I'm pretty sure my ski season's over now. I've used up all my passes, and I think I probably won't pay for any more day tickets at Snowbird, as conditions have gotten to the point where the work-to-fun ratio isn't as high as I'd like. But I'm not returning my season rentals yet, so maybe I'll get another day in. All in all, I had a lot of fun exploring what Utah has to offer, and my skiing skills improved significantly. I think I haven't fallen at all in the past month, and I think it's been over two months since my last "real" fall (the most recent fall I can remember I was standing still fiddling with a pole strap and somehow managed to fall--I'm not counting that as "real"). I'm much more confident and competent in getting down moguls, proto-moguls, and generally cut-up and piled-up crud of all flavors. Heavy wet snow and slush is still a lot of work for me, but I can take more of it and take it faster. I really do think that this improvement is largely thanks to Snowbird--it's unlike any other mountain I've encountered in the way that it pushes me to be a better skier. At most places, when I start getting tired or sore I'll relax into some fun cruising terrain. But Snowbird is really a go hard or go home kind of place. Really, only Chickadee offers a reasonably gentle experience without making you work for it (I suspect this is a big part of the reason that Chickadee seems as busy at is whenever I look). And my 25 laps of Chickadee night skiing were enough to convince me to keep facing challenges while I can and then go home once I'm finished.
So, this season I skied 34 times--more than I've managed in any previous season. I'm pretty sure I did more than half a million vertical feet. I had lots of fun, explored a bunch of new-to-me resorts, and managed to avoid injuring myself. A success!
> It's really cool how different each of the resorts feels. Having so many areas in such close proximity forces them to really differentiate themselves from the competition, and it's been neat to see this.
> I've mentioned a few times in this thread, and I still think, that Utah areas by and large have allowed themselves to become too complacent relying on great natural snow, and invested too little in quality snow maintenance (and, to a lesser extent, snow making) equipment.
> I might not have picked the best possible year to move here, since it's been the least snowy on record. But that has meant that my not really learning to ski powder yet hasn't hampered me too much.
> My season rentals (rear-entry boots and carving skis) were fun and convenient, but I think held me back to some extent. I think next year I'll get regular boots, and either get a season rental that lets me swap out the skis or else maybe an old cheap all-mountain and then rent from time to time.
> I bought leather gloves from "Free the Powder" partway through the season, and this $45 purchase made me a lot more comfortable when it was cold out.
> None of the Utah areas I encountered managed to knock Telluride out of my all-time favorite spot. And overall, I think Utah has some work to do if it wants to really compete for ski tourism on anything other than price. Snow maintenance, transportation, and alcohol laws are the three biggest targets I see--the three spots where the Utah areas fall short of their competitors.
> The scenery is gorgeous. Every Utah area I've been to has better scenery than any of the Colorado areas I've been except Telluride. And that's not to say that Colorado areas are ugly--they're not!--but Utah has them beat in views.
The differentiation in the market here means, to me, that there's no real way to logically "rank" resorts. But it's definitely nice to be able to choose among them day-by-day--I'm really glad to have the options. That said, I'll rank them here in an unsystematic and totally subjective way that might prove useful to other intermediate skiers :)
Brighton. The single biggest surprise for me this season was how much I like Brighton. Looking at stats and trail maps, it struck me as a very skippable area, but I'm really glad I didn't skip it. Very fun runs, fast lifts and lots of uphill capacity to prevent long lines, beautiful scenery, friendly people, great night skiing. Downsides are that there's no way to escape the cold if you're skiing, and the bottom is a pain when icy. If Brighton had decided to compete with Epic & Snowbasin on season pass price, I probably would have picked Brighton--but as it is, I'll definitely be reloading my Go Card next season.
Snowbasin. I still haven't hit it just right, but I've had great fun at Snowbasin, and I see a lot of potential for even more fun. The wide variety of runs and different exposures have tremendous potential. And between convenient parking, great food & drinks, beautiful infrastructure, and warm gondolas for those chilly days, the overall experience even on less-than-perfect days is fantastic. As a passholder now, I'm looking forward to getting to know the ins and outs of the mountain better next year.
Powder Mountain. Really fun terrain with no crowds, and good snow maintenance. Downsides are the drive time (it feels like a trip) and somewhat inconvenient lift layout.
Canyons. Great terrain with lots of options, and an easy drive. But I couldn't find anywhere to get a real drink, and the tourist-to-snow ratio was worrisome. The Orange Bubble is a great choice for cold days.
Snowbird. Not a place for intermediates to relax--Snowbird pushes you! But it also delivers awesome terrain while pushing, and the tram can protect you from the worst cold.
Eagle Point. Definitely too far to be a regular destination, but very fun terrain, very friendly people, and absolutely zero crowds.
Alta. Really fun groomers and the potential for awesome powder. Alta has less uphill capacity than its neighbors, which means that conditions stay nicer longer there, but also makes for lift lines (which I personally despise).
Sundance. Amazing resort with spectacular scenery at the foot of a decent mountain. Slow lifts with a somewhat awkward layout, but terrain that is tons of fun when conditions are right.
Solitude. With significant uphill capacity and limited parking, Solitude doesn't develop significant lift lines. There is definitely some fun terrain, but no protection from the cold. Snow maintenance leaves something to be desired, and in a low-snow year like this one it has a lot of rocks. Seems like the perfect spot to go on the Saturday of a warm sunny three-day weekend when there's already tons of snow on the ground. But that's a pretty small niche to try to fit into! This is another spot where I couldn't find a real drink.
Nordic Valley. Very fun runs on a reasonably quick lift, and a neat mom-and-pop feel. But not much terrain, a long drive, and a very low elevation that exposes them to rain events.
Untried--Park City Mountain Resort & Deer Valley. Day prices at both areas are very high, unfortunately. I'd love to try them both out... and perhaps if they made it easier to do that somehow, I would've decided against the Snowbasin pass.
My Goals for Next Season
1. Don't get injured!
2. Learn to ski deep untracked powder
3. Learn to ski better in tracked/cut-up powder
4. Start the season in better shape--gotta get back into the gym routine
5. Learn Snowbasin like locals know Snowbasin
6. Ski 40 days and/or 1 million vertical feet
7. Figure out when my eyes are psyching me out and I should just go down (enjoying Powder Paradise in low visibility at Snowbird today got me thinking about this. And I skied Sowback or the top of Main Street at Snowbasin in a whiteout and enjoyed it, but when I've been there and could see, both runs looked too daunting to try).