Snowbird Ski Resort
When you drive up Little Cottonwood Canyon, Snowbird (801/933-2222 or 800/232-9542, snow report 801/933-2100, www.snowbird.com, $72 all-day tram and lift ticket) is the first resort you get to. It's about a 40-minute drive from the heart of downtown Salt Lake City. Aside from sheer convenience, Snowbird is known for its great snow—an average of 500 inches a year, and much of that classified as "champagne powder." It's a big, fun place to ski or board, with lots of varied terrain.
Snowbird's owner and developer, Dick Bass, is well known in mountaineering circles as the author of Seven Summits, his account of climbing the highest peak on every continent. He reportedly had the vision for this resort, including the deluxe Cliff Lodge, while he was holed up in a tent on Mount Everest. The soaring 11-story windowed atrium at the sturdy concrete Cliff imparts a sense of openness that was so sorely lacking in that Everest tent. Along with open space and light, Bass also had a vision of a spa.
It was important to Bass to build an environmentally friendly resort, and much effort was taken to preserve trees and improve the quality of the watershed, which had been degraded by mining. Mine tailings were removed and lodges built in their place to avoid harming existing trees and vegetation.
Terrain and Lifts
Snowbird is on the west side of the Wasatch Range, with ski runs mostly on the north face of the mountains. There are three distinct areas to ski at this large and varied resort: Peruvian Gulch, Gad, and—on the back side—Mineral Basin. And, if 2,500 skiable acres aren't enough to keep you busy, you can buy a special lift ticket that allows skiing between Snowbird and neighboring Alta.
Plenty of lifts serve Snowbird, including four high-speed quads and a tram that can ferry up to 125 skiers at a time to the top of Peruvian Gulch. The runs here are long, too, meaning that you don't have to hop a lift every few minutes. Unless it's a powder day (when all the locals call in sick and head for the mountains), lines are rarely a problem, especially midweek. The one place that does get crowded is the tram; lines can be quite long here, especially first thing in the morning and just after lunchtime. But the tram really is the way to get up the mountain quickly, with access to the best territory.
Twenty-seven percent of the runs are classed as beginner, 38 percent intermediate, and 35 percent advanced. Plenty of ungroomed areas lie in the backcountry, too. Snowbird's ski and snowboard schools and separate "bunny hill" make it a good place to learn. The longest run is 3.5 miles and drops 3,200 feet. Guided ski tours of about two hours (free with lift-ticket purchase) leave from the Snowbird Plaza deck daily at 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. and tour mostly blue runs.
Snowboarders can find a terrain park on the Big Emma run, under the Mid-Gad lift. The terrain itself, with lots of natural chutes, lends itself to snowboarding.
Skiers and snowboarders alike should be sure to check out the Mineral Basin area. Reach it by taking the tram to the top of Hidden Peak (11,000 feet) and then heading over to the back side of the mountain, or by riding the Peruvian Express lift and then riding a "magic carpet" through a 600-foot-long tunnel to Mineral Basin. Two high-speed quads serve a great network of runs on this side of the mountain.
Wasatch Powderbird Guides (801/742-2800, www.powderbird.com) offers helicopter skiing in the peaks above the regular runs; rates run around $1,000.
Snowbird also offers a number of adaptive ski programs (www.wasatchadaptivesports.com). Sit-skis, mono-skis, and outriggers make skiing possible for athletes with mobility impairments. Instruction and programs are available for both children and adults.
In addition to its ski school, Snowbird offers rentals, a wide selection of shops, restaurants, snack bars, four lodges, swimming pools, health spa, and child-care services.
The exceptionally long season at Snowbird runs mid-November through May, though many lifts close by May 1. Even confirmed Alta skiers head to Snowbird for their late spring skiing.
Standard lift tickets (including the tram) cost $72. Forego the tram and your ticket price drops to $62; add access to Alta's lifts and you'll pay $85. Seniors pay $59 for tram and chairlift access; two children 6 and under can ski free with each adult (lifts only; $15 for a pass that includes the tram). Half-day and multiday passes are also available.
Snowbird offers a full array of family recreation and resort facilities to summer visitors. All lodging, spa, and recreational facilities remain open, as do many restaurants and retail outlets.
A summer favorite is the tram ride to Hidden Peak (elev. 11,000 feet) for a fantastic panorama of the Wasatch Range, the surrounding valleys, and the distant Uinta Mountains. Round-trip one-ride tickets are $12 for adults and free for children under six.
The resort's summer commercial emphasis is on vaguely extreme sports (including the bizarre mechanical bull, $9 per ride), although there are also plenty of general fitness and outdoor activities. An all-day pass for activities, including the bull, bungee jump, zip line, and more, goes for $39, or $24 for children under 75 pounds.
The Activity Center (near the tennis courts, 801/933-2147) is the hub for summer activities. It also rents mountain bikes and can arrange horseback rides in the Mineral Basin. A hiking map available at the center shows local trails and jogging loops. Guided hikes are available, and there's a nature trail adapted to guests with disabilities. If you're looking to relax, there's also the Cliff Spa and Salon, with beauty and massage treatments. Snowbird is also the site of frequent summertime musical and arts events.
The Cliff Spa (801/933-2225) offers all sorts of massage therapies, facials, manicures, yoga and Pilates classes, a weight room, cardio equipment, and its own outdoor pool. It's much nicer and more complete than most hotel spas. A day pass ($5) to the spa permits access to the classes and workout facilities; people who aren't staying at the Cliff are perfectly welcome. It's best to make an appointment for massages and other treatments at least a day or two in advance.
All of Snowbird's accommodations are run by the resort; the best way to find out about the many options is simply to call the central reservation line (800/232-9542) or check the website (www.snowbird.com). Prices vary wildly according to season, day of week, and view but are generally quite high during the winter.
The poshest place to stay at Snowbird is the ski-in/ski-out Cliff Lodge, with more than 500 rooms, scores of incredible Oriental rugs, four restaurants, conference facilities, retail shops, a year-round outdoor pool, and a top-notch spa. One very nice practical detail is the ground-floor locker (complete with boot dryer) assigned to each guest. The Cliff is swanky without being snobbish or stuffy—you don't have to look like the current season's Bogner catalog to fit in here (though many guests do). Standard winter room rates run about $375, with many package deals available, including better rates on multiday packages that include lift tickets.
The Lodge at Snowbird, the Inn at Snowbird, and the Iron Blosam Lodge (which has timeshare units) are the resort's three condominium complexes. Though they aren't quite as grand as the Cliff, they're perfectly nice and quite practical places to stay (the three are pretty similar), with guest laundries, pools, steam and sauna areas, restaurants, and many kitchen units. All of these places are a short walk from the tram loading area. Most are one-bedroom units, with prices starting at $240.
More condos are available through Canyon Services (888/546-5707, www.canyonservices.com). These upscale accommodations are found between Snowbird and Alta, and they are available in several different complexes and in units with 2-7 bedrooms (winter rates mostly in the $500-600 range).
If these prices seem prohibitive, remember that Salt Lake City is just down the hill, and city buses run up the canyon several times a day.
Serious skiers will no doubt eat lunch either on the mountain at the Mid-Gad Restaurant or at the Forklift, a sandwich-and-burger joint near the base of the tram. While these places are perfectly acceptable refueling stations, be aware that there are a couple of very good restaurants at Snowbird.
The Aerie (801/933-2160 or ext. 5500, breakfast and dinner daily in winter, 6-9 p.m. Tues.-Sat. in summer, $22-36) is the Cliff's fancy 10th-floor restaurant, offering excellent food with a slight Asian influence and fine sunset views of the mountains. If you'd like to partake of the Aerie's scenery but aren't up for the splurge, check out the sushi bar, open during the winter in the Aerie's lounge. It's a friendly, casual atmosphere with really good fresh sushi and live jazz drifting over from the bar area. The Aerie also serves breakfast in winter.
The espresso bar in the Cliff's Atrium (801/933-2140, breakfast and lunch daily in winter, breakfast daily 7-11 a.m. in summer, $18.95) has granola, bagels, and fruit. It's quick and has a splendid view of the mountain. The Atrium is also a pleasant place to relax at the end of the day, with a good après-ski menu of sandwiches, vegetarian chili, and other light snacks.
For a not-too-extravagant dinner, the El Chanate (801/933-2025 or ext. 5100, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 2-9 p.m. Sun., $10-24) has reasonably priced (but not wildly exciting) Mexican food and an astounding array of tequilas. It's tucked away in the bottom of Cliff Lodge.
In the Iron Blosam Lodge, Wildflower Restaurant (807/933-2230 or ext. 1042, 6-9 p.m. Wed.-Sat., $12-25) has very good Italian-inspired dinners. It's not quite as expensive or elegant as the Aerie, but the food and views are nearly as good. Another relatively affordable dinner restaurant is the Lodge Bistro (807/933-2145 or ext. 3042, 5:30-9 p.m. Thurs.-Sun., $18-28), located in the Lodge at Snowbird. Dinners here have a French influence and it's easy to make a meal of small plates ($9-13).
Down at the bottom of the canyon, about 15 miles from Snowbird, are two more restaurants. The Market Street Grill (2985 East Cottonwood Pkwy., 801/942-8860, www.gastronomyinc.com, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-9:30 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Fri., 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4-10 p.m. Sat., 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4-9 p.m. Sun., $17-47) is an excellent seafood restaurant.
Getting to Snowbird
The resort at Snowbird is six miles up Little Cottonwood Canyon and 25 miles southeast of downtown Salt Lake City. Snow tires are required November 1-May 1 (with tire chains in the car). During extremely heavy snowstorms the canyon may be temporarily restricted to vehicles with 4WD or chains.
UTA buses and Canyon Transportation shuttles service all resorts up Little Cottonwood Canyon. Snowbird provides free shuttle service between the different areas of the resort during skiing hours.
© W.C. McRae and Judy Jewell from Moon Utah, 9th Edition