Very few ski resorts worldwide serve up the trifecta of limit-pushing terrain, sustained pitch over a long vertical drop and consistently stellar snow conditions. Snowbird is one such resort, and it complements its natural allure with a robust array of lodging and dining options, plus the almost laughable luck to share a boundary with Alta, one of the other few mountains on Planet Earth that will keep experts entertained for days at a time.
And Snowbird really embraces this reputation – for example, an ad campaign was anchored around a Yelp-style rating of one star, earned because the skier was so overwhelmed by all of the expert terrain.
Tucked 8.5 miles up Little Cottonwood Canyon, Snowbird is within sight of Salt Lake City on a clear day, but feels a world away. From the main base area, a brick courtyard lined with cafés, ski shops and the boarding station for Snowbird’s base-to-peak tram, the mountain rises abruptly, giving birth to runs of soft snow studded with pine trees and rock outcroppings. It offers a total of 169 runs waiting to be conquered.
While there is terrain here for beginners and intermediates, the big draw is the vertiginous descents, and the efficient access to them afforded by the aerial tram, which whisks 120 guests at a time up 2,900 vertical feet to the 11,000-foot summit of Hidden Peak.
From here, the options for a rollicking descent are plenty: straight under the tram or along a long cirque for technical chutes; over the back into Mineral Basin for wide open powder fields; out into the Little Cloud for a horseshoe bowl of chalky snow or out the High Baldy traverse for a mix of technical chutes and sublime pine glades.
Aside from the tram, the resort has 10 other lifts, a number of which are high speed. And intermediates should consider the 38 percent of blue runs as the optimal gateway to edge toward the black trails.
With some massive concrete structures at the base – lodges, shops and restaurants built to withstand the avalanches that are common from either side of the canyon road – Snowbird’s vibe is modern-industrial, an image accentuated by the battalions of radical-shredder skiers and snowboarders attacking even the mountain’s most knee-buckling sections with gusto.
From numerous spots on the mountain, a guest in repose should not be surprised to spot young X Games aspirants soaring through the air, like characters catapulted from the set of some high-octane movie.
Below mid-mountain, after riders survive the big drops of the upper realms, the pitch continues, even if the features mellow a bit. Mogul and groomer runs that would earn black diamond status in most of the country are blue runs here, but your legs will be thankful when you finally reach the cat track that glides you gently back to the base area.
Even at the bottom of the mountain the snow is likely to be dry and pleasurable, thanks to The Bird’s base elevation of 7,760 feet and the fact that Pacific-borne storms "dry out" as they cross the Nevada and Utah deserts before slamming into the Wasatch Mountains.
A few minor dings in an otherwise top-tier experience:
- There is no main lodge at the base, depriving guests of that big communal hearth at which to warm toes and regale friends during midday breaks.
- Many of the après ski spots, with a few notable exceptions, are below ground or in odd corners of the heavy concrete structures, again draining some of the ambiance from that special time of day.
- And the tram, of course, is standing-room only, so all but the most committed shredders will seek out a seat on a chairlift or in one of the well-apportioned on-mountain restaurants after a few laps on the tram.
The Cliff Lodge: This ten-story modern hotel sits at the base of the ski mountain, a short walk from the base facilities and tram dock. Amenities include a rooftop heated pool and hot tubs, world-class spa, fitness center and numerous bars and restaurants. And 2017 saw a much-welcomed renovation.
Shallow Shaft: Built into the hillside across the road from Snowbird, the Shallow Shaft is a warm and relaxing fine dining experience, with an award-winning wine list and thoughtfully conceived menu items featuring local Utah products, including produce, livestock and artisanal cheese.