Snowbird Ski and Terrain
Written by Meimei Ma
• Last updated Sep 21, 2017
The combination of “steep” and “deep” at Snowbird has to be skied to be believed! Much of the resort is above the tree line but that's not because of the altitude - the trees are actually buried under the 400 plus inches of snow. Only the tallest of trees stick above the snow surface! One of the best things you can do early in your visit is to take one of the free mountain tours, where a Mountain Host will guide you around Snowbird and let you get a feel for the terrain. Look for the “Free Guided Ski Tours” sign at the plaza deck, where the tours begin at 9:30 and 10:30 each morning.
The lifts open at 9:00 am and start winding down from 3:30pm, when the lifts in Mineral Basin and the upper mountain close. The Snowbird tram shuts down at 3:45pm with the remaining base chairs following suit at 4:00pm. Chickadee, next to the Cliff Lodge, runs until 5pm, so if you have any little ones who still need to burn off some energy, they can do laps there! Chickadee is also lit for night skiing, which is available Friday and Saturday nights. With the exception of Gadzoom and Peruvian, the lifts in the lower half of the mountain are slower fixed chairlifts. But the ones on the upper mountain - the lifts that get you to the really good stuff - are the detachable high-speed kind, with footrests to give your legs a bit of a respite between runs!
On powder days, people start lining up 8:30am for the tram, which is why we suggest arriving around 8:00am if you want to catch one up. The tram is also where the lines get the worst on busy days, with the wait sometimes as long as 30 minutes to an hour. The good news is that it’s not hard to avoid the lines by going elsewhere. The Peruvian lift can get you to great skiing in Peruvian Gulch and to the tunnel (yes, a tunnel!) that leads to the Mineral Basin area on the backside, where you can ski and ride while others line up for the tram. If it starts backing up on the Mineral Basin lift, consider trying the second singles line on the side closest to Alta. Most people don't know it exists, so the singles line coming down from Powder Paradise can get pretty long. When you’ve had enough there, you can return to the front side and do laps on the Little Cloud Chair and still avoid lines at the base of the tram.
That tunnel – a 600-foot marvel of engineering – is an alternative route to access Mineral Basin. It has a conveyor built into the floor, so you don’t even have to step out of your bindings as you’re carried past artifacts from the canyon’s mining days.
Another good option for wind-hold days, or when wind and visibility close Mineral Basin, is to visit the terrain off Little Cloud and Gad Valley. If both the Peruvian and the tram are on windhold, we suggest starting over at Wilbere, then to Gadzoom to get to Gad 2 and hope that Little Cloud opens sooner than the tram!
Crossing between Bases and Resorts
Snowbird has two base areas with amenities, the Snowbird Center which is considered the main access point to the mountain (via the Snowbird tram) and Creekside which is down the road and where a large portion of the resort’s beginner terrain sits.
To ski from Creekside to the Snowbird Center, intermediate skiers can take Gadzoom (or Mid Gad, but it's really slow), ski down Upper Big Emma before crossing over to Bass Highway. Beginners should consider taking a bus instead as the route involves going down a blue run. On the way back, there’s the Creek Road, a green trail which runs across the base of the resort, but many beginners and kids may find it too flat to keep moving. Intermediates can veer off Chip’s Run onto Rothman Way, which will take them to Wilbere Ridge, a straight groomer right to Creekside.
The easiest way to cross over to Alta on skis is to get into Mineral Basin, before taking the Baldy chair up. Turn right off the chair, and you’ll find the interconnect info station where you can upgrade your ticket if you haven’t already. If you’re on a snowboard, no one will stop you from going down on the Alta side, but they won’t let you on the lifts and you’ll have to take the bus back. The info station is near the top of Alta’s Sugarloaf lift, where there are several ways for an intermediate skier to head down. Expert skiers can cross over on the frontside of Alta by dropping in from the High Baldy Traverse into the Baldy Chutes area. It’s best to already have your ticket squared away if this is how you’re going to do it. Be sure to check out our description of Alta ski and terrain review for ideas on where to ski when you’re there!
If you’re not an expert skier, and you don’t want to take the bus, remember that the Mineral Basin lift closes at 3:30pm, so you’ll want to head back up Sugarloaf and cross back over well before then!
Where to Ski - Beginners
If your family or group has mainly beginners and novices, then frankly you might have more fun at someplace like Alta or Park City, where it’s easier to get to the green. Just over a quarter of Snowbird’s terrain is suitable for beginners, with most of it accessible either from the Baby Thunder lift or off the midway unloading station on the Mid Gad lift. Unless you’re driving and park near Creekside, this usually means having to ride the shuttle from the lodges since the Creek Road trail is a bit flat.
Snowbird’s Chickadee lift, however, is right next to the Cliff Lodge and its gentle 149 foot vertical isn’t a bad way to start. After getting the hang of things there, beginners can head over to the Creekside area. Once you’re riding the Baby Thunder lift, you’ll find plenty of uncrowded green and a designated family area with “mini mining camp” tree trails designed just for kids. Middle and Lower Emma, accessible from the midway unloading station of the Mid-Gad Lift, can get busy but are very wide and gentle enough to be the ‘go to’ for instructors to teach beginners.
Beginners who are comfortable on Emma and the easy intermediate Bluebell are ready to check out Mineral Basin (especially if they can tag along with a more experienced companion!) While the trail map doesn’t show any designated green back here, the Mineral Basin Bowl is wider than the groomers on the front side of the mountain. Lupine Loop is a particularly friendly intermediate run that ambitious beginners can use to explore the bowl. From the top of Baldy, they can try out Claim Jumper, Lucky Boy, and Bird’s Nest. These are easy blues which used to be rated green on some older trail maps. Not every resort has this kind of bowl skiing and backcountry views available to relatively new skiers, so this is a great opportunity. If the front side runs from the summit or tunnel are still a bit too much, they can take the tram down mountain back to Snowbird Center.
Snowbird has intermediate runs off all of its lifts, and there’s plenty of terrain to check out! Intermediates should definitely invest a couple of hours in the free guided mountain tour to get familiar with the mountain and some ideas about where to go. The guides will keep you on beginner and intermediate runs so you don’t have to worry about getting in over your head and they can answer questions about the resort’s terrain. You can also always catch a mountain host at the tram deck or in front of the Summit Lodge.
An intermediate skier who has no desire to test out any of the black diamond runs can still find plenty to do in Mineral Basin as well as off Gadzoom, Mid Gad, and Gad 2. Adventurous intermediate skiers will enjoy taking the Mark Malu Fork to Goblin Gulley – from there you can ride up Little Cloud to do it again, or choose from one of a couple ways down to Gad 2. The ride along Rode to Provo from the summit to Mark Malu Fork offers an up close and personal look at the American Fork Twin Peaks – the highest part of the resort (over 11,400 feet each!) - and possibly some intrepid experts who aren’t about to let a little hike keep them from truly epic lines.
In Mineral Basin, check out Lupine Loop into Bassanova then take the Path to Paradise to Junior’s Powder Paradise. It’s an aggressive yet wide blue run, surrounded by black diamond terrain, but the view of the Wasatch Range spreading out in front of you as you dive into this sweet bowl is worth it! It’s definitely a good idea to ask the host at Summit Lodge about conditions in Mineral Basin before heading up: even though the skiing is great back there and it’s generally more forgiving than Snowbird’s front side, the lack of trees can make it hard to navigate when the visibility is low.
When you’re done on the backside, Chip’s Run offers the chance to explore Peruvian Gulch on the way back down to the base. After the upper portion, a few other options branch off and rejoin the main run on the way down.
If for whatever reason you’re not able to take advantage of the guided mountain tours, here’s our suggestion for an intermediate introduction to Snowbird:
Start out on the west end of the resort with the Baby Thunder lift, either by parking at Creekside if you’re driving up or taking the Creek Road from the lodges to the Mid-Gad Lift then skiing down West 2nd South to Baby Thunder. Explore the area around Baby Thunder, and work your way back to Creekside. Take a break if you need one, and then ride up Gadzoom. On your way up, look for the Mid Gad Grill on your left mid-mountain, and head that way via Lunch Run connecting with Bass Below to get to the bottom of Gad 2.
Ride the gently twisting Bananas back down to Gad 2 (repeat if you liked it!). After you’ve had enough Bananas (see what we did there?) turn left off the top of Gad 2 and head back to Mid-Gad through Election, Middle Bassackwards, Bass Below, Lower Bassackwards and Lowest Bassackwards. Hop on Mid-Gad, and ski Upper Big Emma to Bass Highway where you can crossover and head to Snowbird Center (all these runs are named after one of the founders, not the fish!). From here, conditions permitting, it’s time to see Mineral Basin. There’s two ways to get there, and they’re both pretty cool. You can take the Tram – just make sure you stop by the Summit Lodge to check out one of the best views of the Wasatch. Go past the unloading point and turn hard left through a narrow trail which can be tough for cautious intermediates.
An easier option is to go up the Peruvian lift, and go through the tunnel. Make the gentle Lupine Loop your introduction to Mineral Basin - between its meandering path and the view you’ll get coming back up the Mineral Basin lift, you’ll get a good idea for what this area offers. From the top of Mineral Basin, if you came up Peruvian and didn’t get to see the summit, be sure to take in the view before making your way down Chip’s Run to Snowbird Center, where you can plot the rest of your day.
Advanced / Expert
Snowbird is sheer nirvana for the advanced and expert skier or rider. It offers every kind of challenging terrain, from steeps and chutes to trees and bowls. Double blacks abound off either side of the Cirque Traverse, which runs along skier’s left of the tram, and off the High Baldy Traverse, marking the boundary with Alta. Since these are generally accessed by the tram, you’re only there with a car-load of people at a time – so these runs tend not to be crowded. You can get a good view this terrain heading up Peruvian Chair, so you can get a head start planning your way down.
Some people like to start off with the tram and use the traverses to drop into spicy runs like Great Scott, Fields of Glory, and Barry Barry Steep. Farther down High Baldy Traverse, you’ll find open powder on Blackjack Traverse, while the lower end of Cirque Traverse leads you to Wilbere Bowl where you’ll find steeps with well-spaced pine trees. If there’s a long line for the tram, save yourself some waiting time and hop over to Peruvian. Another option is to do laps on Little Cloud and Gad 2. The Red Lens Line and High Saddle Traverse, which is to your left off Gad 2 take you to terrain where you can often find fresh powder days after a storm since fewer people head out that way.
A particular favorite run of ours is Hoop’s. It’s north facing on the upper mountain, so the snow stays good late into the season. You get there via the Road to Provo (a cat track with panoramic views!) off the summit or from the Little Cloud lift.
There are the wide-open spaces and powder bowls of the Mineral Basin, where advanced and expert skiers can find steeper terrain on either side of the intermediate Junior’s Powder Paradise. To extreme skier’s right, at the end of the aptly named Path to Paradise, you’ll find Bookender’s Bowl where the snow is somewhat protected from the sun. There are chutes to charge into on either side of the Baldy lift. There are a few cliffs back here, but you can see them from the chair and plan your line to avoid them… unless cliff jumping happens to be your thing.
Advanced skiers visiting Snowbird for more than a couple days should really consider the guided tour. If you’re only staying a couple days and don’t want to invest the two hours, here are a couple different ways to be introduced to the resort.
If you’re starting from Snowbird Center, ride up the Peruvian chair and start out on Chip’s Run. It’s a long, winding intermediate, but it has steeper shortcuts you’ll enjoy checking out as you make your way down Peruvian Gulch.
Next, ride up the tram and turn right off the summit to pitch into Regulator Johnson to the bottom of Little Cloud. If you’re starting at Creekside, head up Gadzoom and take Lunch Run to Bass Below to Gad 2. From the top of Gad 2, take Upper Bassackwards to Little Cloud.
From the top of Little Cloud, get on the Road to Provo and take your pick between the Rasta Chutes, Hoop’s, or Bonar’s Pass to wind up back at the base of Little Cloud.
This time from the top of Little Cloud, take the Path to Paradise and pick your line into Mineral Basin. Ride up the Mineral Basin lift, and use Chip’s Access or go through the High Baldy Traverse to get to some of the expert terrain at the top of Peruvian Gulch and make your way back down to Snowbird Center.
Snowbird is best for families if everyone is at least an intermediate skier, or at least an adventurous advanced beginner. If the kids are teenagers, then the entire family can take the free mountain tour (younger kids, even if they’re skilled enough, may find the two hour tours to be a bit lengthy!).
If the family is mainly intermediate, then laps on Gadzoom, Gad 2, or in Mineral Basin will be fun, especially mid-week when it’s not so crowded. There’s a great deal of intermediate terrain here, along with enough black for more advanced members of the family to stay entertained. Another option is Chip’s Run down Peruvian Gulch, which has other intermediate and a few advanced runs that diverge and rejoin so a family can split up onto trails that suit everyone’s abilities and easily reunite before the bottom.
Families with younger children or even older beginners will probably spend most of their time off the Baby Thunder Lift or the lower part of the Mid Gad Lift, using the midway unloading station to stick to gentle terrain. They should still ride the tram up at least once, though, for the experience and the views! Since you can ride the tram back down, there’s no need to worry about being stuck someplace beyond your abilities. In fact, even non-skiers can get a ticket to just ride the tram and take in the sights.
Off-piste and Backcountry
Much of the advanced and expert terrain at Snowbird is off-piste, and it spans the spectrum from “challenging” to “extreme” to “heart attack!” In addition to the areas noted for advanced / expert skiers, there are gladed tree runs in the Gad 2 area. Regulator Johnson, which starts just below the peak at the start of the Cirque Traverse offers a steep groomer perfect for carving. The terrain on either side varies from powder, chopped up soft snow to frozen bumps! You can find chutes on Mineral Basin’s Livin’ the Dream, and in the Rasta Chutes off the Road to Provo.
With as much snow as Snowbird gets, and as steep as parts of the mountain are, don’t be surprised if some areas are closed for avalanche control after a big storm. The silver lining, of course, is that when those areas finally open, there’s more fresh powder to be had!
You can get through the backcountry through designated gates, as long as you have the proper equipment and a partner. You can get into White Pine by heading southwest from the top of Gad 2 to the ridge that marks the resort boundary. If you can avoid the temptation of Temptation Chutes, then you can follow the ridgeline south until you find a good spot to drop into the Birthday Chutes on your right. If you continue along the ridge and drop in to your left, you’ll be in Baldy’s Bowl, an in-bounds hike-to area. Another option is Scotty’s Bowl, on the opposite side of the resort boundary from High Saddle Traverse. If you work it right, you can cut back in bounds to get to the base of Baby Thunder. Otherwise, you can make it to Little Cottonwood Canyon Road.
If you’re new to backcountry skiing and want to know what it’s all about, Snowbird offers guides as well as avalanche safety training. The guided tours meet at the Forklift Restaurant in Snowbird Center at 7:30am, and include lunch. Since you’ll really be earning your turns, you should be an advanced skier and in good enough shape to exert yourself at Snowbird’s high elevation. Touring skis and skins are available to rent, and safety equipment (transceiver, shovel, probe, and backpack) is provided. There are also half-day, custom, and private guided catskiing tours available. Utah Mountain Adventures also offers private guiding and instruction packages, but for a wider array of skill levels. Prices range from $199 to $500 (and more for some multi-day trips).
Arguably, Snowbird is a terrain park – but if you’d like some rails, boxes and jumps to go with your natural terrain, Snowbird has a small area set up underneath the Mid Gad lift. It’s off to the skier’s left side of Middle Emma, just below the midway unloading station and it has features suitable for beginners and intermediates.
The only night skiing at Snowbird is on the Chickadee lift next to the Cliff Lodge. Night skiing is open Friday and Saturday Nights.