The 7 Best Ski Resorts in Utah - 2017/18
Written by Jack Lee • Last updated Sep 21, 2017
Utah is one of the snow meccas in the US, boasting fourteen ski areas, 10 of which are conveniently located within an hour drive from the city. It’s known for its monster dumps of fluffy white snow bolstered by the Great Salt Lake effect. Be sure to check out our insider’s rundown of the area but without further ado, here are our top seven:
- Ditch the crowds
- Lots of powder (all in the name)
- Cheap Cat Skiing
- Slightly out of the way
- Limited amenities
Powder Mountain deserves a place on our list not just because of the skiing (rest assured, it’s great!) but the intimate environment and conditions it goes to great lengths to preserve. The resort limits daily ticket sales to 1,500 skiers and riders. We won’t do the math here, but with over 8,400 acres of skiable terrain of which 2,876 acres served by lifts, 507 acres accessible via cats and 5,081 acres open to hike-to adventures (don’t worry, there are shuttle services to bring you back) – that’s a marvelously private and uncrowded experience. With such a small number of skiers across such a wide area, it’s no surprise that the all-natural powder (that’s right, no snowmaking at Pow Mow!) lasts for days after a dump.
Admittedly, some of the creature comforts that go with contemporary skiing are lacking, with limited dining, lodging, entertainment, and off-the-slope activities available. If you want slopeside accommodations with high-end eateries and shops for your non-skiing family members or friends to peruse, this may not be your spot – at least, not yet. Powder Mountain has a bright future, with a summit village in the works that ought to address some of that.
In the meantime, Powder Mountain is definitely worth checking out for anyone – families, couples, groups of friends, lone wolves – who are “all about the skiing!”
- Skiers only
- Fast lifts
- Amazing service and amenities (including a world class ski school)
- Good snowmaking coverage
- Skiers only
- Quite pricey
- Limited off-piste terrain
Pampering visitors is the name of the game at Deer Valley, where the customer service is widely held to be the best in the industry. If you had any doubt about that, the valet who meets your car to take your skis should clear things up! No, they didn’t mistake you for a celebrity – that’s how they do things here. And it’s not just a show to make up for shortfalls elsewhere: the grooming is world-class, the ski school is one of the best in the country (after all, the legendary Stein Eriksen was its director for 35 years), and the food and lodging are both top-notch with plenty of ski-in/ski-out accommodations. It’s routinely near the top of Ski Magazine’s rankings of North American resorts, putting it in the same company as Vail and Whistler-Blackcomb. The lift system is world-class, and even though it gets plenty of snow in cold enough conditions for the conditions to be reliably excellent, there’s plenty of snowmaking just in case – so it’s a safe place to book in advance with confidence.
Deer Valley is one of the last skiers-only resorts, which could be good or bad depending on how you or your family members prefer to shred (of course, boarders are welcome at nearby Park City). All of the world-famous pampering comes at a price, as Deer Valley isn’t the most economical of Utah’s resorts, with few options for discounted tickets.
While some of the groomers are steep, there’s not a lot for expert skiers to get their fix and much of the terrain can wind up feeling similar as off-piste is limited (relative to Park City next door!). Much of the terrain is exposed – so Deer Valley suffers from worse visibility and wind on a stormy day.
All of that said, plenty of people enjoy the endless groomers. Families – especially those with little ones to herd around – will doubtless appreciate the convenience that comes with all that customer service and ski-in/ski-out lodging. So, if you fit either of those descriptions, then DV is definitely worth checking out!
- Kids under 10 ski free
- Good variety in terrain
- Less crowded than nearby popular resorts
- Limited vertical – top to bottom in a run
- Mediocre food and lodging
Brighton is Utah’s first ski area and one of the oldest in the US. It’s always a reliable choice for good snow, with over 500 inches of the good stuff in an average year. The four distinct parts of the mountain offer a great variety of terrain, with everything from smooth groomers to tree runs and narrow chutes, with terrain parks thrown in for good measure. Even though it’s less than an hour from Salt Lake, it’s less crowded than Park City or Snowbird – but the smaller number of visitors includes a devoted following of loyal locals who give it a friendly vibe. The prices are also friendly: kids under 10 always ski or ride for free!
Compared to some of the other resorts in the area, Brighton is a bit on the smallish side with a relatively short vertical. The food options and day lodge facilities are a far cry from the standards of Deer Valley or Snowbasin, and there’s not much in the way of lodging so you’ll probably wind up bedding down in Salt Lake and making the short drive every morning. But, the value – especially for families with young children – is hard to argue with, and the skiing itself is good enough to attract a devoted group of regulars.
- Largest resort in the US
- Many attractions and activities in town
- You haven’t skied Utah until you’ve skied Park City!
- Susceptible to major crowds
- Lodging needs an upgrade
The fact that we can put three other resorts on the list above Park City speaks to Utah’s embarrassment of ski riches! At 7,300 acres, it’s the largest resort in the US. All that terrain dishes up a mix of groomers, steeps, moguls and trees - enough territory for you to explore for days without getting bored!
The snow is consistently wonderful: fresh, dry, and easy to float over (OK, that’s kind of a theme around here, but still, you get the point!).
If all the snow and terrain isn’t enough for you – or your entourage happens to have some non-skiers/riders – Park City itself is an authentic Old West mining town, with plenty to see, do, eat and drink. It has hosted the Olympic giant slalom, snowboard parallel giant slalom, and snowboard half pipe events. You can even ride a bobsled on a track where hopefuls train. Park City is also home to the famous Sundance Film Festival, held in January – so if you like, you can mix some stargazing in with your shredding!
Not too many of the town’s accommodations are as convenient to the slopes as Deer Valley’s ski-in/ski-out properties, and the resort’s popularity often results in some sizable crowds. Even though the resort is huge with its 41 lifts and over 300 trails, there’s not a lot of vertical off each lift, so skiers who love long top-to-bottom runs may not quite get their fix. If you’re really looking for deep and steep, you may be happier at Snowbird or Alta. But despite all that, there’s still plenty of terrain to explore. And for groups or families who are interested in more than “just” skiing, there’s plenty for everyone at Park City!
- Good mix of terrain
- Lots of vertical on the lifts
- Great on mountain dining
- No base village
- No ski-in/ski-out lodging
If you think that you need to choose between amenities and adventure, then you haven’t been to Snowbasin! Even though it’s another one of America’s oldest ski areas, it boasts a collection of beautiful on mountain lodges built for the 2002 Olympics which serves some of the best cafeteria food in ski country (as you’d expect from a resort owned by Sun Valley).
On a clear day, you can see the neighboring states from the top and enjoy tons of vertical on the way down top-notch groomers. It’s also relatively uncrowded compared to other Cottonwood Canyon ski areas, despite being just 10 minutes further away from downtown. And that’s great news as you’ll feel like you’re in on a secret as you fly through wide open bowls, chutes, and treed gullies. That said, the majority of the mountain faces east, which makes for sticky skiing later into the season.
The only thing Snowbasin is really missing is a base village and slopeside accommodation. If you’re dead set against driving 10-15 minutes to reach the slopes, then this may not be the place for you. But the consensus is that you’ll be missing out!
- Skiers only
- Sheer volume of high quality snow
- Funky and adventurous terrain
- One of the best ski schools in the US
- Skiers only
- Nightlife and shopping is a bit lacking
Alta gives you more snow than almost any other ski resort in North America, averaging 551 inches annually. The powder is incredible, especially as it layers the steep ungroomed chutes and trees runs which characterize Alta.
It borders Snowbird and you can buy a ticket to ski both, but you’ll find Alta a bit less crowded – either because it’s another mile up the canyon, or because snowboarders aren’t allowed on the lifts. It still has some old-school two-seat fixed chairs, and you may just see more telemark skiers here than you have anywhere else: it’s old-school, purist skiing at its best.
Alta has a handful of lodges right at the base of its lifts offering an array of overnight accommodations and inclusive dining packages, but aside from that there’s not much of a village. It can seem isolated for folks who like nightlife and shopping along with their skiing. On the other hand, the canyon isn’t really that far of a drive (or public bus ride, for that matter) to Salt Lake City – which opens the doors to an array of dining and drinking options!
If you’re all about the skiing (and, in this case, literally – you have to be on two boards!), then sooner or later you owe it to yourself to check out Alta!
- World class snow in both volume and quality
- Incredible and stimulating terrain
- Efficient lift system
- Long seasons
- Not suited for beginners
- Nightlife and shopping is a bit lacking
Picking the best of the best out of a cluster of ski resorts like the one around Salt Lake City isn’t easy, but our pick for #1 is Snowbird. Like its neighbor Alta, it gets tons of snow on a north-facing aspect that keeps the powder fresh and light.
Unlike Alta, Snowbird isn’t constrained by the Forest Service and can stay open as long as the snow is there – sometimes deep into the summer! It starts you off on blue groomers and relatively easy blacks before it throws you into the deep end. It’s this terrain which earned Snowbird’s place as the host of many international freeskiing and freeriding competitions over the years. This is all tied together by an efficient lift network, including – get this – a tunnel through the top of the mountain where a conveyor moves you through to the backside! And all of this easily accessible from Salt Lake City – you could even take a city bus!
While a haven for expert skiers and powderhounds, Snowbird isn’t necessarily the best place for beginners. Yes, there’s beginner terrain but it is very limited and it isn’t easy for the newbies to get to from lodging or parking. Additionally, the progression from beginner terrain to intermediate is rather abrupt.
Off the slopes, there’s not really a ski town – certainly not like there is in Park City. The small pedestrian village at the base of the slopes strikes an almost institutional appearance and offers finite options for eating and drinking. That said, the accommodations are clean, comfortable, and convenient with top-notch customer service. The restaurants and bars, while few in number, offer a good selection of cuisine and atmosphere. You’ll eat and drink enough to recharge, and if your focus is on the snow (like Snowbird’s is!), then we’re sure you’ll love it here as much as we do!