Snowbird is steep and fast - much steeper than neighboring Alta because it is on the side of Little Cottonwood Canyon rather than at the broader head of the canyon. While Charles and I expected to be challenged at Alta, Snowbird took up by surprise on our March 5, 2006 visit. Charles and I started right out on the dramatic Aerial Tram, which gets you to Hidden Peak, at 11,000 feet and a spectacular view of Mineral Basin on the back side of the ridge. The Trams are wonderful in bitter cold weather, but even taking up to 125 people at a time on weekends and holidays the waiting line can be long - it took us over half an hour to get to the top. Once up there, you want to follow the European habits of skiing up top all day, and not coming down to the bottom before you want to. Next year the Peruvian Basin chair will be extended to a tunnel through the ridge top with a “magic carpet” inside; until then there is no easy way down from the top, so don’t get too tired out skiing Mineral Basin. We started on the Path to Paradise, which began as a narrow catwalk and dropped into Mineral Basin; it is marked on the map as alternating blue and black and by the time we were at the base of the Mineral Basin Express chair to come back, Charles felt black and blue! We took Chip’s Run back down the front - marked blue but alternating steep and flat.
There is a relatively easy side of the resort, and that starts from the Gad Two lifts. There are some nice easy and intermediate runs in the Lower Gad Valley - they include Lunch Run and Big Emma. There were also a fair number of adaptive skiers, and dozens of adorable little children in the ski schools. The children looked so professional in their helmets, goggles, and spiffy ski outfits. Clearly, Snowbird will not be a challenge for them as they grow up. There is a modern day lodge at the bottom, and the Mid Gad Restaurant is on the mountain. That is where you can meet a forest ranger on the weekends, for guided tours. If you can’t get a ranger tour, try to ski or snowboard with a mountain host guide - really the best way to get to know a new, enormous area, and keep you safe and out of trouble.
One of the nicest aspects of Snowbird are the amenities. I love the Plaza area at Snowbird Center. Hundreds of people sat in the sun, enjoyed the food from the outdoor grill, and listened to free concerts. Few people seemed in a rush to get back up the Tram.
In addition to great restaurants and shops, Snowbird has a full list of activities for all ages. Some take place in the legendary Cliff Lodge, with its hot tub and pool on the roof, overlooking the mountains. For a fee, you can use the water and spa facilities at the Cliff Spa.
Lift fees are slightly higher than at nearby Alta, and snowboards are allowed. There is a crossover between the two areas, for a higher fee. But, you can’t use the snowboards, if you cross into Alta. Again, for all fees, look for discounts, and try to buy your tickets at special prices in sport stores and supermarkets, before you come to the mountains. There is free parking in Snowbird and free shuttle bus service in Snowbird and to neighboring Alta. Best is to take the UTA Ski Buses all the way from Salt Lake City for $1.25 adult fare. Then you can enjoy the scenic canyon road while saving energy and effort. You can park at the base of the canyons and transfer to a UTA ski bus there in bad weather. By the way, we have located the bus stop; it is on Big Cottonwood Canyon Road (UT190), and UTA buses to Big as well as Little Cottonwood stop there. If you drive Little Cottonwood Canyon road, be careful of falling rocks (every day) and avalanches (not every day).
Snowbird is a terrific area if you are a good skier and can manage it. And, there were hundreds of superb skiers and boarders flying down from the top of the mountain. We thought the steepness was our imagination. But, when we came down from the mountain, and told people we had a rough time, the response was always the same: “Snowbird is a tough mountain.” Best to be forewarned when you plan a visit.
When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.