Me - male, Level 7, like steep groomers and untracked powder (that's not too hard to find)
My wife - female, Level 5, likes groomers only as long as they are not too steep
Objective: On this first trip to Utah, we were staying in SLC and wanted to visit as many different resorts as possible. This was part ski trip, part scouting mission for future ski trips.
Monday - January 12 (Brighton at Night)
Flew from Missouri to Salt Lake and hit up Brighton for their night skiing...on the night when they were getting almost two feet of snow! For us middling flatlanders...this was a lot of snow! Too much, I thought. But it sure was soft. We were limited to the Crest lift and the runs that were open for night skiing. We also quickly experienced the young, snowboarder vibe that is prevalent at Brighton. My wife was quite intimidated by the snowboarders and actually had two incidents in our short time there which soured her opinion of Brighton.
Tuesday - January 13 (Snowbasin)
I woke up to reports of "Alta interlodge" and "everyone in the city is heading up to the Cottonwoods to play in the powder." I decided to head somewhere else. My wife and I went to Snowbasin which had 6" of fresh snow. My wife took a lesson in the morning as I lapped the John Paul area.
I tackled both of the Downhills and thought that Wildflower was steeper than Grizzly. They were both a little hardpacked, but still fun to ski. I really enjoyed my morning as I racked up some serious vertical in a very short time. The locals were complaining about how busy it was and I was shocked. How in the world is this busy?!? They would all say the same thing: "Look at the parking lot" (which you can see from anywhere on the John Paul side of the mountain)..."it's never that full!" Well, who cares if you have the whole run to yourself and you don't have to wait to get on a lift!!!! Everyone I met this day was a local and wanted to tell me about what Snowbasin was like "before the Olympics."
I met my wife after her lesson and quickly headed over to the Strawberry area. We had a fairly nice time making our way down Main Street and I enjoyed the views of the spacious bowl that is Strawberry. As we road the Strawberry Gondola up to the top, my wife had a bit of a panic attack as she didn't see anything she could ski comfortably. But the view!
Here's where our day went sour as my wife decided she wanted to head back to the main area as the openness of Strawberry was a bit too much for her. We were told by a ski patroller that the only way out of Strawberry was Dan's Run. So we slogged to the left and found ourselves on the hairiest, steepest, slickest blue run I've ever seen. While I found it enjoyable, my wife was in over her head. We managed to finally make it down Dan's Run, but not without Divorce Papers almost being filed. Warning: if you are not a confident skier, DO NOT ski Dan's Run. It's a doozy. (The trail map shows that there is another easier route out of Strawberry via Penny Lane. If the trail map is true, we were given some poor advice and my wife would have much preferred ANYTHING over the horror of navigating down Dan's Run.) Once we got back down to the bottom, we were done for the day. Things were extremely warm and slushy at the bottom as the temperature climbed into the 40s on this sunny day. However, I saw everything of Snowbasin and I really liked what I saw. I would love to return.
Wednesday - January 14 (Alta/Snowbird)
Without a doubt, I was the most eager to finally experience the ski resorts located in Little Cottonwood Canyon. I sprang for the AltaBird ticket hoping to be able to get a good feel for both of these spots in one day. My wife was taking a morning lesson at Alta (which she loved, by the way) and I was going to hit it hard...and that I did. We started at the Albion base at Alta and were in line at the Sunnyside lift by 9:10. I got a slight kick out of being there to hear a cheer as the lift finally opened (at 9:15) and getting on what was perhaps the 10th chair that morning. I made my way over to Sugarloaf and before I knew it was skating to the Connect and heading down into Mineral Basin.
Let me just say that my first view of Mineral Basin was pretty special. Wow! It's huge...and beautiful.
While I did drive up the canyon and take a peek at Snowbird's frontside, this was basically my first look at the area and it was "love at first sight." Mineral Basin is simply breathtaking. I wasted little time getting to the bottom and found myself at the top of Hidden Peak by 9:45. I hung out in the Little Cloud area for a few runs, then found my way over to Gad 2 for a few runs before heading to the bottom of the main area. I stuck to Peruvian and lapped that area numerous times without ever stopping. As I look back on it a few days later, this is where I fell in love with Snowbird. I had already been to Gad and experienced the rolling terrain there and now was enjoying the steep delights of the Peruvian side of the Cirque, all the while mainly sticking to the groomed runs there as everything else that was visible was tracked out. After the fifth time up the Peruvian Express, I ducked into the tunnel. What a trip! I had this euphoric sense of returning to the awesomeness of Mineral Basin...through a tunnel cut into a mountain...with a museum display of Snowbird's history. This was scratching all of my itches.
It was only 11:20. I skied a couple of runs in Mineral Basin and then headed back to Alta.
Alta met all of my expectations as well. I loved every inch of what I was able to ski. For whatever reason, I was especially fond of the Supreme Area as it provided a little bit of everything, with amazing views to boot.
I was able to cover both Alta and Snowbird on this glorious day and I loved them both. I typically like to buck the prevailing trend, but I can see why people keep coming back to these resorts.
Thursday - January 15 (Deer Valley)
Deer Valley is fine. It's easy to label it as the Vail of the Wasatch. Everyone there is a tourist (just as I was). It caters to the deep pockets. However, it does have some nice terrain that when fresh and cold is nice to ski. Deer Valley has lifts going everywhere which are welcome at the bottom but create some Grand Central Stations at the top as the fast lifts are spitting skiers to the top of the peaks at a fairly substantial rate. My wife and I enjoyed our time checking out Deer Valley, but it does have some hassle factors with the huge parking lot and general business of an operation of this magnitude.
Deer Valley had lots of thin spots and was blowing snow on a number of runs. In fact, Wizard on Bald Mountain had just opened for the first time all season. I went down it once and can say without a doubt that I was skiing on something other than the Greatest Snow on Earth. I found the snow under the Empire lift to be considerably better.
Friday - January 16 (Solitude)
One day I was at Deer Valley and the next day I was at its newly adopted step-child -- Solitude. I will be extremely curious to see what changes will be made with the new owner. I don't think DV is going to turn Solitude into Disneyland, but I do think they will upgrade the restaurants and perhaps re-configure the lifts (both of which would be welcome additions, but probably will end up bringing more traffic to the resort). Solitude has two things I really like: fun terrain and no crowds. Here I was on a Friday of a long weekend and most of the runs I had all to myself. Here I am on one of the main avenues of the area:
Solitude has some great steep groomers (Challenger, Serenity, Diamond Lane), some playful challenging glades (Headwall Forest and Black Forest) and a unique advanced area (Honeycomb Canyon). However, Solitude is relatively small, limited vertical with lifts designed to give different levels of skiers access to the varying terrain of the mountain. As a result, it can be frustrating for good skiers who want to maximize the goods as the lifts just don't allow for it. And frankly, those "goods" are going to be fairly short shots. Here are a few photos which show what a beautiful day it was (including one of my wife and me):
I loved visiting Solitude and would always welcome skiing a day there from time to time, but I don't see it being a destination resort such as its neighbors Snowbird and Alta.
Other thoughts and observations of my first time skiing in Utah:
1) Since I was wanting to visit a number of different places, we stayed in downtown Salt Lake City. While I love staying at a ski resort, both my wife and I really enjoyed our stay at the downtown Sheraton. Each morning we bought discount lift tickets at the Canyon Sports right across the street before heading out. All of the drives were easy as we were always going the opposite direction of rush hour traffic (especially on the drive north to Snowbasin). Having stayed in Frisco/Dillon/Silverthorne on numerous occasions with similar access to different areas, I found staying in SLC just as easy with access to even more unique areas (which in my opinion is the real selling point to Utah skiing as I didn't find the quality of the snow any different from Colorado on this trip).
2) We ate at The Red Iguana twice, Porcupine Grill, Red Rock and Squatters. We made the mistake of stopping in at the Porcupine Grill and telling the hostess that we just wanted to sit at the bar and "have a drink" which we quickly learned is a Utah no-no. As for the reports of not being able to find good beer in Utah, I say phooey to that notion. Every local beer I tried I thought was outstanding (Bohemian, Alta Ale, Red Rock/Squatters selections, etc.). Staying in town and being walking distance (two blocks) away from some of these places was great. (By the way, my wife is from Mexico and loved the Red Iguana. She said, "Why don't we have an authentic Mexican food place like this in Missouri?!?")
3) PCMR and Canyons did not make the cut on this trip. If I were to make another five-day trip to Utah, I'd probably spend a day for sure at both Snowbird and Alta with the other three days split between Snowbasin, PCMR and/or BCC (depending on snow conditions at the time). I do enjoy mixing things up like this on my ski trips and am already looking forward to coming back to Utah sometime next season.
Thanks for reading.