When it comes to legendary ski areas, Alta and Snowbird are at the top of many lists.
Known for deep snow, steep terrain and a no-nonsense winter vibe, these resorts in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon serve up some of the most memorable turns you’ll ever make.
1. Greatest Snow on Earth
Utah is famous for light, dry powder and tons of it. With around 400” of snow each year at Alta and Snowbird, your chance of scoring a powder day is high.
Steep canyon walls require lots of snow and when it falls, skiers race to runs like Alta’s High Rustler. Over at Snowbird, the expansive Cirque offers countless lines that hold snow for days.
Tip: If you’re new to powder skiing start in the Ballroom at Alta or Junior’s Powder Paradise in Snowbird’s Mineral Basin. Both offer moderate lines in low angle bowls.
2. Beginner Magic
Alta, especially, has some outstanding beginner terrain. The Albion base takes advantage of the Canyon’s most gentle slopes and is the home of Alta’s ski school.
Never-evers and young children should start on the Sunnyside lift.
At Snowbird, the easiest options are found off of the Baby Thunder lift and the Chickadee Lift near the Cliff Lodge.
Tip: Ski Alta’s Sunnyside lift from 3:00 – 4:30 p.m. for just $10. Or go night skiing at Snowbird on the Chickadee lift, Fridays and Saturdays for $13 (free for lodging guests).
3. Intermediate Bliss
At Snowbird, intermediate skiers and riders can find groomed and ungroomed terrain from the top of every major lift, sometimes just a short cat track away.
At Alta, the progression starts at the Sunnyside and Cecret lifts, moving on to the Supreme or Sugarloaf lifts, where you’ll find big views and bountiful intermediate runs. Or stay on the frontside, lapping the Collins lift.
Tip: Take a free mountain tour with a Snowbird guide, each day at 9:30 or 10:30 a.m. or a ski tour with a Snowbird forest ranger on Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00 p.m.
4. Let’s Talk Traverse
To really experience Little Cottonwood Canyon skiing, tune up your triceps before you arrive.
Powder days can be intense when ropes drop and unopened terrain becomes available. Be prepared to go fast or get passed.
Or just hang back a bit and let the frenzy subside. There’s plenty of good skiing to be done, even days after a storm.
Tip: Anticipate what’s ahead on any traverse by watching the boots of the skier in front of you as they go up and down.
5. Mountain Explorers and More
If your little rippers have outgrown lessons (or so they think), sign them up for Mountain Explorers at Alta. For ages 7 to early teen, groups are divided by age and ability. The all-day Mountain Explorers program includes five hours of skiing and lunch.
Tip: Adventurous adults thrive on Alta’s Off Trail Workshops for advanced and expert skiers. Just $85 for 2.5 hours with an instructor, participants explore terrain best suited to each day’s conditions and discover some of the mountain’s less obvious aspects.
6.Helicopter or Snowcat?
Listen closely and you’ll hear helicopters taking off from the base of Snowbird. Operated by Powderbird Guides, these helicopters open up the Wasatch backcountry.
Powderbird gets high marks from clients for their full day ski tours. Both Alta and Snowbird also offer guided backcountry snowcat skiing.
Tip: Dial it down and earn your turns, skiing with an Alta or Snowbird backcountry guide.
7. Two Ticks Off the Bucket List
Next-door neighbors, both Alta and Snowbird each have a unique culture.
Alta’s tagline, Alta is for Skiers, is apt. The resort, founded in 1938, does not allow snowboards. The tiny town of Alta offers limited accommodation in one of five, unique lodges or in nearby condominiums and rental homes.
Snowbird opened in December 1971, the realized dream of local skier Ted Johnson and Texas oilman and mountaineer Dick Bass. Snowbird has a full-service base village offering restaurants, accommodation and limited shopping.
Tip: While each resort requires it’s own ticket, visitors can ski both mountains in one day with an AltaBird ticket.
Go through the Alta Snowbird Connection gate (best bet for intermediate skiers) or ski from Alta to Snowbird via one of three advanced/expert terrain gates.
If you’re confident on double black terrain, check out the Keyhole gate. The west-facing slopes are said to collect the most snow in the canyon.
Find Alta Lift Tickets.
Find Snowbird Lift Tickets.
8. History and Culture
Take a trip back in time as you connect from the top of the Peruvian chairlift to Mineral Basin on Snowbird’s backside. Ride the magic carpet through a 600-foot tunnel and enjoy displays of old photographs and mining implements.
Snowbird’s unique Brutalist architecture is worth a close look. A type of construction emphasizing exposed concrete, Snowbird accents this utilitarian style with beautiful wood and art collected by Dick Bass over decades of worldwide exploration.
Tip: Don’t miss the resort’s newest architectural installment: The Summit Lodge. Located at the top of the tram, it’s North America’s highest year-round lodge and a must-do for lunch.
9. The Food
In addition to lunch at The Summit Lodge, don’t miss these other culinary delights.
- Italian Hot Chocolate at Alta’s Watson Shelter,
- Full service lunch at Alta’s Collins Grill (where you can trade your ski boots for slippers),
- Dinner at The Aerie in Snowbird’s Cliff Lodge,
- Après at least one of Alta’s historic lodges.
Other options for fun include snowshoeing or snowmobiling at Snowbird and treatments at one of several Mountainside Spa locations in Alta.
Tip: Alta and Snowbird are 45 minutes from the Salt Lake airport. Maximize your time, and ski every day of your visit, by arriving in the morning and departing in the evening.
10. Value, Yes, Value
Utah resorts offer fantastic value with relatively less expensive lift tickets. Buy your tickets in advance online to save even more.
Tip: Alta and Snowbird are on the mountain Mountain Collective pass, offering a total of 2 free days and 50% off additional days, as well as lodging discounts.
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