By Sam Collentine, Meteorologist Posted 4 years ago January 28, 2020
Around Utah, people know me as the guy who forecasts snow. Over the past 10 years, I have established myself as one of the go-to sources for helping skiers and snowboarders plan their vacations or "sick" days. But before I ever forecasted a single snowflake, I was just a guy who was obsessed with skiing powder. A guy who wanted to find the perfect place to live that would allow me to indulge in that obsession.
With more than 500 inches of annual snowfall and a dozen world-class ski resorts, Utah seemed like the obvious solution to me. I thought back to all those iconic ski images in magazines I saw as a kid – they almost always seemed to be shot in Utah. The license plates even said, "The Greatest Snow on Earth". My wife and I talked it over and the next thing we knew we had moved to Utah and were calling the Wasatch Mountains our home.
Photo: Alta Ski Area // Credit: Scott Markewitz
Since then, I have been lucky enough to ski an average of nearly 100 days per year in Utah. I have skied at every resort in the state multiple times and almost never miss a powder day. Like the snow on a storm day, my love for Utah gets deeper and deeper. Over the years, my knowledge of the area and the upcoming weather patterns have helped me to score an absurd number of deep powder days. Utah is the perfect place to chase powder, and I can share with you tips to make the most of Utah’s plentiful fluff.
COVID-19 TRAVEL GUIDELINES
Ski and snowboard travel is a bit different this year. It requires more research and planning. Review Visit Utah’s checklist to minimize delays and maximize downhill.
As you plan your travel, you’ll need to think about the following questions:
- Can I ski on weekdays to avoid traffic congestion and longer lift lines?
- Have I secured all my needed reservations (parking, resort, and lodging)?
- Have I reviewed the resort's specific COVID-19 protocols related to masks, rentals, and dining?
If you have any questions as you plan your travels, chat with the team at Visit Utah.
Firstly, snow. The most important ingredient in snow sports is snow. That seems obvious, right? Well, there are very few places that get as much and as consistent of snow as Utah.
Big Cottonwood Canyon and Little Cottonwood Canyon are home to four of the snowiest ski resorts in North America. Alta, Snowbird, Brighton, and Solitude make up 4 of the top 6 resorts in North America for overall snow ranking score per our friends at ZRankings. Each of these resorts averages close to 500 inches of snow per year. More than 20% of ski days feature over 6 inches of fresh snow, which means that if you book a 5-day trip, you are highly likely to have at least one epic powder day.
The snow quality is also top-notch with an average of only 7% water content. This means that the snow is usually of the light and fluffy variety – perfect powder.
Photo: Little Cottonwood Canyon // Credit: Evan Thayer
While the Cottonwood Canyons are the mecca for snowfall, the entire Wasatch Range is known for receiving copious snowfall amounts. Park City, just on the other side of the Wasatch Crest from the Cottonwood Canyons, is an old, historic mining town turned ski town. You can literally get on the chairlift to ski Park City Mountain Resort from Main Street in Old Town Park City. Deer Valley also offers world-class skiing directly from the town of Park City. There are few places that offer that ski town experience, with such a high quantity and quality of snowfall.
There are also a number of different weather patterns that favor Utah. Utah has ski resorts from near the Idaho border all the way down to near Zion National Park in far southwestern Utah. This means that multiple different weather patterns can bring deep powder to Utah. We don’t rely on any one specific type of storm.
Secondly, access. Utah has the unique distinction of having 10 ski resorts within an hour of the newly renovated Delta hub, of Salt Lake City International Airport. For those of us who live here, it’s a powder skier’s dream. I could literally leave my house right now and be at the ski area, gearing up for powder in 10 minutes. I also live only 20 minutes from a major international airport. That means that if you live out-of-state, you can fly into the airport in the morning and be skiing by noon. Or, as my friends did recently, book a last-minute flight on Sunday evening, then spend 3 days skiing powder before flying out Wednesday afternoon. There is no other place that offers that kind of access.
Photo: Powder Mountain // Credit: Adam Clark
Finally, the diversity of terrain. One of my favorite aspects of skiing Utah is that resorts rarely feel similar. Each resort offers a unique ski experience and the strengths of Utah’s resorts complement each other well. For example, while the Cottonwood Canyons may be the steepest mountains in Utah that offer the most challenging terrain, you are less than 10 miles (as the crow flies) from Deer Valley, which is known for having the best quality and selection of groomers in the world. On one day, you can feel like a soul-skier looking for gnarly terrain and deep powder, and on the next day, you can cruise the softest groomers around with your family while being pampered in luxury.
SKIING UTAH ON A PASS
One of the great things for folks who travel to ski is that resorts have worked together to create pass benefits that allow visitors to ski multiple mountains on a single pass. While there are many passes with reciprocal benefits at Utah ski resorts, the two most prominent passes are the Epic Pass and the Ikon Pass.
Utah’s most famous resorts are usually those that are closest to Salt Lake City and Park City. These are often the mountains that are most typically included on the major ski passes. However, some of my best ski days have come at resorts that typically don’t receive the spotlight.
In far northern Utah, just east of Logan, you will find Beaver Mountain. Beaver is a family-owned establishment where adult lift tickets are still just $50. You don’t have to sacrifice terrain or snowfall to score these prices. Beaver receives over 400 inches of snowfall per year and has some of the most consistent fall line ski runs in the state. Did I mention you almost never wait in a lift line at Beaver? Every year I have powder days there where I feel like I’m the only one on the mountain.
Also up north, just over an hour from Salt Lake City International Airport, you will find Powder Mountain in the Ogden Valley. "PowMow" as the locals call it, is one of the largest resorts by acreage in North America. You could spend several days skiing there and still feel like there are large portions of the mountain you have yet to see. Powder Mountain is committed to "preserving the powder," which means they cap lift ticket sales and season passes to ensure that you never have to wait in lift lines. Powder Mountain is my go-to spot to score untracked lines days after a storm.
Photo: Powder Mountain // Credit: Evan Thayer
South of Salt Lake City in Provo, you can find Sundance Mountain Resort. Sundance is tucked up behind Mt. Timpanogos and offers some of the best alpine views in the state. It was founded by Hollywood icon, Robert Redford, who graces the slopes from time to time.
Even farther south, you can find Eagle Point in the Tushar Mountains of Central Utah. Eagle Point is far from any metropolitan area, which means that crowds are never a concern. Eagle Point also closes to the public during midweek, which means that any snow that falls from Monday afternoon until Friday morning will be there for the taking. "Powder Fridays" have become a tradition as it’s often worth the 2.5-hour drive from SLC to score untracked snow without competition.
Finally, the last hidden gem is Utah’s southernmost ski area, Brian Head. Brian Head is unique because it combines Utah’s famous snow with the state’s famous red rock. Located near Cedar Breaks National Monument, the contrast of fresh snow on red rock hoodoos is a sight to behold. Brian Head is also at the top of the Grand Staircase and has the highest base elevation of any resort in Utah.
Photo: Brian Head // Credit: Jay Dash Photography
Scoring the best powder days is a game of chance that is part skill and part luck. But it’s a game where you can stack the odds in your favor. No other place gives you a better chance to ski/ride powder than Utah. The combination of quantity and quality of snow and the array of easy-access options make it the perfect place to chase powder.
Years ago, I chose to make Utah my home because nothing makes me happier than skiing powder, and nowhere else offers me the chance to do it as often as Utah. The motto, "The Greatest Snow on Earth," is not an empty slogan, but I suppose you’ll just have to ski it to believe it.
Check out VisitUtah.com for planning resources and additional inspiration.
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This guide was sponsored in partnership with our friends at Visit Utah.