The Unofficial Guide to Skiing Snowbird
Table of Contents
- Snowbird is Blessed
- Snowbird for Advanced Skiers
- Snowbird for Beginners and Intermediates
- This and That
Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort, located in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah, is blessed with a multitude of geographical, weather and other factors which for many, especially expert skiers, make it the number one destination ski resort in the world.
Throughout the winter season Pacific storms roll across the flat Nevada desert and pick up additional moisture as they cross the 1,700 square mile Great Salt Lake. The storms then rise as they meet the dramatic Wasatch Mountains and drop an average of 500 inches of often dry, fluffy powder on the Cottonwood Canyon ski resorts. From mid-December through April, Snowbird receives on average of almost two feet of snow per week. Even the Utah state license plate proudly proclaims, “The Greatest Snow on Earth.” Much of the resort faces directly north, protecting the snow from the damaging sun, which keeps the snow in perfect condition for much of the season. Snowbird is usually open from mid-November to at least the end of May, which is the longest season of any North American ski resort.
The Bird is situated on more than 2,500 acres of rugged and often challenging terrain. The 3,300-foot vertical drops steeply throughout the mountain, making it a never-ending playground for adventurous skiers. Yet, over 50% of the terrain is rated as beginner or intermediate, allowing everyone to enjoy skiing among the dramatic peaks, bowls and forests that create this spectacularly scenic alpine environment.
The showcase Snowbird tram holds 125 skiers and is like no other. The cabin rises smoothly and quietly 3,000 vertical feet in eight minutes and deposits its’ cargo on Hidden Peak. The skiers find themselves suddenly surrounded by sharp, towering, snow covered peaks offering limitless skiing, including three huge alpine bowls. In addition to the tram, there are four high-speed quads and six chairlifts. A new addition is the 600-foot tunnel which encloses a conveyor belt to transport skiers to the backside of the mountain.
Snowbird is only 30 miles away from the Salt Lake City International Airport, supporting its claim of being North America’s most accessible ski resort. This convenient location allows many skiers to board an early morning non-stop flight and ski at Snowbird by 1 pm or earlier. Skiers can also take this advantage on the return trip, by skiing a half day and then boarding a late afternoon or evening flight to be back at home the same day.
Snowbird is just below Alta, near the top of a Little Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest, surrounded by ten to eleven thousand foot peaks. The limited space on the valley floor combined with the fact that the resort lies within the National forest is a blessing which will prohibit future development. Unlike many other ski destinations, Snowbird is a relatively small village. There will never be the condo sprawl common to so many other ski resorts areas. It is natural features that predominate at Snowbird, not man-made civilization.
The resort is only an eight mile drive up the Little Cottonwood Canyon from the Salt Lake valley. Budget-minded skiers can sleep in a very affordable hotel, rent a house or stay downtown in the city and then make the short twenty to forty-five minute commute to ski each day.
Right next door to Snowbird is another famous resort, Alta, with similar geography and equally abundant snowfall. And, if you tire of skiing the 5,000+ acres which make up Altabird, you can go to the next canyon over, just 45 minutes away, and ski Brighton and Solitude. They are smaller with similar geography and snowfall, and have a reputation for never being crowded. Skiers who use the Salt Lake valley as a base can ski not only the four Cottonwood resorts, but also the three Park City resorts and Snowbasin, all less than an hour away. Visit SkiUtah.com here to learn more about all the Utah ski resorts.
Note: As a matter of convenience, I use the term skier to denote both skiers and snowboarders. Snowboarders are welcome at Snowbird.
Click on any picture to enlarge it to full size.
You have two main choices of lodging for your vacation. Either stay at Snowbird Resort in the Little Cottonwood Canyon or sleep in a condo or hotel down in the Salt Lake valley.
If you stay at Snowbird your main choices are a room at The Cliff Lodge or a condominium at The Iron Blosam Lodge, The Lodge at Snowbird or The Inn At Snowbird. For a larger group there is a limited selection of private houses available to rent on the road to Alta. The Cliff Lodge has 500 rooms on 10 floors with three restaurants, and a ski shop. Skiers congregate in the rooftop hot tub and swimming pool after the skiing day, with all the amenities of a first class spa, sauna and fitness center available. The other properties are luxurious condominiums of varying size, with all the extras you would expect in a mountain resort. There are a variety of dining options and limited nightlife available.
Upon awakening at Snowbird anticipation of the day ahead fills the air. That feeling is heightened by the not uncommon serenade of artillery canons as the ski patrol clears away the avalanche hazards from recent snowfall. Expect to pay at least three times the price for the privilege of ski in ski out access and sleeping in the rarefied mountain air. Night life is quiet and your restaurant choices are limited, but bargain packages in either early or late season can make a Canyon stay a serious consideration. The odds of good snow remain in your favor during the shoulder season.
If you stay at Snowbird, you will experience a rejuvenation in your soul that can only be received by staying high in the mountains for a few days. You will not have to spend sixty to ninety minutes driving each day nor will you have to daily pack and unpack your car. If you can afford it, it is worth the price.
Your other choice is to stay ten miles down the canyon road in the Salt Lake valley suburbs of Midvale and Sandy. Sandy, at the mouth of the canyon, would likely be your choice for condo rentals that are available on both a weekly and daily basis. Most of the hotels have a Midvale address and are familiar chain hotels with names like Comfort Inn, Super 8, La Quinta, Crystal Inn and Econo Lodge. They are budget priced below $75 per night with continental breakfast included and Super Pass discount lift tickets available at the front desk. Expect a twenty to thirty minute commute to ski each morning and at least fifteen minutes longer in the slow line-up coming back down the canyon after skiing, pictured under the transportation section below.
Many prefer to stay in downtown Salt Lake City and commute forty-five minutes to ski each day. Here you can find full-service hotels that cater to skiers booking various package deals. These hotels are also closer to Park City which make it a better choice if you plan to ski at those resorts. Downtown you will find the widest choice of restaurants, entertainment and nightlife. And yes, you can enjoy a beer, wine or a mixed drink. Downtown you can also find more about the unique cultural heritage that the Mormons contribute to Salt Lake, as they make up almost 50% of the cities population.
As you can see, there are pluses and minuses to staying either at Snowbird or down in the valley. There are a few more factors to consider. Most of us are not accustomed to spending the day at the resort altitude of 8,000 to 11,000 feet. There is the real possibility of at least mild altitude sickness, which is heightened by the exertion of skiing. By sleeping in the valley your rest and recovery will be more complete after a day of skiing.
There is an average of almost two feet of snowfall per week in the Little Cottonwood Canyon from mid-December through early April. This causes a hazard on the canyon road making it the most avalanche prone road in the nation. With moderate to heavy snowfall the avalanche hazard must be attended to with blasting and then road cleanup. Even moderate storms can cause a delayed road opening until 9:30am or even later, causing a lineup of SUV’s stretching for miles. While the anxious commuters wait for the road to open, the canyon guests have untracked snow all to themselves. Click here for latest CanyonAlerts restrictions, on Twitter.
For canyon resort guests there is a small risk of too much snow. A few days per year a multi day snowfall can cause such a high avalanche risk that an “interlodge travel restriction” is declared at Snowbird and Alta. Everyone is restricted to staying inside their buildings until the avalanche hazard is cleared. My buddies who have been caught in this brag about it the rest of their lives! Skiers staying down in the valley can change their plans and ski either the less avalanche prone Big Cottonwood Canyon or drive 45 minutes to ski a Park City resort while Little Cottonwood Canyon guests sit because there is too much snow. The artillery gun to the right is at Alta, Snowbird has similar canons.
If you stay at Snowbird you won’t need a rental car. Most skiers book a shuttle ride with Canyon Transportation for the forty minute commute to and from the airport. A car is unnecessary because at Snowbird you can walk everywhere and Alta is a dependable, quick shuttle ride next door.
However, if you stay down in the valley, there are transportation decisions to make. Even moderate snowfalls will cause restrictions on the Little Cottonwood Canyon access road, permitting only 4-wheel drives or vehicles with chains. Don’t be surprised to see the local sheriff positioned at the canyon entrance enforcing the rules to ensure your safety, because snow will make for a slick canyon road. Steep drop-offs, unprotected by guardrails, could be quite treacherous.
Renting an SUV can be pricey, but by searching the internet for bargains, a compact SUV could be an affordable alternative for Canyon access if it snows. Also, you could rent the SUV in preparation for your trip, then switch to a less expensive sedan if no snow is forecasted. If you rent a sedan and arrive during a snowstorm you might find an SUV upgrade not available.
That leaves the last and least expensive option which is to take the Utah Transportation Authority city bus which has scheduled stops at all four Cottonwood Canyon resorts. Some of the hotels in Midvale and downtown Salt Lake City are on the city bus route to Snowbird. Depending on where you get on the bus there can be many stops to make before the bus heads up the canyon road to the resort.
If you rented a sedan and it snows, you could drive to a UTA parking lot near the canyon entrance and catch the bus. I do offer a word of warning though. With a significant snowfall and 4-wheel drive restrictions on the canyon road, at the entrance there can be a circus-type atmosphere with locals and sedan renters all trying to cram into a few public ski buses. Expect is a similar line-up for the bus at the end of the skiing day. During a snowfall the parking lots and buses can fill quickly; don’t linger if you want to arrive at the resort in time for the morning runs.
Snowbird Trail Map Here
Little Cloud Bowl
My favorite area at Snowbird is the Little Cloud Bowl. The bowl is treeless, consistently steep and almost two miles wide. Note the tiny lift on the left in the picture to the right. Because of it’s high elevation at the top of Snowbird, the snowfall totals in the bowl are often much deeper than what the resort reports. Don’t be surprised if the resort reports six inches that you find you are skiing in a foot or more of fresh powder. If it hasn’t snowed, then the bowl becomes covered in perfectly-formed, large moguls that you can ski in almost one continuous line over 1,000 feet to the lift bottom. My favorite run in Little Cloud, and actually anywhere, is right under the chairlift.
Don’t miss skiing the backsides of the little hills on the bottom third of Little Cloud, that is where you will find lingering powder as the bowl skies out. After a few exploratory runs, make your way left down the long traverse called the Road to Provo, pictured below. Take a moment to notice the East and West Twin Peaks overhead behind you and Salt Lake Valley far below. The traverse is a mile long and you can drop in wherever you wish for perfect bowl skiing.
For those who would rather groomed conditions, the wide Regulator Johnson is one of the steepest groomed runs in North America. Regulator is where you want to be on a white-out day when low visibility makes skiing the bowl difficult. For the steepest skiing in Little Cloud, ski to the right of Regulator on Pucker Brush where you see the big rocks.
Next stop is Gad II. Gad II has a deserved reputation as an experts area where you will find the best of Snowbirds tree skiing. To get there, enter through the Black Forest gate just below the bottom of the Little Cloud Lift. Have fun on the the windy, serpentine forest adventure with a short mogul filled chute on the bottom half. As you wind through the trees, you will be reminded of Solitude’s Honeycomb Canyon. The run under the Gad II lift is one of my favorites because the sun never touches that slope. It is steep enough to make you pause, but the snow is always perfect which decreases your risk of a dangerous fall. For private skiing, turn right off the lift and ski STH, Steeper Than Hell, a steep glade interspersed with trees, and no audience.
For more adventure in Gad II, ski left off the lift down blue Gadzooks to Tiger Tail, and turn right to enter the forest at the Experts Only gates. You can see this skiing from the Gad II lift. There is tree skiing here, a small bowl called Bonehead Bowl and the tricky, narrrow Route 7 Cliffs.
Gad II is also the entry point for the underskied Tiger Tail area. Looking up, this would encompass the upper right side of the mountain. To get there, ski left off the lift on Gadzooks and then turn left to enter the Experts Only gate. Follow the tracks and traverse a ways through the forest as you leave the tracked out resort behind. There is steep tree skiing here and chopped up narrow powder bowls where you can ski in solitude. You will drop back to civilization at the top of the Baby Thunder lift, which services green groomers. If you ski down to the left of the lift you can continue to enjoy black diamond terrain to the to the Baby Thunder bottom, the lowest point of the Bird.
The top of Gad II is also the entry point for hiking access to Thunder Bowl. This in-bounds area is seldom open until spring, when avalanche danger subsides. Just below the Gad II base is an Experts Only gate which takes you down an narrow chute, into a seldom skied glade and forest, spitting you out onto lower Big Emma.
It is a privilege to stand in line with the Snowbird tram skiers. You are standing with enthusiasts from around the world who have travelled to Snowbird to ski the legendary steeps. Listen carefully and you might hear snippets of conversation of speaking of far away travel to the Himalayans, the Alps and South American summer skiing.
The tram, usually filled to its' capacity of 125 passengers, rises over the Cirque ridge as it makes its' way to the top of Hidden Peak. Smooth as a Swiss watch, it quietly rises 2,900 vertical feet along the spine which separates the two valleys that comprise the front part of Snowbird Ski Resort.
At the top, it is time to put your skis back on and make your choice for the opportunities for fabulous skiing are endless. But before you do, you will take a moment to appreciate the incredible alpine scenery in all directions, and there is Salt Lake valley off in the distance. The top of Mineral Basin and Little Cloud bowl are right here, with the easier way down the 2.5 miles Chip’s run which bisects the Gad Valley off to your right. If you quite sure that you can handle the very steepest of slopes, instead of turning into Chip’s you can enter the Experts Only gate and ski the gnarly Silver Fox. As soon as you enter Chip’s run, I suggest you ski down off the cat track onto Primrose Path. There you will enjoy the 1,000 ft of ungroomed powder or moguls to the bottom of the gulch. Near the bottom you can make the choice to ski chutes between small cliffs for a happy ending before you descend into the Peruvian Basin.
To access the Cirque, instead of turning right down Chip’s toward the Peruvian valley, enter the gate at the very top of Regulator Johnson. It is time to ski some of the lines that you admired while traveling over this ridge on the tram. First up is the longest Cirque pitch named Great Scott. The highly skilled and daring will jump right in, while most of the sports slide in across the top to decrease the chance of a hard fall. Great Scott is almost 1,000 feet of steep but sweet snow to the bottom of the bowl.
If this is your first time on the Cirque it is better to take a look then make your way down the spiny ridge, named the Cirque Traverse, craning your neck to look into the Shots, which are narrow rock-lined chutes on your right. After the Shots are the Death Chutes, Elevator Chutes, and Forbidden Zone, yes people ski there, enough said. Thankfully, after the extreme chutes you will enter the Lower Cirque access where you will likely be more comfortable skiing the broad but yet steep bowl.
Instead of skiing right into the Cirque another option is to ski left into the seldom skied into the Gad Chutes. Because this area is full or rock bands and cliffs, a knowledgeable guide is recommended if you wish to stay out of trouble.
If you continue straight along the spiny ridge and turn left just before the front nose you can ski down the narrow and very steep Berry Berry Steep chute or the wider Wilbere Bowl. After a series of nerve racking terns, they will eject you onto the civilized Fluffy Bunny cat track and the main resort area above Big Emma.
By staying on the Cirque Traverse ridge to the end, you will end up at Daltons Draw under the tram. Or, you could pick your way left through the trees into Mach Schnell. Careful, as you can notice on the tram ride, there are cliffs and chutes to be wary of.
In 2006, Snowbird installed the Peruvian Express which quickly rises 2,400 vertical feet to end just below the ridge between Hidden Peak and High Baldy. The intermediate Chip’s Runs meanders it’s way through the valley but allows numerous opportunities for the advanced skier to drop off into ungroomed powder, mogul fields or experts only gates with access to cliff areas, glades and chutes.
Starting at the top, if you stay high you can traverse right on the High Baldy Traverse and pick any of the steep pitches off the shoulder of the 11,000 ft Mount Baldy. Because these slopes face west, the snow can be softened by the sun. Make your way down the extremely varied terrain that has many changes in pitch. As you loose vertical, you enter the eastern lower boundary of Snowbird which is called Blackjack. It is all good – classic Bird skiing with countless lines to choose among the trees and chutes all the way to the resort bottom. There is much to explore and likely you will be skiing in solitude. You might need just a few double pole plants along the cat track next to the Cliff Lodge access highway to make your way back to the Peruvian base.
If we ski left from the top of the Peruvian lift it is not too late to ski part of the bottom vertical of Primrose Path, and even the Cirque, depending upon how much elevation you are willing to lose due to a traverse. Best bet is to ski a little left and make your way down to the wide gulch at the bottom of the majestic Cirque. Skiing left along the Cirque will bring you to the moderately steep mogul field called Anderson’s Hill. Or, you can skip the moguls and keep traversing left around to the lightly-skied front of the mountain where stashes of fresh powder might be found days after a storm. At the bottom of the Anderon's Hill mogul field look directly behind you at the backside of another steep hillock in the middle of the valley which can be entered from Experts Only gates above.
There is over 1,000 ft of vertical yet to ski and innumerable choices. If you are beginning to tire it might be better to take the wide, moderately steep slope which descends next to the Peruvian express. If you want to feel the strong pull of gravity to the very bottom, veer left and ski lower Silver Fox or veer right to enter Phone 3 Shot. Don’t think I am spoiling the adventure with my instructions, because there are innumerable unnamed nooks and crannies for you to find on your own to weave a unique top to bottom adventure every single run. Looking up, the entire left half of the mountain skis steep on the bottom 1,000ft. To the right of the tram line, the steep forest will give up even more trees skiing and powder stashes, if somehow you can find the time to get there.
The last area, accessed by Gadzoom high speed quad, is the most popular and heavily skied area. This is where the intermediate or beginner skier should make sure they feel comfortable before venturing higher up the mountain. Riding the lift up you will see a series of very steep chutes between the rocky cliffs. On the right are the Door chutes and directly under the lift are a few very narrow chutes which are accessed by the Experts Only gates 100 yds directly below the top of Gadzoom lift. There are usually amazing tracks which will make you say to your lift buddies, “how could they ski that”? These chutes are short but among the most difficult Experts Only gates at Snowbird.
There are over two dozen Experts Only gates scattered throughout the mountain. There are a few that are quite hairy, like under the Gadzoom lift, but most can be skied with a minimum of fright by an advanced, adventurous skier, always with a buddy. If you are timid about entering, you can often consider the terrain while riding up a lift.
From the top of the Gadzoom lift, while most cruise down the groomer, I suggest you follow the tracks right against the mountain. Select a pitch to descend through an opening in the trees, then traverse farther against the mountain and repeat, staying above the mid-Gad restaraunt. Don’t lose too much elevation, because if you make your way right towards the front of the mountain, you will come upon the bottom end of Wilbere Chute where small bowl with long lasting powder often awaits.
Mineral Basin Trail Map Here
Years ago we stared in wonder and envy at the backcountry solitary tracks making their signature down this enormous backside bowl. In 2001 Snowbird installed two high-speed quads that will give anyone all the steep, vertical they could possibly want. Before you ski in, take a breath and appreciate the steep, magnificent peaks that surround the bowl and layer off into the distance.
Much of the skiing in Mineral Basin faces south which must be considered. It is not as much of a factor during the mid-winter when the lower sun and temperatures normally keep the snow at least fair to good. When March arrives, if there is no new snow combined with higher temperatures you can expect loose, wet mashed potatoes in the afternoon and “how do I get out of here” crud in the morning. The locals then refer to it as miserable basin. It takes some time for moguls to build up in Mineral Basin because it is so huge and much of it is only serviced by only one lift, the Mineral Express.
There are endless 1,000 ft vertical lines in the 500 acres Mineral Basin bowl as it sweeps around 270 degrees for almost two miles. At 500 acres this one bowl is as large as a small ski resort. Most of the Mineral Basin skiing is a wide open bowl where you can ski line after line of powder during or immediately after a storm. Under the right conditions, it is the perfect place to work on your powder skiing technique.
There are also many features and chutes like Hamilton Cliffs and the Chamonix Chutes to break up the bowl. The very steep High Stakes is right under the top of the Mineral Basin Express and drops 1,500 vertical feet in one straight shot. The eastern side, near the border and connection with Alta is mostly friendly beginner and intermediate terrain, however there are many spots where a little exploration will reveal very interesting skiing.
After you come to know your way around, it is time to make the long traverse and ski the Bookends area on your far right side. The sun is not as damaging over there, and it might seems like you won’t be able to get back to the lift, but just stay inside the ropes and gravity will guide you back down to the quad. You can’t call yourself an Mineral Basin aficionado until you skill the farthest left boundary looking down. Make the traverse left past the top of the Baldy Express and keep high and left to ski against the boundary to ski the rock-lined chute that will return you to the Baldy Express base.
The fun never ends at Snowbird and pull of gravity is always close-by. For experts, I suggest that in general you look to traverse off the main runs right and left, following the tracks into the unknown to find fresh skiing. A word of caution. Never consider ducking a rope at Snowbird or ignoring a Closed sign. The heavy snowfall makes the risk of avalanche a real threat. Because there are so many challegning areas that are Open for skiing, there is no need for thrill seeking in a Closed area. If the patrol has an area or run closed at Snowbird, it is likely there is serious threat to your well-being for entering. At the very least you will become cliffed-out and have to backtrack uphill through deep snow.
Snowbird has the deserved reputation as an experts mountain, but there is plenty of beginner and intermediate terrain. Looking at the mountain, the right side has the Baby Thunder and Wilbere lift, both which service beginner terrain. Beginners can venture further up the mountain on the mid-Gad lift to enjoy over 1,000 feet of vertical or ride the Gadzoom detachable quad high up into the Gad valley. Once you feel comfortable in making your way down from Gadzoom the next stop would be the two intermediate slopes available from the top of Gad II.
The Peruvian quad takes you almost all the way to the top and gives you access to the remote but gentle beginner and intermediate terrain of Mineral Basin accessed by the Baldy Express lift. After returning back through the tunnel, to get back to the Tram base, wind your way down the mountain via Chip’s run. Intermediates can also take the Tram to the very top and start on Chip’s run there. Chip’s gently descends from Hidden Peak on a cat track that weaves in a series of switchbacks. The beginner or intermediate should take care not to stray too far from the daily groomed and well marked Chip’s run because they could get stuck in difficult terrain.
You can buy tickets, rent a locker and purchase food at either the Snowbird Center (Tram base) or the new day lodge at the bottom of Gadzoom called Creekside. The walk tends to be shorter at Creekside; however valet parking ($10) or a shuttle can take you to the Center. The Snowbird Center has all services, ski rental, a few equipment stores, clothing shops, a doctor and even a pharmacy. If I arrive early I prefer to start my day enjoying the hubris on the Tram plaza. Here is the village map.
Snowbird isn’t renowned for its gourmet skiers food. There is one restaurant on the mountain at Mid-Gad which serves basic burgers, chili bread bowls and the like. The food lines and seating can be tough from noon to 1pm. Creekside has sandwiches and an outside grill. My favorite is a made-to-order sandwich that can be customized in the General Gritts grocery store in the Snowbird Center basement. On the second floor is pizza and a cafeteria where you have the option to choose the ingredients for your pasta dish as it is cooked in front of you by a chef, but the wait can be long. On the main outside deck is another counter with burgers, hot dogs and fries. Weather permitting, there is often an outside grill on the deck offering burgers.
Seasons and Snowfall
Your best bet for early or late season lift-served snow in North America or Europe is always going to be one of the four Cottonwood Canyons resorts. Much of Snowbird will be open for Thanksgiving and the resort is generally completely open by Christmas. I’ve taken three trips during the second week of December and each time skied excellent conditions on a 70-inch base each trip. January and February are your best bets because the low sun and colder temperatures keep the snow crisp with no freeze/thaw cycle. Our group goes the week after President’s Day, when crowds are rarely a factor and the snow has always been excellent, with fresh powder enjoyed every couple of trips. March can be warm, but has the highest average snowfall.
All of the four Cottonwood Resorts average two feet of snow per week from early December through early April. Dry spells with no fresh snow for over a week are not uncommon if a high pressure system moves in and becomes stationary. I place the odds of powder snow on a 4-day mid-season trip at about 25%. Here is where you can find the Alta snow history, which will be very similar to Snowbird. On that page you can find the daily snowfall for this year, and monthly and daily totals for the past few years. Here is EpicSki's Tony Crocker's excellent analysis of Snowbird snowfall. Here is his resort guide- click Utah in the left column to see the historical totals and summary of all Utah resorts. Of course, visit Snowbirds Snow & Weather Report page, which has the current snow report and total, snowcams and weather forecast links.
The Salt Lake City Shuffle
Most major airports offer direct morning flights to Salt Lake City, a Delta hub, which will arrive by 11am. This is a convenient time and money saver because you can ski the afternoon that you arrive. I recommend you gather your luggage while a traveling companion picks up the rental car. Make a quick stop to change on the 40-minute drive to Snowbird and you can arrive before 1 pm to enjoy a full afternoon of skiing.
The return trip allows a similar opportunity. You can ski until 1 or 2 pm, then make a quick change of clothing en-route and catch a late afternoon or evening flight back home. On the way back it is easier to check your skis and baggage and pick up your boarding pass from the skycap on the airport island, before you return your rental car.
Flights to and from Salt Lake airport are rarely delayed by weather conditions. Typically, a two to three foot snowfall at the resorts will result in only a few inches at the airport. This is an efficiently run airport, luggage is delivered promptly after flights, and security and ticket counter lines are typically minimal.
There is a longstanding, friendly rivalry between Snowbird and Alta skiers because they have snowfall, similar geography and a border in common. Alta has been part of skiing history since 1938, while Snowbird is a relative newcomer, opening in 1972. Alta skiers enjoy the nostalgic feeling and tradition that continues to remain, although that is fading with the lodge improvements and its new high-speed quad. And of course, Alta holds on as being one of the few remaining ski resorts in the world that doesn’t allow snowboarding. At one time, it was less expensive to ski Alta, but now, with the Super Pass, you can ski either resort for the same price.
Which resort skis better is a matter of debate for some, but not for me. That’s why I choose the username SnowbirdDevotee. Each resort reports about 2,500 acres of skiable terrain. That is one comparison which I question, because with my personal experience of skiing both resorts on-average annually for over 25 years, I feel that Snowbird has more skiable terrain. Snowfall is about equal at both resorts, with some long-time locals feeling that Alta might get a little more. Snowbird fans point out that getting the goods at Alta often requires a long traverse or climb, while Alta lovers counter, “That’s why we like it!”
For an extra cost, you can get a joint Alta/Snowbird Pass which allows you to ski both resorts the same day through a connecting trail. I don’t consider this a good value because each resort is easily large enough to ski for the entire day.
Ted Johnson was the dreamer who first conceived the idea of building a ski resort at Snowbird. He worked at Alta in 1965 and bought a mining claim next door called Blackjack. He continued to buy more acres and since he was an avid skier, he realized this would be an ideal location for a new ski resort. In 1969 he met Dick Bass while looking for investors at Vail and a partnership was born. From the very start they realized that a Tram was needed that could go to the top and access the enormous amount of terrain in both the Gad and Peruvian drainages. Johnson toured the world to ride on and study the trams in operation and they picked a Swiss company to build the tram. The entire village at Snowbird was planned around where the tram was located to access the best skiing.
In 1971 the resort opened, at the very start of the era when destination skiing would become commonplace. Just a few years later Johnson sold his interest in Snowbird but his name remains today on Regulator Johnson and Silver Fox. Regulator was named after him because he was fastidious and meticulous with details while the resort was being planned and created. Silver Fox refers to his fine head of silver hair.
In the 1980's Dick Bass became renowned when, even though he had little prior climbing experience, he became the youngest man to climb the highest summit on each continent. He wrote the very popular climbing book, The Seven Summits, to chronicle his journey.
In the summer of 2001 the Mineral Basin area was opened just in time for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Winter Games. The Peruvian Express Quad and the Snowbird Tunnel was installed in the winter of 2006/2007. The Peruvian quad increases uphill skier capacity and allows access to the Peruvian drainage when the Tram is closed due to high winds. The Tunnel allows beginners and intermediates easy access to the gentle slopes services by the Baldy Express quad lift in Mineral Basin.
Snowbird Resort Official History Link
Snowbird History Link
The Powderhounds Guide to Snowbird
The Snowbird Tram
The Insider's Guide to the Best Skiing in Utah
Utah Ski Country
Deep Powder Snow: Forty-Years of Ecstatic Skiing, Avalanches, and Earth Wisdom
This Guide was written by Snowbird Devotee (aka Glenn Czulada)
If you are not comfortable skiing 25-30 degree off piste slopes you will not be able to ski any of the best runs at Snowbird. Snowbird is the Final stop on the Free Skiing Would Tour and for good reason. Top notch expert ski terrain, wonderful steeps and big faces, deep snow that is well preserved on northern aspects, and all of it so accessible and easy to ride from one of the best lift systems anywhere. This is an experts Paradise.
Sadly, there is limited terrain for the true beginner and intermediate cruiser. Most of the greens and blues you see on the map are narrow roads or cat tracks that traverse much steeper slopes. And with often variable conditions, the beginner and true intermediate, will be very limited in where they can go at the bird. For this reason mixed groups containing lower level skiers would be wise to avoid Snowbird.
Airlines operating from Salt Lake City include American Airlines, Continental, Delta Airlines, Frontier, JetBlue Airways, Skywest Airlines, Southwest, United and US Airways
Unless you are staying at the resort, Most skiers will want a rental car. I could not imagine staying in the salt lake valley and riding the bus up Little Cottonwood. I know its doable, but it would also take about 2 hours each way.
The on mountain fare is unexceptional. Watson Shelter is a bit better than the other options, but that's mostly just for the location.
Good Dinner / Apres options in Salt Lake Valley:
Great Taco joint on Ft. Union.The fish tacos are yumy.
Great Pub at the base of Big Cottonwood Canyon. Good beer selection and pub food.