Utah's Ski Country: a Preliminary Guide
Though less touted than its glitzier neighbor to the east, Utah ski country has one big advantage over Colorado: centrality.
Whereas most Colorado resorts are located outside the big cities, Salt Lake City is literally surrounded by them. Flying into the airport, the metropolis has 10 world-class ski resorts right in its backyard (and the roads are gloriously traffic-free). In a single day, you can eat amazing food, see the Utah Symphony perform (be sure to present your lift ticket at the box office to score $35 seats), and, of course, ski.
Its geography is responsible for the “greatest snow on earth”—just ask Jim Steenburgh, who wrote an entire book about the beehive state’s marvelous meteorology. Locals are perhaps the biggest proponents of the city’s ski culture, though: a fresh foot of snow is usually enough excuse for businesses to let employees take the morning off and go skiing.
Transportation’s easy, too: as of 2013, the easy-to-use TRAX light rail system connects the airport to downtown. If you prefer to travel by car, but don’t feel like tackling the snowy mountain roads yourself, Canyon Transportation offers direct service to resorts around the city. Uber is big here, too.
All the options can easily overwhelm Salt Lake first-timers. The city is so well plied with ski resorts; it takes weeks of careful planning just to settle on the right one. To help you sift through the pile, we’ve broken down the best and most renowned resorts, and categorized them by interest. Simply browse our picks below, choose the one that calls out to you, and voila! You’ll be whizzing your way down the mountain in no time.
For skiers who like to be seen
In the entire U.S., only three ski-only resorts exist, and two of them are found in Salt Lake City. Deer Valley—built on 2,026 acres, with 101 trails and 21 lifts—has been catering to the upper echelons of Utah ski clientele since 1981. It’s known for its immaculately groomed slopes (the 2002 Olympic Winter Games were held here), and it even limits ticket sales to keep slopes crowd-free. With one of the best ski schools in town—two Olympic medal winners founded its Mahre Training Center—make it perfect for beginners, too. Beyond the skiing, it’s a major culinary destination: there’s 100 percent fair-trade Mill Creek coffee, artisanal chocolate, an on-site cheese maker and the kitchen sources its fresh produce from a nearby farm.
For throwback glamour
Utah’s other ski-only resort is Alta, whose 116 trails are legendary among powder lovers. The allure of Alta really comes down to its wide, smooth trails.
“If I want to ski steep and deep, I go to Alta,” says Paul Marshall, Ski Utah’s Director of Communication, who regularly surveys the area’s wide array of resorts. The same family who opened Alta in 1939 still owns it, though the lodging is separately run, resulting in a colorful mix of options, from European-style chalets at Alta Peruvian Lodge to the rustic feel of Snowpine Lodge.
For easy street-to-slopes access
Parts of Dumb and Dumber were filmed here, but there’s a new reason to head to Park City. In November, it merged with the neighboring Canyons Resort, effectively becoming the country’s largest ski resort, and an eight-person gondola now connects the two. The former mining town is lined with restaurants (organic-driven Tavern is known for late-night eats and a wine cellar) and bars (play shuffleboard in No Name Saloon or sample small-batch spirits at ski-in, ski-out High West Distillery). Park City is also the only resort with direct lift access from Main Street, connecting all 299 trails to its bustling downtown strip.
For families (and nacho-lovers)
Kids 10 and under ski free at Brighton, an easy-to-navigate (and extremely accessible—all 1,050 acres can be reached by high-speed quad) resort perched at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon.
“Brighton is truly a golden nugget of the Wasatch, and kind of a locals’ secret, since they don’t do much national marketing,” says Emily Moench, who oversees tourism for the state of Utah. It’s an impressively diverse spot, attracting snowboarders (more than any other Utah resort, actually), as well as snow bladers, ski bikers, snow skaters and just about every other conceivable way of getting down a mountain—it’s also the top place for night skiing, with 22 runs on 200 lighted acres. While there, don’t miss the nachos at Molly Green’s, a low-key dive bar and grill that locals swear by.
For blending in with the locals
Maybe it’s the mellow vibe that gives Solitude Mountain Resort its name. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s always empty (or at least feels that way). Locals make a beeline for Moonbeam base, one of Solitude’s two main ski areas. Ride the Eagle Express for some heart-pounding black runs; on the Summit Express, you’ll be taken up to still more isolated patches of the mountain like Honeycomb Canyon, whose ‘au natural’ (read: ungroomed) pistes are better suited to intermediate skiers ready for a true backcountry—and an incredibly scenic—adventure.