Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort, Utah
Snowbird is to skiing and snowboarding what Oahu’s North Shore is to surfing. Snowsports lovers come to this hallowed canyon to push their limits and ride hard.
With almost 3,000 vertical feet of steep bowls and tree-lined chutes, all covered in almost 500 inches of light Wasatch powder each year, Snowbird is a “must experience” mountain for any expert.
You get the sense of what this mountain is all about from Snowbird Center, a narrow spot in Little Cottonwood Canyon where the 8-minute tram ride starts. The slopes rise straight up from the canyon floor to Hidden Peak at 11,000 feet. The view from the tram, as it travels above the canyon wall, then high above the Cirque, will make experts quiver in anticipation and everyone else quiver in fear. Everything within view is a potential line and the only easy way down is an exposed serpentine cat track. On a powder day, people charge off the tram as if someone has yelled “Fire!”
Snowbird is certainly not an experts-only mountain. The Creekside Lodge, which opened in 2006, sits below a wide gulley of easier terrain. And Mineral Basin, accessible from Hidden Peak, as well as a tunnel off the new Peruvian Express high-speed quad, is tamer than Snowbird’s front side. It gets the dawn’s early rays, so many head there for the day’s first turns. But Snowbird is still a challenging mountain and not for the faint of heart. It is humbling to all—even those who huck its steepest chutes—but exhilarating and inspiring as well. For beginners and experts alike, technique always improves.
Snowbird used to be Alta’s backcountry—the resorts share Mount Baldy’s flanks. It was the brainchild of Alta Lodge worker Ted Johnson who bought a mining claim at what is now Snowbird’s base. Johnson envisioned an entirely different resort than laid-back, retro Alta—one with modern conveniences like a tram and large hotel. He convinced Texas oilman and rancher Dick Bass to finance the project. Snowbird opened in December 1971 with the tram, three other lifts and the Lodge at Snowbird. Two years later, the first wing of the massive Cliff Lodge opened. With concrete as the primary building material, Snowbird’s base area—it’s a stretch to call it a village—feels almost industrial. But in an avalanche-prone canyon, the solid buildings provide guests a high level of safety and comfort.
Inside the concrete edifices are all the amenities of a world-class resort. The Cliff Lodge’s 11-story atrium is adorned with massive oriental rugs hung by rock climbers. Some of the best dining in Utah is found here. The Cliff Spa, high atop the Cliff Lodge, has an outdoor hot tub and heated pool, a steam room and massage therapists waiting to rejuvenate sore muscles so you can enjoy another day of knee-deep powder or turns down the Gad Chutes.
A great option for anyone staying here at least a week: Purchase an Alta/Snowbird ticket and enjoy the two resorts’ combined terrain (snowboarders must either don telemark or Alpine skis or stick to Snowbird, since snowboarding is not allowed at Alta). The two resorts are connected by a ridgetop trail between Snowbird’s Mineral Basin and Alta’s Albion Basin. The gate takes you into the beginner and intermediate trails of Mineral Basin, and the intermediate and advanced trails of Albion Basin. You also can take a free ski bus between the two resorts.
Photos courtesy Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort with tram photo by Ed Blankman