Utah skiing is a big deal—the 2002 Winter Olympics were held in Salt Lake City, after all! The medium-to-high altitude and dry desert climate cause an accumulation of fluffy powder that is dumped often and abundantly. Terrain, infrastructure, and the local economy cater to a wide array of athletes, from the newbie to the old-timer, the prim-and-proper to the adrenaline junkie.
So, which Utah ski resort is best for you?
Let’s be fair: almost every mountain resort these days offers some kind of accommodation for the kiddies. So don’t feel like your options are limited because you’re traveling with your children. But, if you’re looking for resorts where traveling and hitting the slopes with your family is a little bit easier, Solitude Resort and Brian Head Resort are two great options.
For one thing, these mountains are small and quiet. Brian Head has only eight chairlifts, 71 runs, and an entire mountain devoted to green and blue slopes. Solitude is larger in terms of terrain but often less crowded than resorts like Deer Valley or Park City. In addition, Solitude’s lodging is either ski-in/out or walk to slopes, so getting everyone to the chairlift in the morning and back home in the afternoon is pretty straightforward.
Taking your kids on the slopes (especially uncrowded, gentle slopes) can be one of the most rewarding experiences as a family. But there will be times when you just want to enjoy time with other adults. Both Solitude and Brian Head offer winter sports schools for kiddos. Solitude even offers a play academy for children as young as two months and as old as 12 years (a great alternative to the snowsports academy if your kid just needs a break!).
Utah is home to two of the three ski-only resorts in the U.S., so if you’re staunchly against interacting with snowboarders, then you are among good company. Deer Valley and Alta are excellent options for skiers because they are on complete opposite ends of the skier spectrum.
Deer Valley (which continues to bathe in the fame that accompanied the 2002 Winter Olympics) is ritzy and exclusive—and they aren’t shy about that. Their clientele are wealthy and are willing to pay a pretty penny for the very best services, both on and off the mountain. Their terrain is made for intermediate skiers who enjoy a good, leisurely blue run.
Alta, on the other hand, is a haven for the hardcore, no-frills ski bum types who have been coming to the mountain for years. It’s a locals’ hangout. Its infrastructure is more limited than Deer Valley’s, so a certain amount of traversing is required to get to the best terrain. But due to the higher elevation, Alta gets better snow (almost 200 more inches than Deer Valley), and because traffic is lighter, powder is easier to find. A local favorite at Alta is the run High Rustler, which offers an intense pitch and, after a big storm, is very, VERY fluffy.
Alta is interconnected with the neighboring resort Snowbird, but be warned—there are snowboarders at Snowbird!
In Utah, the best resorts to experience off-piste terrain are Snowbird and Park City. Park City skiing is frequently praised for its great infrastructure, diverse terrain, and great snow. In 2015/16, Park City and neighboring Canyons Village became one, united by the Quicksilver Gondola, making it the largest mountain resort in the U.S. But even with 7,300 acres to explore, 40% of the terrain is intended for advanced or expert skiers and riders who prefer to stay in-bounds. Locals particularly enjoy Jupiter’s Bowl, one of nine bowls that the Salt Lake Tribune called “Utah’s favorite ski run.”
Snowbird receives about 500 inches of beautiful, dry snow a year, and offers plenty of advanced and expert-only terrain. With its tram, Snowbird in particular is known for being a hot spot for hardcore locals, and with terrain this intense, the ego is considered well-deserved. Consider the local favorite, North Baldy: a run of 1,200 vertical feet and 40-degree pitch, where cliffs and hanging snow fields are common (and welcome) obstacles. Gulp.
Perhaps you dream of the rough, unmarked terrain beyond the ropes. In Utah, the best resorts to experience backcountry terrain are Alta and Brighton. When the Utah Avalanche Center forecasts low danger, Grizzly Gulch awaits right in Alta's backyard (just make sure you have the gear and experience to stay safe). Dry Fork, which is accessible from the Supreme lift, is another lower-angle backcountry zone to consider.
Brighton is Utah’s first mountain resort, and one of the oldest in the U.S. Because of its limited base area and lack of nearby lodging, it’s mostly a local hangout or a fun day trip from Salt Lake City or Park City. But its age and relative obscurity hide a mountain full of spunk and some seriously gnarly Utah skiing. It has an open-boundary policy, so you can head over to Wolverine Cirque whenever conditions are safe. It also offers night terrain, if that’s something that entices you.
There may be a gulf between skiers and riders, but most of Utah’s resorts recognize the growing popularity of snowboarding and work to build it into their infrastructure. So if you’re a snowboarder looking for a place to shred, hit the slopes of Park City (where the U.S. won two gold medals, a silver, and two bronzes in the halfpipe in 2002) and Brighton (which was the first Utah mountain resort to welcome snowboarders). There are multiple terrain parks to satisfy your inner Shaun White—the pipes at Brighton are even open during their night hours!
Perhaps you’d prefer to avoid the massive crowds and the ritz of a big-time resort like Park City. Perhaps you want those powder stashes all to yourself (and really, who could blame you?). In that case, Solitude Resort is the spot for you. With its ski-in/out or walk to slopes lodging and uncrowded slopes, you can enjoy a quiet ski trip with lots of lovely, untouched powder. The locals boast that Solitude’s Honeycomb Canyon offers some of the best off-piste terrain around, and it easily connects to a chairlift, so you can avoid having to traverse too far.
If you’re looking for a place to enjoy more fun after the last chair, then Park City, with its bustling downtown, delicious dining, and après ski options, is the mountain resort for you. Complement your Utah skiing with a visit to High West Distillery & Saloon, which is the only ski-in/out whiskey distillery in the world, or No Name Saloon & Grill, a place to drink, eat, and play shuffleboard before a cozy fire.
Looking for something a bit more out of the way? How about a visit to The Viking Yurt, a four-hour-long fine dining experience that takes place in a 40-person yurt at 8,700 feet? And yes—goblets are provided. Guests are treated to a Snowcat-pulled sleigh ride to reach their destination.
Maybe winter isn’t your thing—that’s okay! Utah is just as fun in the summertime as it is in the winter. Get a team together for the Utah Tour de Donut—a bike race where your time is adjusted in your favor for each donut you consume at the end of a lap. Participate in the Park City Trail Series, a four-race series that introduces runners to trails with a 5k, 10k, 15k, and half-marathon. Enjoy music at the Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater at Deer Valley, and explore the booths and support a local non-profit at the Kimball Arts Festival. Hike and admire the blooming mountainsides during the Wasatch Wildflower Festival at Brighton/Solitude and Alta/Snowbird.
Park City and Deer Valley both offer mountain activities like alpine slides and coasters, zipline tour packages, adventure zones for kids, disc golf, and scenic chairlift rides. And, of course, each mountain has trails for mountain bikers and hikers to explore.
Truly, anywhere you choose to indulge in a Utah skiing vacation is sure to meet your needs for a winter retreat. With so much to choose from, you’ll be counting down the days until the first snow!