Happy boarders at Mount Sunapee. (Mount Sunapee)
One of the absolute best reasons to rise and shine early for your trip to the mountains is the sweet reward of laying down some tracks in freshly groomed corduroy. The zip of your edges into those fine lines makes the first turns of the day often the most satisfying. While finding a powder day is never guaranteed, these resorts are known for their grooming finesse. So grab your coffee, boots and boards and head out for first chair.
In the Woodward park at Copper. (Woodward Copper/Facebook)
In a bit of an ironic twist, the former owner of Park City Mountain will build a Woodward action sports facility north of the city – a project originally planned for the base of the Utah ski and snowboard mountain.
Tramway a seven-minute flight to summit. (Snowbird/Facebook)
This is a serious skiing and riding mountain. Powder and steeps are what The 'Bird's all about. Little Cottonwood Canyon catches as much snow as anyone, and the precipitous terrain will make even the most daring pause.
Snowbird's revamped base lodge feeds the pow' soul. (Snowbird/Facebook)
A couple of high-speed chairlifts, upgrades to base lodges and the end of night skiing in Park City make the list of top improvements at ski and snowboard resorts in Utah.
Looking for a landing spot. (Ruby Mountain Heli-Experience)
Whenever favorite stashes get carved up, or the maddening crowds threaten your first tracks, it may be time to shell out the bucks for a helicopter ride deep into Powder Country in the West.
Finding some freshies above Sun Valley. (Sun Valley Trekking/Facebook)
Heading into the backcountry transports skiers and rider into a world of powder, mystery and quiet – especially if the trip includes a night or two out in the woods.
Sun Valley set to go with early discounts. (Sun Valley/Facebook)
Once the snow begins to fly, skiers and riders make plans to get up into the hills as soon as possible – and stay there as long as possible. As a result, many Rocky Mountain resorts lay out early season ticket and lodging deals.
Deer Valley is first Utah mountain Colorado-based consortium (Deer Valley/Facebook)
An Aspen-based consortium of ski and snowboard resorts has added Deer Valley to its portfolio.
Hangin' on at Snowbird coaster. (Snowbird/Facebook)
As summer hits its full stride across the West, mountain resorts put their hot-weather activities front and center – including a plethora of mountain coasters that rush down trails and slopes.
Brian Head Fire seen from chairlift at the resort. (UtahWildfire/Facebook)
A wildfire that began June 17 on the outskirts of the Brian Head Resort has moved away from the southern Utah resort, sparing it from any direct damage.
Payette River goes big near Tamarack. (Tamarack Resort/Facebook)
The winter may be over, but a solid reminder of what a good year it was in the West continues to play out in the rivers that are flowing bank-full out of the mountains this spring.
A face-full of Wasatch powder. (Solitude/Facebook)
Solitude Mountain is one of the most aptly named resorts in America. Both the marketers and loyalists tout non-existent lift lines and expansive terrain – promoting a day of “solitude” in the Utah mountains.
Resort sits near top of Big Cottonwood Canyon with two base areas – day parking Moonbeam and overnight Solitude Village. Bought by over-the-ridge neighbor Deer Valley in 2015, Solitude has since gotten a new and realigned high-speed (Summit Express), and upgrades inside lodges and restaurants – with promise of more.
Terrain/Lifts. Total vert just over 2,000 feet with 1,200 skiable acres spread across two cirques, and divided into distinct sections. Novices should stick to lower mountain off Moonbeam (only 18 percent of hill is green). Classic groomers roll off Sunrise, Apex, Eagle and Powderhorn lifts. Upper front serves up a few cruisers, but specializes in delivering skiers and riders to the steep, deep and gnarly. Tons of short, steep lines between trails to explore, and plenty of trees in Headwall Forest off 10,035-foot summit, or if you slalom through Black Forest into Honeycomb Canyon. That’s where Solitude sets itself apart: Honeycomb Canyon feeds all parts of the powder hound’s soul, with traverses (or short hikes) off the summit leading to glades, chutes, bowls and cliffs on both sides of the backside steep canyon. Return access requires a couple of chair rides on which to rest weary legs.
Deals. Multi-day tickets cut day rate, and season pass tops at $979, including days at Deer Valley and Brighton. SolBright ticket ($99) permits crossover to neighboring Brighton Mountain. Stay at resort properties in Solitude Village and cut ticket costs. Solitude part of M.A.X. Pass network.
Eat/Drink. Nothing on the mountain but skiing fare at base restaurants. Wander into the village and find everything from pizza to filet miñon. Target the Thirsty Squirrel bar for aprés-ski drinks and chatter. Lounge upscale at the Library Bar in Powderhorn Lodge, or strap on snowshoes for half-mile trek to The Yurt for four-course meal.
Stay. One hotel – the Inn at Solitude – surrounded by condos, townhouses and private home rentals in village. Down below, town of Sandy and Salt Lake City jammed with overnight options.
Play. Expansive Nordic center winds out of village with all levels of trails. Snowshoes can be rented for those who need more stability, and there’s an ice rink in the village.
Travel. A shuttle from Salt Lake City airport gets you on the slopes in about an hour. It’s 20 miles up Big Cottonwood Canyon; public transport is preferred, with loading spots around the city and at mouth of canyon. Parking can be limited.
Insider Tip: First-timers should check out trail map ahead of time, as lifts link up oddly. Warm up below, and then plan to do multiple runs on a particular section of the mountain to avoid having to take more than one lift or making lengthy traverses.
Snowbird is one of four Wasatch resorts that fill their parking lots to the brim. (Snowbird/Facebook)
The bus system of the Utah Transit Authority will narrow its focus this winter in order to get more skiers and snowboarders on the slopes more efficiently.
That means more bus trips up Little Cottonwood Canyon to Alta and Snowbird, and more runs up Big Cottonwood Canyon to Solitude and Brighton. It also means no direct service for visitors staying in downtown hotels or local city dwellers.
That quartet of ski resorts has always been within easy reach of Salt Lake City and environs, but they have been hampered by heavy congested traffic and a lack of consistent bus service up the narrow canyon roads.
To that end, the UTA has decided to eliminate direct ski resort service from downtown hotels. Instead, it will increase service by 35 percent from three light rail stations in south Salt Lake City as the jumping-off point for buses into the mountains. Connections at Murray Central and Historic Sandy stations head up to Snowbird and Alta, while buses loading at Bingham Junction Station go to Solitude and Brighton.
UTA officials contend that connections from the light rail stations will entice more people to park there, as opposed to the smaller, more cramped lots at the canyons’ base.
During peak hours of 7 to 10 a.m., buses will run every 15 minutes from the parking lots at the base of the two canyons. In the afternoon between 3 and 6 p.m., they will run from the four resorts to the parking lots at the mouth of the canyons.
UTA also will ramp up weekend service during peak hours to diminish both vehicle traffic on access routes and crowded buses.
During off-peak hours, UTA has upped the frequency to every 30 minutes – again, an effort to spread out the number of riders on these busy routes.
A one-way adult fare is $4.50, or $2.25 for seniors. For a map and schedule, click here.
Nighttime in Alta, with Salt Lake City down the canyon. (Alta/Facebook)
Just by its name -- Alta Ski Area – you can tell that you’re skiing “old school.” The famed powder mountain is one of the oldest in the country, opening in 1939, and much is the same today. Don’t bring your snowboard: Alta’s one of three resorts that prohibit knuckle-draggers. But do bring goggles, powder suits and perhaps a snorkel for, typically, the Alta gets 500-plus inches.
Terrain. Alta is two cirques side by side. The front under 11,000-foot Mt. Baldy rolls gently down the middle. But get up on the sides, and that’s where Alta really speaks to you. Be ready for lots of traversing to get to iconic Sunspot or High Rustler skier’s right or Ballroom to the left off Collins high-speed. Take Wildcat chair for a trip up into Alta’s original trail – and peek over into Snowbird. Or traverse over to the backside for an array of wide-open slopes in Greeley Bowl, the gnarly drops off Supreme lift, or the only greens on the hill -- gentle long cruisers all the way to the base.
Tickets. Used to be cheapest day ticket around, but now at full retail of $96. Online, reloads and multi-days cut prices. Alta is in the Mountain Collective, also has combo with Snowbird. Beginners get late-afternoon deal for novice-only tickets for Albion lift.
Ski School. Alf Engen Ski School among nation’s best, especially for powder skiing. Alta Lodge hosts renowned multi-day “performance ski camps.”
Eat. Basic skier’s fare on the hill at Watson’s Shelter on the front, and Alf’s Lodge on the back. Down below, the same during the day, but the fondu flames fire up every evening at lodges.
Lodging. Three classics await -- Alta Lodge, Peruvian Lodge, Rustler Lodge – with European cuisine, cozy rooms and steins of beer. Goldminer’s and Snowpine a bit newer but also compact. A limited number of condos and townhouses up near the mountain. Down below, town of Sandy is full of VRBO’s and motels.
Transportation. The airport-to-lift trip is the quickest in country. Utah encourages taking a bus up Little Cottonwood rather than fight the traffic, which can be monumental if it’s snowing. Shuttles run regularly back down to town and nonstop to the airport. Parking’s cheek-to-jowl around the base (no lot shuttles).
Insider Tips: You want challenge? Head skier’s left off Wildcat and stick near the boundary rope. All it does is get steeper, cliff-ier and longer the farther you go. Want to miss crowds? Stay overnight and hope the access road is closed by avalanche.
Plenty of new lift-access powder to go for at Powder Mountain (Powder Mountain/Facebook)
If you’re searching to find the largest in-bounds terrain in the United States, look no further than Powder Mountain in northern Utah.
This season, ownership will have 1,000 more skiable acres and two new lifts up and running by opening day in December. The lifts will open up terrain that was guide-only, and provide access to a pair of planned mountain villages with up to 500 total home sites.
The additional acreage within its ropes means Powder Mountain is once again the largest ski and snowboard area in the country: 7,957 acres. It surpasses Park City Mountain for No. 1 with this expansion.
Skier and snowboarders at “Pow’ Mow’” will be able to ride a lift into Mary’s and Lefty’s canyons very soon, as mid-December has been set for the unveiling.
Also, the owners are capping the number of season passes at 1,000, and lift tickets to 2,000 each day to avoid congestion.
“We strive to maintain the uncrowded, wide open, adventurous experience Pow Mow is known for,” the resort said. “(With expansion) we aim to keep our skier density of 1 acre per skier."
For years, Powder Mountain has been a secret snow stash above Ogden that harnesses chairlifts, snowcats and school buses to get powder hounds into untracked territory -- on any given day. All but the snowcat areas are inbounds, including terrain below James Peak and Hidden Lake Peak, and in Cobabe Canyon.
In 2013, a group of entrepreneurs paid $40 million for the property as home for conferences and think-tank gatherings.
Early development plans in got slimmed down, and now it’s a pair of villages that “is to embody a next-generation urbanism that nourishes social entrepreneurship, connection and collaboration, and responsible living,” said Powder Mountain’s JP Goulet.
You'll find gear to put a smile on your face at the Vail Ski Swap. (Vail Ski and Snowboard Club)
As we’re preparing for ski and board season, it’s time to think about upgrading our gear or selling some of your old stuff, and fall ski swaps are a great way to make that happen.
Powderhound cuts a fresh line through trees at Whisper Ridge in northern Utah. (Whisper Ridge/Facebook)
The Wasatch Front above Salt Lake City has long been a backcountry paradise for skiers and snowboarders willing to take a hike beyond the trams, gondolas and lifts at a dozen of Utah’s winter resorts. Now, there’s something in between.
Waiter at The Farm in Park City serves up plates from fresh, local produce (The Farm/Facebook)
The idea that local restaurants can hook up with nearby farms, ranches and food producers to create truly sustainable, “local” cuisine has caught fire not only in towns around the country, but also at ski and snowboard resorts.
Nowadays, it’s a common sight to see a chef checking out the veggies or baked bread at a local farmers market -- or on the organic produce aisle at the neighborhood grocery store – to stock up for the day’s menu.
More and more, they come from the fine dining rooms at mountain resorts. Here’s SnoCountry’s sampling of where to eat fresh at ski and snowboard resorts this season:
Canyons. Located right on the Ski Beach at the base of the Park City, Utah, resort, The Farm Restaurant lives up to its name by sourcing ingredients from local farms, cattle ranches and vineyards. A regularly revolving menu coincides with seasonally available foods. Taste treat: Utah corn soup.
Mount Snow. Harriman’s sits just up from the main base of the southern Vermont area. It combines classicly trained chefs with fresh food grown, raised and produced at 20 farms in the Green Mountain state. Taste treat: Aged cheddar from Jasper Hill Farms.
Stowe. In the heart of the base area, Solstice serves artisan-inspired plates inside Stowe Mountain Lodge, relying upon a partnership with farmers, cheesemakers and producers from the northern Vermont region for the freshest ingredients. Taste treat: Angus braised short ribs with Cabot Creamery grits.
Steamboat. Unbuckle your boots and stride into the Truffle Pig for apres-ski snacks, dinners and to-die-for desserts. Ingredients from pastures and gardens of northern Colorado valley inspire truly local menu. Taste treat: Truffle pig fries.
It'll be skiers only at Alta Ski Area after latest ruling from federal court. (Alta)
A final round of appeals by a group seeking to force Alta Ski Area to admit snowboarders has failed, leaving the Utah resort as one of three U.S. mountains that only skiers can enjoy.
The skiing at Snowbird has been unreal. Yes, skiing. While the rest of the Wasatch is hunkered down, sitting out the back-to-back storm cycles because closing days have come and gone, diehard locals are rejoicing. Nineteen inches in the last 48 hours and more on the way.