly to the left when looking up from the snow field of the main parking lot. You can’t take a lift to get there. Instead, you have to take a very long traverse once you get off the Collins lift.
As you ski around or under Collins to get to the lower traverse (easier than the High Traverse), the first open run you come to will be Sunspot. It’s a black diamond run which lets you get your pow fix (or mogul fix, depending on the day) without risking your bases on the long single-track trail to Rustler.
BRIGHTON: The bus waiting room is being converted into a coffee shop. Get waffles, donuts, free wi fi and post photos of your day. In fact, the new coffee shop makes a great place to take a break if you don’t feel like ordering food or beer from Molly Greene’s, the terrific bar/restaurant next to the Majestic lift (featuring the best nachos in town).
Brighton also offers the best night skiing in America, if not on the entire planet. Everything served by Majestic and Crest Express is brightly lit at night. It’s a fun resort. Follow trails through the trees at the sides of each run, or make your own trail. A plethora of tiny terrain parks dot the resort.
Few people know that you can also get a reasonably priced room at the Brighton Lodge, with a glowing hot tub, large communal fireplace in the lobby, and a delicious free breakfast. Then put on your boots, grab your gear and walk about 50 feet to the Crest Express. Heaven!
CANYONS: Find a day of endless snowriding all on different runs, because it takes at least a day to explore the entire mountain. You may have never known how luxurious a heated lift seat is until you ride the Bubble chair. The orange ‘bubble’ cover encloses the chair, blocks sun and provides a 360 degree orange-tinted view of the face of the mountain.
There’s so much terrain at Canyons that it’s easy to forget you still have to take the lift to get back down, unless you take the Short Cut lift (ask for directions to Short Cut). But when you exit the Bubble Chair, you’ll find great places to eat and access to an array of trails. In summer, Canyons also offers incredible mountain biking, with banks, berms and jumps similar to a BMX track.
DEER VALLEY: Yes, it is more about eating incredible food in exquisite surroundings then it is about skiing, but so what? Who doesn’t want to live like this, even temporarily? Try the Chocolate Snowball, a delicious delight that will haunt your palate every time you crave a fantastic desert.
The service at Deer Valley is beyond compare. All smiles, no grumps allowed.
But for next level, go to Montage Deer Valley. The elegance, the sheer billionaire feeling of Montage is done at surprisingly modest prices. More, they make you feel like you belong there.
PARK CITY MOUNTAIN RESORT: Nothing different this season, according to Communications Manager Andy Miller. “We’re not making any changes this year at all, but we’ll be having announcements about a number of upgrades for next year,” he explains.
PCMR is the adventurous resort. Challenge yourself on the 22-foot high superpipe. However, daring isn’t mandatory. Even little kids can go down the wide middle, turning when they reach the vert wall on each side. Run the official Nastar course, win a medal. Get coached for a day or longer with the Masters, who practice on Olympic style race courses. With the Masters, you can also get video of yourself running gates on the Race Arena, which is closed to the non-racing public.
PCMR is known for its plethora of parks, ranging from easy jumps to parks with warnings at the entrance. One of the best parks is Neff Land, which has its very own lift, called Eaglet. However, that lift doesn’t access the regular size pipe at the top of Neff Land; for that, you need to take the King Con lift; which is the lift that offers the biggest bang for your snowriding buck; it accesses the most terrain of any lift at PCMR.
One great option is the Town Lift. It goes to Park City’s Main street, where you can choose from dozens of restaurants and shop at amazing stores—then get back on the Town Lift and continue snowriding until the lifts close.
POWDER MOUNTAIN: This resort is so blessed by natural powder, they don’t even have snowmaking. A trail map isn’t even necessary. Get off the lift, point your gear in any direction and take off. The pow-filled bowls refill your tracks; it’s like constantly snowriding in freshies. Marketing director Joe Stanczyk says, “If you miss the way skiing used to be before it got so commercial, this is the place. A lot of pro athletes come here to work out. We have terrain parks and a pipe.”
In fact, if this resort wasn’t so far up the canyon, it would probably have actual lift lines. But you’ll never wait in line at Pow Mow. On a genuine powder day, this resort offers such heavenly snowriding, it’s more than worth the drive. Don’t bother with your GoPro, the many, many face shots will hide the view.
SNOWBASIN: Take the glass-walled gondola to the top of the mountain and ski down for miles on either black, blue or green terrain. Ride from the top of the gondola over endless trails down to the base area, then take the gondola again and come down a different way.
Or test your daring on a run that may make you wish you were wearing Pampers. Take the long John Paul lift from the base area, to the right of the gondola, then take the Olympic Tram. It lets you out on the 2002 Men’s Olympic downhill course. National Geographic ranked as one of the top 25 things to do before you die. The first pitch is definitely scary, but after that, it’s not too bad.
The ‘Basin also has supreme elegance. Earl’s Lodge is fabulous, filled with priceless antiques and a huge fireplace in a mansion-like living room. The firewood is constantly renewed People actually fall asleep on the expensively upholstered sofas and chairs, and nobody bothers them.
SNOWBIRD: This is another resort that takes more than a day to take in. There’s so much terrain, it’s easy to get lost. If you’re with friends, make a meeting place so you don’t lose one another.
The top of Mineral Basin is being developed this season. There’s a new three-story building going up behind the top of the tram. The new building will have the ski patrol offices, upgraded restrooms (this is the final year for that uber-heavy restroom door), a lodge with restaurants inside and a 10,000 square foot outdoor patio, providing a 360 degree view, year round.
Mineral Basin itself is a huge bowl with a variety of ways to get to the lift at the bottom.
BTW, did you know the thin trail that circles the top left side of Mineral Basin is named ‘Path to Paradise?’
Few folks know that Snowbird offers more than a dozen restaurants and snack shops, ranging from the incredible gourmet food of The Aerie to the delicious Mexican menu of El Chanate. For another little-known treat, try a sandwich from General Gritts. The meat is piled so high, it’s hard to get your mouth around it. This store, located next to the elevator at the bottom, offers everything from groceries to liquor to quality eats at very reasonable, non-resort prices.
SOLITUDE: Rolling terrain and plenty of trees to ski through for those who love riding through forests. This resort lives up to its name. The slopes seem nearly empty; you’ll have all the solitude you could wish for on a bluebird day.
Despite the plethora of condos at the base, even the rustic ‘European Village’ look often seems deserted. The base area is romantic, great for a stroll.
There’s a great variety of restaurants here as well. The chef at St. Bernard’s in the base area should have his own reality show; the results from his kitchen are truly memorable.