Firsthand Report: Solitude, Utah
Author thumbnail By Connie Lawn, DCSki Columnist

There is abundant beauty, wonderful scenery, and terrific skiing at Solitude. I don’t know why it stays relatively empty, but it won’t forever, it is too much of a gem. Solitude, and its neighbor Brighton are located in Big Cottonwood Canyon, a little lower than Little Cottonwood which has Snowbird and Alta.

Solitude has a lot of variety and challenge, and is not intimidating. The top of the mountain can be cold and windswept, as it was when we were there on March 6, 2006. It has that moonscape feeling, and you can see across great, bold vistas. But, you can escape the wind quickly, by skiing through many of the tree-lined trails. Once you start to descend, you believe you are skiing in New England or Austria, because of the trees. But, fortunately, you lack the biting cold and ice.

View from the summit towards Brighton. Photo provided by Charles Sneiderman.

There are no safety bars on the chairlifts, but the lifts are not as steep as Alta, so I was not as frightened. Maybe I am just getting used to hanging in the air without bars. But, I still think they are important - especially for children. Some of the areas had lift problems this season - it must be terrifying to be caught on a chair, waiting for evacuation, and not have the protection of a bar in front of you.

Solitude has one of the finest grooming systems in Utah, akin to what we experienced at Deer Valley and Park City. Because of the slow grooming system, and other special techniques, media director Jay Burke says the trails stay in peak condition longer. They do not lose cover and develop that hard packed sheet, where it is difficult to edge or maintain control. For some reason, I did not feel intimidated at Solitude. The catwalks were wide enough to maneuver, and the trails easy to ski. There were many wide, beautiful runs, which you could dance and sweep across. Because we were there on a snowy Monday, the crowds were light. Jay says the last weekend was huge for them, about 2,500 people on an area more than large enough to accommodate them. Usually, 1,200 visitors is a good number for the weekend.

Snowbird also has a fine, 20 kilometer Nordic touring center. You can even rent your skis and take lessons from a friendly, outgoing native of Norway. There is a new lodge for day visitors in the Moonbeam base area.

There are many interesting events in Solitude. The week of our visit, there were nature snowshoe tours through the woods, and stargazing adventures, when it is not cloudy or snowing. Solitude also has a new Avalanche transceiver training park, where people can (hopefully!) learn to locate friends and victims who may be buried in the brutal snowslides. Experts say backcountry travel is more popular than ever, and more rescue training facilities are needed. Despite training and new equipment, avalanche experts say it is best to stay out of the dangerous areas all together, unless you want to be tossed and battered by tons of snow and rocks.

Annual snowfall at Utah resorts often reaches hundreds of inches.
Clearing the ice off the roof before the next big storm. Annual snowfall at Utah resorts often reaches hundreds of inches. Photo provided by Charles Sneiderman.

With large amounts of snow expected, the Utah resorts should have abundant conditions for weeks. The scheduled closing for most of the areas is mid April. But, I am certain lots of people will climb or snowmobile to the top after that, and keep skiing.

There is another interesting feature to Solitude, in addition to the privacy and lack of crowds. The area has a unique, electronic ticket system. You purchase your ticket and put it in your left hand pocket. It is supposed to let you through the gate automatically. The cards can, in some cases, be renewed over the internet. They also track your skiing, so you can tell how many vertical miles you have traveled on the slopes, and what lifts you have taken. Eventually, the system will also take photos of you, to be certain you have not loaned your card to anyone else. As it is, Solitude only gets about 150,000 paid skiers a season. It is a family-owned area, and has to show a profit (as do all ski areas). Interestingly, some of the buildings were designed by Intrawest, so the town center has that Snowshoe feeling. I felt right at home! It is a great area for children - they can run into the town center, play, ice skate, or whatever, without having to worry about cars hitting them.

The name is Solitude, but the people are warm and friendly. I strongly suggest you give the area a try when in Utah!

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About Connie Lawn

When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.

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