The Skiing at Snowbird
Snowbird’s terrain is a shorter version of Jackson Hole, with snow that’s as dependable as anywhere in the world. The beauty of the ‘Bird, much like Jackson, is the consistency of its vertical—the mountain is void of the pointless, flat slopes that prattle on and on, refusing to go the one place they should: down. Every foot of skiing counts at Snowbird.
And also like Jackson, a tram traces Snowbird’s spine, from its base all the way to its top, 3,240 feet above. From there, skiers can get to everything, including a local favorite: the Poop Chute. We leave it to you to find that one.
Ski area trams are a decidedly European thing; few U.S. resorts have them. So for skiers who haven’t stepped inside the steamy, scrunched quarters of an enclosed people mover, Snowbird is a fine place to start. What’s even more European than a tram, though, is a tunnel that takes skiers, skis still on, straight through to the other side of the mountain. Snowbird's got one. The 600-foot journey through rock comes with music and a quick study of the finer points of civil engineering, before dumping skiers into Mineral Basin, Snowbird’s backside.
Snowbird’s terrain has it all—and the best time to enjoy it is during the early season, the late season and the middle of the week, when most of the million-plus Salt Lake people are working. Saturdays are crowded. Try Solitude, one canyon north, instead.
The Town: Snowbird
There is none. Little Cottonwood Canyon is for skiing and don’t let anybody tell you differently. The local town of Alta may have a marshall, but he mostly chases skiers who have ducked boundary lines. He occasionally catches them. Steer clear of that guy and you can have a great trip. There's not much nightlife, but there are enough good restaurants at Snowbird and its neighbor Alta to keep a five-day trip fresh.
Where to Stay
This is not even a contest at Snowbird. The Cliff Lodge is the premier property on the Salt Lake side of the Wasatch. Its powerful concrete edifice stands up to the steep terrain of the mountain rising up quickly behind it. The Aerie Restaurant and sushi bar on the Cliff Lodge’s top floor is a treat.
A few words on the Snow at Snowbird
At Snowbird 18.9% of winter days see 6 inches or more of snow, 40% of winter months see 90 inches or more, and a measly 3% of months see less than 30 inches. This is elite, blue-chip style snow frequency, rivalled only by Alta and Grand Targhee in the Rocky Mountain states. But Snowbird is as renowned for its quality as quantity of snow. Utah professor Jim Steenburgh has analyzed decades of Cottonwood Canyon snowfall and determined that most storms deliver the ideal “right side up” snowpack that powder skiers crave. The surface layer is usually blower powder over a soft but supportable layer of denser snow that initiated the storm.
Accumulation and Preservation
Snowbird is a relentlessly steep area with base elevation 700 feet lower than Alta, so despite the copious snowfall it needs 5+ feet of base to open much of the terrain. Snowbird averages 84% open at Christmas and is less than half open by Christmas in about 10% of seasons, which is still an excellent record for an area this steep. A high proportion of those steeps face north, so preservation of packed powder snow into the spring is superb. Snowbird is Utah’s premier spring skiing area and is usually open weekends to at least Memorial Day. In overall snow reliability Snowbird trails only neighboring Alta in North America.