Overview of Utah Ski Resorts
Written by Jack Lee • Last updated Sep 21, 2017
They call it the “Greatest Snow on Earth”.
And they were confident enough to trademark it.
Happy geographical coincidences in the Great Salt Lake effect means that Utah’s resorts consistently drown in deep piles of the white stuff every season. We’re talking 500 inches a year, which is 100 inches more than what Colorado resorts typically get. Count on ‘monster dumps’ during the season when more than 12 inches of snow pour down over 24 hours. These powder days are often interspaced with sunny skies - ideal conditions to shred fresh pow.
If you’re planning to start the season early, Colorado is the safer choice, having colder temperatures and generally higher elevation which make for great snowmaking conditions. But after the New Year, Utah becomes the better bet to find deep and fresh snow, fuelled by consistent powder days and the Great Salt Lake effect. It’s a great choice for late season powderhounds as April sees its fair share of snow storms.
We haven’t even talked about snow quality yet! Utah boasts snow density of 8.5% - which means it’s light, dry and fluffy – perfect for today’s wider skis to float over. There is no risk that you’ll run into a patch of “Sierra Cement” here! The face shots are sheer joy and the wrecks have pillowy landings – if you’re like us, you’ll be laughing before you’re done falling!
Accessibility is the second draw card to Utah. There are 14 ski areas in the state, 10 all within an hour or so of Salt Lake City International Airport. You can easily plan your trip so that you land mid-morning and reach the slopes by lunchtime – this is especially the case if you’re coming from the east coast where the time difference works in your favor! Good chance you’re still in the car if you’re heading to one of Colorado’s flagship resorts. That’s a minimum two hour drive which gets worse on weekends or in snowy weather when the I-70 acts as a bottleneck to a number of ski areas. Lake Tahoe is arguably worse – a minimum of three to four hours in good weather and traffic.
And of course, there’s Utah’s still-young Olympic legacy. It joins Squaw Valley and Lake Placid as one of the venues which have played host to the Winter Olympics. Snowbasin, Park City, and Deer Valley wear their heritage with honor and has become a place where future Olympians come to train.
A Primer on Utah Resorts
We’ve done a comprehensive write up on what we think the top resorts are in Utah, but here’s a quick and dirty rundown of how to tackle the area:
If you’ve never skied Utah before, make it your priority to visit Park City, Snowbasin, Alta and Snowbird. These resorts will give you a taste of the best that Utah has to offer as between them, you’ll get a great mix of elevation, ski area, terrain and variety. These resorts all have their own personalities – Go to Park City to test your legs against the largest resort in the US, hit up Alta and Snowbird to get a dose of intense terrain and Snowbasin which is a great all-rounder (not a coincidence these are our the first four resorts in our top 7 list!)
You branch out from there, hitting up resorts which suit your niche wants.
Powder Mountain is great for powder (duh!) with a vast majority of its terrain is accessible by cat or hike. This means freshies don’t get skied out and is pretty much a guaranteed affair. They also restrict entry to make sure there is enough to go around!
Brighton and Solitude are great resorts which get overshadowed by some of their more popular neighbors. But that works to your advantage because it means less crowds. They are both medium sized resorts with great snow and a strong local following.
Stay at Deer Valley if you want to be treated like royalty and be pampered by five star service. The food and lodging options are both top notch and we haven’t even talked about the slopes yet! This is the gold standard for high speed carving with perfectly groomed runs with consistent pitch. This is supplemented by a solid variety of terrain but understandably less so than Park City.
If you want to escape the touristy hustle and bustle all together without venturing too far out, then check out Sundance, a nice small resort with a family friendly atmosphere. While it can’t compare with other resorts in terms of raw stats, it makes up for it with its amazing views, friendly lifties and no lines!
Once you’ve conquered mountains the surrounding Salt Lake City and want to venture out further, you can head up north to Cherry Peak and Beaver Mountain or to Brian Head and Eagle Point in the south. These resorts are fairly out of the way so it’s best to commit to these resorts and finding lodging nearby if you go. We don’t think these resorts are quite on par with Utah’s flagship resorts but may be worth a visit if you find yourself in the area.
How to Get Around
You’ll be flying into Salt Lake City International Airport for the most part. If you’re planning to head down to the resorts in the south, consider flying into Provo Airport – it can shave 50 minutes off your journey but you’ll be restricted by the number of flights.
From Salt Lake City International airport, it’s a pick your own adventure between public transport, private transfer or hire car. Of course this is going to depend on your itinerary and budget, so we’ve put together a helpful guideline below.
By far the cheapest option but also the most time consuming and limiting mode of travel. The UTA Ski Bus is going to be your best bet as it services a number of resorts. That said, it only starts running early December, so if you’re planning to start any earlier in the season, public transport is a no-go.
There is no direct route to any resort from the airport. You’ll need to make your way downtown either by bus or light rail. Then it’s a matter of catching a UTA Ski Bus which services Alta, Brighton, Snowbird and Solitude or the PC-SLC Connect which takes you to Swede Alley at Park City.
To hit up Snowbasin or Powder Mountain, you’ll need to take a train from downtown to get to the nearby town of Ogden. A UTA Ski bus runs loops to Snowbasin and Powder Mountain from there.
Look for hire car or private transfer to reach the resorts which are further out.
This is the best way to go if you’re planning to hit up a number of Salt Lake City resorts and our preferred method of travel. It gives you the flexibility of staying downtown and driving out to a different resort each day! Quiet weekday? Hit up Park City. Busy weekend? Try Brighton. Pow Day? Alta and Snowbird. Feel like Cat skiing? Powder Mountain. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of Utah’s easy access to major resorts? This is also a solid choice if you want to venture out further to more remote resorts such as Brian Head.
This option does come with a price tag though. A sturdy all-wheel drive SUV can set you back around $350 a week during ski season but it’s worth it if
Private transfers are a great and convenient way to reach the slopes. There is no shortage of choice as there is an abundant number of providers servicing the Salt Lake City area. We recommend this if you’re planning to stay in a ski town and stick to a resort. We’ve had good experiences with All Resorts Express to Park City and the Alta Shuttle to Alta / Snowbird. Be sure to check out the resort website as they usually have recommended shuttle providers!