When I was young we watched a lot of skiing and snowboarding movies. Attending the new Warren Miller film release each year was a ritual. Through those movies I was exposed to the names of many mystical resorts that seemed to have bottomless powder and insane terrain. I spent my youth vying to visit the slopes of places like Telluride, Jackson Hole, and Chamonix.
After about a decade-and-a-half of watching movies, I thought I had the snowsport world pretty much figured out.
I was wrong.
How Little I Knew
When I was told they had the “Greatest Snow on Earth” (a phrase that has now been trademarked) I blew it off as a marketing gimmick.
Again, I was wrong. A unique climate created by the Great Salt Lake results in an enormous amount of snow falling on the nearby Wasatch Mountains that is incredibly dry and fluffy.
I quickly learned that many of the resorts around Salt Lake City receive an average of more than 500 inches of snow each year, which puts them on par with the other snowiest resorts, and far above most resorts in Colorado. I also learned that one resort was considered to to be head-and-shoulders above the rest: Snowbird.
Big Mountain Terrain
Snowbird is almost exclusively big mountain terrain. Yes, there are beginner and intermediate areas, and there is one small terrain park, but a large proportion of Snowbird is comprised of black- and double-black diamond terrain.
It’s important to different resorts mark ‘expert terrain’ differently. A run marked as a black diamond at a resort that gets a lot of inexperienced tourists is likely to be a blue square at a resort like Jackson Hole where the clientele is almost 100% hardcore enthusiasts.
Snowbird is the latter type of resort. A black diamond there is a real black diamond.
I can count on one hand the number of times that I’ve traversed passed an in-bounds run on a ski hill, looked down, and thought, “No way in hell.” Every time that’s happened to me, except once when I was twelve, happened this year at Snowbird.
This is not to say that a family won’t enjoy Snowbird. The facilities are world-class and the easy section of the mountain is designed such that learners are not likely end up on a difficult run by accident.
But, make no mistake about it, Snowbird is a playground for experienced riders.
A Lot of Snow Jocks
Resorts with big reputations tend to attract skiers and snowboarders with big attitudes. Snowbird is no exception.
Like most mountains that have one, the best terrain is accessed by the tram. Of course, nearly every person who rides the tram is a serious skier or rider and most of them know where the best spots are. So, on a powder day, the lift is basically a small house packed shoulder-to-shoulder with amped-up athletes ready to rush to one of two traverses that lead to the best terrain.
Things can get a little competitive.
One of the things I love about Snowbird, and Utah ski resorts in general, is the amazing value. If you visit Jackson Hole, Squaw Valley, Telluride, or any other of the big-name resorts you are usually stuck in a remote place with very limited — and expensive — options for food and accommodations.
Not so with Snowbird. Salt Lake City, like any other city, has accommodations for people on any budget. You can take the city bus to the hill. And, compared to other resorts of similar calibre, lift tickets at Snowbird are quite affordable.
However, if you do take a trip to Snowbird, you’d be wise to call around to the local ski shops to find out whether they have discount tickets (many of them do) and to also check Liftopia.com, which can have some stellar deals.