Just thought I'd pass along some experience I've gained the past two years riding the UTA buses from Salt Lake City to the Big Cottonwood Canyon Resorts (Solitude, Brighton) and the Little Cottonwood Canyon Resorts (Alta, Snowbird). You need to know this information if you elect to go sans rental car in SLC, relying solely on public transit, or if you don't have a four-wheel drive rental car and there are restrictions driving up the two canyons (which can be frequent.) First of all, how do you find out if there are restrictions driving up to the Cottonwoods?
As the final authority, there are signs at the base of each of the two canyons (near the final Park and Rides) which will have flashing lights turned on and messages stating that four wheel drive vehicles and/or chains are required. In a worst case, the canyon itself may be closed, generally for avalanche control work. The Little Cottonwood Canyon (LCC) is subject to closures much more frequently than is the Big Cottonwood Canyon (BCC), so if LCC is closed, you can normally head up to BCC to ski. Closures are generally announced (see below), and may last several hours or more. Similar to how a major accident disrupts traffic in DC, a canyon closure has a ripple effect on traffic and bus schedules. Over this past MLK weekend, LCC was closed temporarily Sunday afternoon and Monday morning. Traffic up the canyon was a disaster that morning.
When the lights are flashing, I've generally seen a police officer stationed at the signs checking for obvious infractions. You may be able to get by, but you may also get turned back.
If you have a non-4WD rental car and you encounter canyon restrictions, in theory you can pull right in to the adjacent Park and Ride and catch a lift on the next bus. The reality part is why I posting this thread. Unless you are arriving very early in the morning (say 7:30 AM), you may not be able to find parking in the lots and the arriving buses may be completely full (been there done that the hard way.) If you encounter that type of a cluster situatation, you can generally head up to the Park City area for skiing without driving restrictions.
Best bet is to dial 511 to access the Utah Road Hotline. It is a voice activated system but it can be a little tricky to navigate. I believe the first menu option is "Road Conditions." After that, you are asked to prompt for a city or route. Last year "Salt Lake City" seemed to provide info on LCC and BCC, but this year I had to say "Alta" to get the info. Be warned that this hotline can change during the course of the morning. (I recently checked in at 7 AM and was surprised to find out there were BCC restrictions, but it turns out the restrictions were lifted by 9AM.
Meanwhile, I was on the bus.) From my own experience and by talking to locals, the restrictions aren't always consistent with the actual driving conditions. Where do you buy bus passes?
You can pay three dollars each way on the bus itself - exact change required and it pays to have the money handy. Powder day crowds can be impatient. Or if your lodging choice participates in the program, you can buy bus tickets as part of the Utah Super Pass.
Finally, if you are buying your discounted lift tickets at Canyon Sports
, you can buy your bus pass there and not have to mess with money on the bus. Where do I find route information? Ride UTA Ski Routes Will I be able to get on a particular bus?
Not always. Remember that the bus is used by resort workers, tourists, and those without 4WD vehicles. From my own recent experience, week-ends are busy, powder days (driving restrictions) are very busy, week-end powder days are fugly, and holiday week-end powder days are a total cluster. You have to plan ahead. As a rule, the farther you are from the start of the route (heading up or heading down), the more likely you will find the current bus is completely full, i.e., white-lined, where all seats are taken and all standing area is taken up to the white line behind which all passengers must stand. Getting up to the mountain between 8:30 and 10 AM and leaving between 3:30 and 5 PM are obviously the busiest times. Early season and very late season are less busy.
MLK Monday, a group of us tried to catch a bus down the mountain around 4:15 PM at Solitude. Though this was only the second stop of the route (Brighton was the first), the bus was white-lined, and would not pick up any riders. Instead of possibly facing the same situation on the next bus, I went back to the bar for a couple of drinks and caught a virtually empty ride down at 5:30 PM.
But I'm not a fan of drinking in the AM when it's a powder day. That morning, I caught an 8 AM bus from the 7200 South TRAX Station (start of route) when I heard about the canyon restrictions. I deliberately hit the start of the route since I knew the buses would be crowded that morning. Sure enough, the bus was white-lined by the third stop. The bus continued on the remainder of the route, stopped at each scheduled stop, and the driver informed the angry people outside to wait for the next bus. I've been the outside looking in before, and it's not fun, especially when you are on vacation and there's freshies in the hills.
Fortunately, there are numerous hotels/motels within walking distance of the 7200 South Station (Discovery Inn, Best Western Executive Inn, La Quinta Inn, Motel 6, Days Inn, Suburban Lodge.)
Also, from locals, the 92 (BCC) and 98 (LCC) are very busy routes.
Hope this helps.