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Utah - Guide to a Ski and Snowboard Holiday in Utah

Guide to Skiing and Snowboarding in Utah

 

 Top of the Aerial Tram at SnowbirdPhoto: Snowbird, looking down towards Salt Lake City

 

Utah is the growing destination for powder hunters looking for a ski trip in the United States. While Colorado used to be the obvious choice, with the famous resorts of Vail, Aspen, Steamboat and Breckenridge, the spill over into Utah has well and truly occurred, often to the chagrin of locals in Utah who pine for the days of empty resorts and acres of powder to themselves.

However, given that given that nine resorts lie within an hour and a half of the airport, Utah is one of the prime ski destinations in the world, and means you can vary the style of resorts you tackle over the course of your trip.

 

Season dates

The season in Utah kicks off around the middle of December, and generally finishes by the middle of April. Alta and Snowbird, which are next to each other in Little Cottonwood Canyon, have the longest season dates in Utah.

Snow

Utah prides itself as having the ‘greatest snow on earth’, a claim based on the dryness of the powder that falls in the mountains around the Great Salt Lake, near Salt Lake City.

The so-called ‘lake effect’ from the Great Salt Lake occurs when storm systems that come in from the Pacific Ocean to the west arrive in Utah, and hit the edge of the Great Salt Lake, the largest salt water lake in the western hemisphere. This lake has no outlet besides evaporation, meaning that it is highly salty, even more so than the sea.

The theory goes, as the cold air mass moves across the lake, it picks up water vapour from the lake which is highly salty, which means when the snow falls it is lighter and fluffier even than in other parts of the Rockies.

However, in reality, while the snow is clearly awesome in Utah, it is hard to distinguish it as being even fluffier and lighter than good snow in Wyoming and Colorado.

 

Arrival in the Utah and the USA 

Obtaining a visa

To ski in the United States, you will need a tourist visa (unless you are a citizen!).

People from a country eligible for the visa waiver program are best to go through this program.

For the Visa Waiver Program, you will need a:

  • Valid passport
  • Valid credit card (MasterCard, VISA, American Express, and Discover (JCB, Diners Club)) or PayPal to pay the US $14 per application
  • Your contact information
  • Your most recent employment information, if applicable.

Other criteria:

  • You are currently not in possession of a visitor's visa
  • Your travel is for 90 days or less.
  • You plan to travel to the United States for business or pleasure.
  • You also need to be a citizen from an eligible country.

See further https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/

Bear in mind US visa policy which states that if you have visited one of the countries on the travel ban list (in general in the last five years, but you will need to check), you will not be eligible for a visa waiver. Instead, you will need to attend an in-person interview at a US consulate to get a B1 visa.

These countries are Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and/or Yemen Dual nationals of Visa Waiver Program countries and Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Sudan are also no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the program.

See further https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/

B1 visa

For those not eligible for the visa waiver program, you will need to get a B1 tourist visa.

You can apply at https://cgifederal.secure.force.com/

You will need to pay the visa fee of around USD 160, in addition to the postage fee of USD 25. This is a non-refundable fee. You will also need to attend an in-person interview.

 

Arrival in Utah

All the major US airlines fly into Salt Lake City, including Delta, United and American Airlines. The easiest way to get to Salt Lake City is to fly. The airport is well set up for skiers and snowboarders, with obvious access to oversize luggage for your skis and snowboards.

 

Hiring a Car

By far the easiest way to get to the resorts, if you are staying in SLC, is to drive. Unfortunately, hiring a car can be a pain. A lot of car hire places will require you to have insurance, including for the car as well as third party insurance.

Only the major outlets will let foreigners hire cars, and include insurance with the price. These include Hertz, Avis and Enterprise. But they can run out of stock if you don’t book in advance.

 

Money and Costs

One of the advantages of skiing in Utah is the fact you can stay in Salt Lake City (SLC). This is a major US city of 1.2 million people or so in the metro area.

As a result, you can buy anything you need here, from groceries to gear, on the cheap compared to at the ski resorts.

Tipping

Tipping culture in the US is strong. You will need to tip for most services in hospitality and transport.

Some of the rules are

  • Generally 15-20% for the servers in a restaurant
  • 15-20% for a cab ride or a shuttle ride up to the resorts
  • 1 dollar per beer or drink in a bar
  • Tip the girl or guy who carries your luggage
  • Tip the cleaners of your room in a hotel
  • No need to tip for a coffee in a café if the server is behind the bar (unless you want to, the jar is always available)
  • No need to tip if you purchase gear in a retail store

You must tip! Remember that servers often are being paid below the minimum wage of 7.25 an hour, with tips making up the difference (although if tips aren’t enough to make up the minimum wage, then the employer has to pay the difference).

In any case, the employees rely on the tips to make a decent wage.

You might not like it, you might think it’s a stupid system, you might come from countries where tipping is not a thing, but it doesn’t matter. In the US, you tip.

Australians and Europeans already have a bad reputation for being stingy on tips!

Otherwise, the United States is generally cheap for food and drinks. However, at the resorts, expect to pay a little extra. Expect to pay around USD 15 for a main and USD 6 for a beer in a restaurant.

Remember also that meals in the Utah are generally pretty big! An ‘entrée’ is a main, while a starter is the appetiser. The ‘starter’ can often be a meal in itself!

Lift Tickets

The expensive resorts are Alta/Snowbird and Park City/Deer Valley. Alta is around $104 per day. Snowbird is around $129. Deer Valley is around $135. Park City is around $142. Snowbasin is $around 109.

Cheaper resorts include Brighton/Solitude, Sundance and Powder Mountain. Brighton is around $85 and Solitude is around $88. Powder Mountain is around $85.

The Mountain Collective pass includes the resorts of Alta, Snowbird and Snowbasin. The Epic Pass includes Park City.

Ski and Snowboard Gear 

SLC is full of ski and snowboard gear shops.

Some of the bigger ones include Utah Ski and Golf, 7even Skis and Christy Sports.

Cabela’s is one of the largest places for outdoor gear in the US, although it doesn’t have ski gear. There is a store in Lehi, down south of SLC, and a store in Farmington, north of SLC.

 

Ski Resorts in Utah

Alta

Alta Mountain OverviewPhoto: Bluebird day at Alta

 

Alta is one of only three resorts in the world to remain skiers-only. No snowboarders can enter the resort, and you will not be sold a pass.

Being skiers only, Alta is almost unique in stubbornly clutching to the past. Being skiers only, the crowd is also noticeably older and greyer, although Alta’s cool terrain also helps to bring in a lot of younger skiers too.

Unfortunately, the skier-only vibe gives the resort a slightly exclusionary and elitist feel. There is frankly no discernible benefit in excluding snowboarders, as the snow quality is retained equally as well as at Snowbird (next door), where snowboarders are allowed.

Locals will argue vehemently that snowboarders wreck the snow and the trails, but this is not really borne out by the evidence. Terrain Alta has a great combination of deep powder and nice terrain.

Alta is not nearly as open as Snowbird, next door, which has much nicer bowl skiing. Alta is much more about the tree-skiing and the steeper runs are generally shorter than at Snowbird.

However, it is still among the most advanced terrain in Utah. There are a few more cat trails at Alta compared to Snowbird, as well. Alta has generally excellent snow, and has the longest season in Utah.

See www.snowseasoncentral.com/alta-find-a-job-work-winter-season for more information

Getting to Alta

Alta/Snowbird are located in Little Cottonwood Canyon, at the edge of SLC.

To get there from downtown, you take the I-80 east, then south on I-215, until the turnoff to Alta/Snowbird. From downtown, with no traffic, the drives takes around 45. However, the traffic can back up on a good day right down the canyon. It starts to back up around 7am or so on a powder day or a busy day.

The easiest way up is with a car. If you can’t hire a car, you can take a shuttle up. www.altashuttle.com/ provides a one-way lift for 110 USD for a minivan.

Another option is to take the Utah Ski Bus (www.rideuta.com/Rider-Info/UTA-Ski-Service).

This bus service runs through SLC and takes you up Little Cottonwood Canyon to Alta/Snowbird. The 953 and the 994 go to Alta/Snowbird. The bus runs every half hour or so and costs $4.50 one-way.

Snowbird

Mineral Basin at Snowbird Ski ResortPhoto: Over the back of Snowbird at Mineral Basin

 

Snowbird lies right opposite Alta. It is connected to Alta via an access gate at the Baldy Express Chair. With over 500 inches of powder each season, on average, and some of the coolest terrain in North America, Snowbird has claims to being among the best places to ski in the US.

Snowbird has great open bowls and excellent hike-to terrain at the top of the mountain. Down lower, there are some nice tree runs, to rival Alta’s good tree runs. However, Snowbird has a bit more for those who like cruisers on-piste.

There is an aerial tram to whisk you from the base to the summit in one go, all 3,240 feet of vertical. That is seriously high, and a top-to-bottom is a true leg-burner, if you can make it.

There are 2,500 acres of in-bounds terrain at Snowbird, with additional access for backcountry.

Snowbird should surely be on your list if you are taking a skiing holiday in Utah.

See further at Guide to Working at Snowbird

Getting to Snowbird

See above - getting to Alta

Brighton

Brighton was the first ski resort in Utah, and one of the first in the US.

Compared to Park City, or even Alta/Snowbird, Brighton is very much a local’s no-frills resort. Brighton is connected to Solitude via the Milly Express Chair. To get away from the crowds that can sometimes build up in Little Cottonwood Canyon (Alta/Snowbird), many locals now prefer Brighton and Solitude as their weekend resorts.

Brighton is much less open in terms of bowl skiing than Alta and Snowbird, but it does have some very nice in-bounds terrain, including a few steeps, cliffs, and some chutes, and some bowl riding at the Milly Chair side.

There is also great tree-skiing at Brighton. However, the terrain is generally a little bit more mellow compared to Alta/Snowbird and Solitude. The vertical drop is also just over half of what is on offer at Snowbird.

What sets Brighton apart is the lack of crowds. Another great aspect to Brighton is its terrain parks, and it attracts more snowboarders partly for this reason.

Getting to Brighton

The easiest way up is with a car.

If you can’t hire a car, you can take a shuttle up. Alta Shuttle provides a one-way lift for 110 USD for a minivan.

Another option is to take the Utah Ski Bus (www.rideuta.com/Rider-Info/UTA-Ski-Service).

This bus service runs through SLC and takes you up Big Cottonwood Canyon to Brighton/Solitude. The 972 goes to Brighton/Solitude. The bus runs every half hour or so and costs $4.50 one-way

Solitude

The terrain a Solitude is naturally divided with the intermediate and beginner terrain lower down on the mountain while the advanced and expert terrain is up the back.

Like Brighton, there are relatively few crowds at Solitude. While the terrain is probably not as epic as Snowbird, Alta, or even Brighton, Solitude can certainly be fun on a powder day when there will be less crowds than at Snowbird or Alta, or Park City.

The total terrain at Solitude is just 1,200 acres, but there is additional terrain to ride in the side country and back country (be prepared whenever you go into the backcountry, given the risk of avalanches, especially given the large snowfall in the area).

Also, Solitude is connected to Brighton Ski Resort by the SolBright run off the Summit Chair, opening up an entire second resort of 1,050 acres in which to ride on your days off.

However, Solitude is definitely among the smaller resorts in Utah.

Brighton is much more suited to those who love park as well as snowboarders as Solitude can be a little flat in parts.

See further at Guide to Working a Winter at Solitude

Getting to Solitude

The same as getting to Brighton – see above.

Park City

Park City - approaching the town by carPhoto: Approaching Park City by car from the north

 

Whereas Brighton/Solitude and Alta/Snowbird are, to some extent, still locals’ mountains, Park City is most certainly not.

Host of the 2002 Winter Olympics, Park City is, with the merger of Canyons, now the largest single ski area in the United States with a whopping 7,300 acres of skiable terrain (aside from Powder Mountain, which claims a large portion of in-bound hike-to and cat terrain).

Additionally, Park City is one of the liveliest mountain towns in the U.S. It has a bustling tourist industry, incredible restaurants and is home to the famous Sundance Film Festival which sees an additional 50,000 visitors pour into town each January.

Canyons and Park City ski areas are interconnected by a gondola which means 7,300 acres of terrain, 300 trails, 38 lifts, seven terrain parks, 14 bowls, six natural half pipes, one super pipe and one mini pipe. These are impressive numbers!

However, Park City is overwhelmingly a beginner and intermediate’s mountain.

This is a mountain for families on ski holidays, who like groomers and mellow runs. If you like groomers, there are runs for days at Park City. However, there is nothing much in the way of very technical lines, and the double blacks would generally be no more than blacks at Alta/Snowbird.

Snowfall on average is lower at Park City than in the Cottonwood Canyons resorts of Alta/Snowbird and Brighton/Solitude. The annual average is 350 inches.

See further at Guide to Working a Winter Season at Park City

Getting to Park City

The drive from SLC takes around 40 minutes with no traffic. The road is a highway, which means that the traffic tend to flow pretty well from downtown. There is also a pass that runs past Brighton/Solitude, though this can close in winter.

There is also a bus service from Salt Lake City to Park City that makes stops at Deer Valley (Route 902). A one way fare is $4.50 and punch passes are available. See www.rideuta.com/Rider-Info/UTA-Ski-Service.

Shuttles that will take you up from SLC include Alta Shuttles who will get you up in a private vehicle (1-4 people) for US 160 each way, or USD 40 in a shared vehicle one way.

Deer Valley

Deer Valley is the Utah epitome of upmarket ski vacation.

The focus at Deer Valley is on groomers and nice, cruisy runs. Nothing at Deer Valley is really too technical, and the mountain is very limited for steep terrain.

There are 2,026 acres of skiable terrain (820 hectares) in total which makes it a mid-sized Utah resort.

Deer Valley is very much about what happens off the slopes as what happens on. There are services such as free ski valets, free parking shuttles, fine dining and boutique shopping, and you will find some of the best restaurants in all of Utah, at Deer Valley.

Deer Valley is often rated as one of the best resorts in the USA for its combination of groomers, services, fine dining, boutique shopping and lift infrastructure. Deer Valley is certainly a resort for those who like the luxury ski resort experience.

See further at Guide to Finding a Job at Deer Valley for a Winter Season

Getting There

The drive from SLC takes around 40 minutes with no traffic. The road is a highway, which means that the traffic tend to flow pretty well from downtown. There is also a pass that runs past Brighton/Solitude, though this can close in winter.

There is also a bus service from Salt Lake City to Park City that makes stops at Deer Valley (Route 902). A one way fare is $4.50 and punch passes are available.

Shuttles that will take you up from SLC include Alta Shuttles will get you up in a private vehicle (1-4 people) for US 160 each way, or USD 40 in a shared vehicle one way.

Snowbasin

Snowbasin - Strawberry GondolaPhoto: Strawberry Gondola at Snowbasin

 

Snowbasin is around an hour’s drive north of SLC. It is right next to the town of Ogden and, as such, is more a local’s mountain for people in Ogden, Huntsville, Eden and surrounds than SLC.

Snowbasin was the subject of huge investment by owner Earl Holding, who also owned Sun Valley until his death in 2013. The lifts and gondolas at Snowbasin are all first-rate, with the major access points up the hill being two nice gondolas to keep you out of the weather, an express Gondola, or a tram from the base.

In addition, the base lodge is extremely classy, with beautiful carpets and chandeliers decking out the rooms.

The terrain is also very cool, with nice long groomers all over the mountain. Snowbasin is a very nice skiing experience for those who like minimal crowds, comfortable lodges and lifts and a low-key vibe.

There is not heaps in the way of steep terrain as the steeper pitches at the top of the mountain are generally pretty short runs.

Getting to Snowbasin

 The drive from downtown SLC is around 50 minutes with no traffic, or 30 minutes from Ogden.

Alta Shuttles will get you up for 160 USD one-way with a group up to 4.

The Utah Ski bus will also get you up if you are staying in Ogden. The 675 from the Ogden Transit Center or 677 from Layton Station goes up to Snowbasin for $4.50 one way.

Powder Mountain

Powder Mountain, Utah - Snow GroomerPhoto: Snow Groomer at Powder Mountain

 

Powder Mountain is the largest resort you’ve never heard of. The resort claims 8,464 acres of in-bounds skiable terrain.

Much of this is accessed by cat skiing, however, which means forking out a bit extra for that terrain.

Nonetheless, the lift-serviced terrain is pretty massive by any standard.

In addition, Powder Mountain limits the number of season passes and day tickets (limited to 3,000) and day lift tickets (limited to 2,000). They say this means the lowest skier density in North America, and that is hard to argue with.

Powder Mountain is really a different kind of skiing experience given its vast expanse and tiny crowds. It is worth taking a day to try Powder on your skiing trip for this reason alone.

See further at Guide to Working a Winter Season at Powder Mountain

Getting to Powder Mountain

Powder Mountain is a good 20 minutes on from Snowbasin. Closest town centers are Eden 7 miles (11km) and Ogden 22 miles (35km); the latter home to a public transport hub via which visitors can get to and from the airport. It takes around 1 hour 15 minutes from SLC.

Alta Shuttles will get you up for 160 USD one-way with a group up to 4.

The Utah Ski bus will also get you up. The 674 from Ogden Transit Center goes up to Snowbasin for $4.50 one way.

Sundance

Sundance is around an hour’s drive south of SLC, right near the town of Provo. Sundance is an older style resort, with slower chairs and smaller crowds. There is not a whole lot of terrain at Sundance, and what is in-bounds is mostly green and blues.

However, Sundance is super family friendly, has a great vibe, and is set in beautiful surroundings, with Mt Timpanogos overlooking the resort. The village has a nice rustic feel and it’s a great place to take the family.

Getting There

Route 880 from Provo on the Utah ski bus will get you up. See www.rideuta.com/Rider-Info/UTA-Ski-Service.

Alta Shuttles will take you for 160 USD one-way from the airport.

 

Finding Accommodation in Utah for your Ski Trip

One of the biggest advantages of a ski trip to Utah is that you can stay in Salt Lake City, or even Ogden or Provo.

Being a major city, SLC has all the usual range of hotels from cheap and cheerful, to upmarket.

You can also find AirBnBs in SLC for a great price if you are a group. Many of the locals will rent out their places over the winter to make a little extra cash. For example, a group of 5 might be able to find a place in Cottonwood Heights for around 200 dollars a night, which really reduces the cost of a ski trip compared to staying on the mountain.

In Provo or Ogden or Eden, you can certainly find even cheaper places, although you will most likely want a car if you plan to move around and check out different resorts during your stay.

On mountain, the most expensive accommodation can be found at Park City. You can find among the best hotels to stay in terms of ski resort hotels at Park City.

There is little in the way of accommodation at Brighton/Solitude. Snowbird and Alta have a few quiet chalets to stay at.

Après-ski in Utah

Unfortunately, après is still not really a thing in Utah. Most of the resorts will shut down pretty much at the end of the day, with people heading back to SLC.

Snowbird has a patio area for a quiet beer after riding, while other resorts might see a small band or two in the hotels. SLC also doesn’t have much in the way of dedicated après-ski, although given the size of the city, there are of course people out in the evening at the restaurants and bars.

The exception is Park City. As a major tourist destination, there are a number of bars and restaurants that fire after the lifts close. You can find live music, a fun vibe and plenty of packed restaurants.

However, it’s still not in the same league as places such as Whistler, and it is nothing like the European resorts.

 

Utah - Polygamy BeerPhoto: Polygamy beer in Utah

 

Culture in Utah and Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City was founded by the Mormons back in the 1800s, and remains the seat of the Mormon Church. For a long while, SLC had a dour reputation seeing as Mormons don’t drink alcohol, coffee or tea. It used to be very hard to get a drink in a bar without ordering food at the same time or buying a temporary ‘membership’.

However, this is slowly changing as the laws relax. There are now a few bars and restaurants around SLC that get nice and lively. There are also a growing number of quite sophisticated bars and a great selection of alcoholic drinks. For a few tips -

  • The Bayou serves very nice Cajun food, right near downtown. The portions are enormous!
  • The Porcupine is a very cool restaurant for burgers and beers, down in Cottonwood Heights, and is a great place to go after a day skiing in the Cottonwood Canyons.
  • Bar X and The Red Door are nice for a whisky tasting or other cocktails.
  • Desert Edge is a good place to go for local craft beer.
  • The Garage is a nice place for some live music.

 

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