Driving up Lillle Cottonwood Canyon, which climbs 5,500 feet in 11 dramatic glacier-cut miles, it’s easy to see why powderhounds consider it some of the best ski terrain on earth. It’s not just any snow that blankets these peaks—it’s the legendarily light Utah powder, and a remarkable average of 500 inches falls on Alta and Snowbird every year. Welcome to Powder Paradise.
Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort is a newer, high-tech contrast to Alta’s old-school atmosphere. Cofounded and owned by mountaineer, visionary, and well-known environmentalist Dick Bass, the first person to climb the highest peak on all seven continents, Snowbird features an aerial tram that can zip 125 people from 8,100 feet to 11,000 in about eight minutes. The emphasis here is on families (there are some “family only” ski zones), the unparalleled conditions, and the spectacular scenery. Snowboarders and freestyle skiers (i.e., the kids) can shred the mountain’s terrain park and half-pipe, and parents love the Cliff Lodge’s apres-slopes amenities—the top-level rooms feature flat-screen TVs and Tempurpedic beds and the rooftop Aerie Restaurant offers views as distracting as the menu.
Alta, one mile up-canyon, is Utah’s oldest resort, and prides itself on its sense of tradition and lack of pretension. Alta calls itself a “skiers’ mountain,” which means it’s one of the few resorts left in the country that still prohibits snowboarders, and skier numbers are sometimes capped on busy days. Folks slill talk of the record-breaking 600 inches of snow that fell here in 1994—95, but even an average year’s snow is exceptional, covering 2,220 skiable acres laced by 116 runs. Of five base lodges, the family-owned ski-in/ski-out Alta Lodge has been open the longest. The funky, low-key inn was opened by the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad in 1939 and is practically a museum of ski memorabilia. Dining is communal but top-notch, and the camaraderie of the patrons, infectious. The hotel’s private Sitzmark Club is a classic ski bar that’s a throwback to its founding days.