To the original post, I moved from the southeast where I had seen maybe 3 "snow days" (IE 1-2 inches) in my life straight up to northern Utah last year.
I picked up a 2014 Outback, got some snow tires, and could not be happier. I have seen no shortage of other cars struggling in the parking lot or on the roads here, but in my meager (compared to most around here) 50+ days skiing this year I never once had a worry about getting stuck, had a scare/slide, or anything of the sort. I was out one day in particular where it dumped 14 inches and pulling out of the parking lot at the end of the day was like pulling out of a dry office parking lot in the middle of summer. The drive home while it was still nuking, other than the serious lack of visibility, felt like any other day as far as the handling of the car goes.
As to the 2.5 vs. 3.6 debate, I struggled with the same decision. I went with the 2.5. My home mountain is Snowbasin and the drive up Trapper's Loop to the resort is at a 7-8% grade. Yes, it is loud and yes, it takes a little bit for the car to muster up the power to pass in that situation, but it hasn't bothered me in practice even though I've driven that route 50 times this year. Turn up the radio a bit and you barely notice. I think it's kind of like comparing a medium end TV to a high end one. Man that high end one looks incredible when they're right next to each other, but when you get the medium end one back in to your home where it's not right next to the other one you forget all about it. In the end I'm glad I saved the extra cash and gas mileage with the 2.5, especially with the rate I'm piling up miles on this thing.
I like the way it sits high as well. It makes you feel like you're in an SUV, it has all the winter-condition advantages of an SUV, yet it has the handling, cost, and fuel efficiency of a sedan.
As far as the snow tires vs. non-snow tires issue goes, I'm sure there are plenty of really good/experienced drivers out there that can get by with all seasons, but as a lifelong southerner skidding off the edge of a cliff isn't where I'm willing to cut corners to save a few bucks. I still drive cautiously, but I love that in my current setup I feel every bit as safe and have no more butterflies in my stomach when driving up a mountain in a blizzard than I do when driving in a light drizzle in perfectly flat Florida. Not having to endure tense moments at the wheel to get out to the resort makes skiing a lot more enjoyable for me.
ETA: I should note that while Trapper's Loop has a steepish grade, it is very uncrowded and there is rarely a need to pass. If you live in somewhere very crowded where passing on a grade is very common then that scenario is a little different from the rungs I've put my Outback through thus far.