How to Navigate a New Mountain

How to Navigate a New Mountain

By Snow Travelista \ February 21 2018

Skiing or riding a new mountain is exciting! But there’s something comforting – and efficient – about sticking to known trails. So when I first started skiing, I’d stick to familiar areas rather than face fumbling around on new terrain. Heck, I was even afraid to ride a new lift my first season…perhaps because my ski technique still included “Pizza – French Fry – Pizza.”

However, it didn’t take long before my skiing improved, and I wanted to explore. To reduce my anxiety and have more fun, I formed a strategy to find the best runs, food, bathrooms, and efficient routes.

Mountain hosts are the bomb! 

Spoiler alert…mountain hosts are the bomb! But don’t stop reading; I have lots to share! Then I’d love your tips for navigating a new mountain, so I can grow this post into a better resource for all of us.

Here I’ll share all of my tips, plus feature a growing list of mountain host programs guaranteed to help you feel comfortable fast on a new mountain. Bookmark this post, because I’ll add new information about Utah’s resorts over time!

Ready to explore?

My Top Two Tips for Learning a New Mountain

Take A Lesson

This is the best way to up your confidence and learn a new mountain at the same time; especially if you only get out skiing once or twice a year. An instructor will also be able to give you other tips such as where to find a nice dinner or good grocery for cheap eats. But sometimes logistics and cash don’t pan out for hiring a pro, so my next suggestion is tied for 1st place…

Ski with a Mountain Host

Outside of hiring an instructor/guide, skiing with a mountain host is my top suggestion for learning a new mountain. The first time I skied at Powder Mountain, a geographically massive resort, I stood dumbfounded in front of the map not sure where to go first. That’s when a mountain host named Roscoe slid over and offered to help. Thanks to a couple of hours with him, I had one of the best ski days of my life…read about it HERE

If you ski with a host, understand that they may have restrictions, such as staying on groomed runs. Also, there are no rules on whether to tip or not, so I suggest trying to tip your host, especially since many are volunteers.  

Complimentary Utah Mountain Host Programs

Alta - Ski with a Ranger

Snowbird - Mountain Tour

Brighton - Tour with a Ranger

Deer Valley - Mountain Host

Park City - Mountain Host

Powder Mountain - Complimentary Tour

Sundance - Host Tour

Other Suggestions for Learning a New Mountain

Research Ahead

Before leaving home, spend some time on the resort’s website, but don’t stop there. Often the best info is from third-party sites. To find these, simply do a quick web search for, “ guide” or “best runs at .” Large resorts will turn up ample information.

Ask Lodging Hosts, Wait Staff, and Retail Workers for Information

When you arrive in town, don’t be shy about asking anyone who will listen if they have suggestions for your stay. In a ski town, you have a great chance of getting good “intel” from locals.

Grab a Map

At the resort, find a map and stuff it in your coat pocket. It will be a back-up when all else fails or a fun way to show your friends back home what you did.

Start Out Easier Than You’re Capable of Skiing

In theory trail ratings from place to place should be the same, but in practice, this isn’t true. If you’re anything short of an expert skier, warm up on a green or blue and work your way up. It’s possible that the black runs you skied at one resort could be rated blue at another.

Be Friendly on the Lift

Pull out your ear buds and strike up a conversation with your chair-mates. Even if you’re local, this is an effective way to get real-time condition reports for sections you haven’t visited yet.

Drink with Locals

If you strike out on the all of the ideas above, head over to a nearby après ski destination and either pick the brain of the server (likely a skier or boarder), or buy a local a drink (like how I slipped in taking care of the locals?). Just be sure to get your beta early before things get sloppy. Also, moderate your consumption if you’re not used to high elevations or the next day will be headache city.

What are your techniques for learning a new ski mountain? 

Over to You…

What are your techniques for learning a new ski mountain? Please share in the comments below so I can grow this collection of ideas.


Utah Mountain Host Programs

In this section, I’ll add specifics about mountain host programs I’ve personally checked out. It will start withPark City Mountain, and I’ll add more over time, so like I said earlier…bookmark this post.

Park City Silver to Slopes Historic Mining Tour

Visiting the largest ski resort in the nation for the first time can be mind-boggling. The Park City trail map unfurls like a centerfold revealing more mountain than most could ski in a day. With over 7,300 acres, 348 trails, 41 lifts, it’s a good thing guests have a couple of options to explore the mountain with a host.

Wanting to learn more about Park City’s mountain host program, I signed on for the guided intermediate-level Silver to Slopes Historic Mining Tour. I expected to learn a little about navigating the mountain and maybe a bit of trivia, but it was so much more!

Park City Mountain wasn’t always a destination for skiers. It began as a silver mining camp during the 1860s, rich with stories of hardship, success, wealth, and failure. Eventually the price of silver began to decline, and by 1963 it was more profitable to convert the area into a ski resort, initially named Treasure Mountain. 

Yet mining and skiing coexisted until roughly 1980 when the last mines shut down for good. Today, historic buildings and relics can still be seen scattered across the slopes. I’d visited Park City multiple times and spotted two or three of the intriguing structures. Little did I know there were dozens!

We gathered for the 10:00 am tour at the Park City Mountain Village next to the Eagle Statue (there’s a story about the stature, be sure to ask!) Our guide, Sandy Melville, was an expert skier, personable, and possessed a deep knowledge of local history. After a quick briefing we headed for the lift.

He pointed out where to catch a view, find great runs, and score the best bites.

The views at the top of the lift were stunning but the wind was howling. Sandy helped us get our bearings using prominent landmarks before we carved a few turns to the first historic site and shelter from the wind. At this stop and all the rest, he not only shared the history of the mountain, but he also pointed out where to catch a view, find great runs, and score the best bites.

Ziz-zagging up and down the mountain we covered a good chunk of the Park City side of the resort. One of my favorite spots was the Thaynes Shaft Complex located near Thaynes Lift. Built in 1937, the shaft was part of the Silver King Mine and was briefly repurposed to haul skiers up the mountain via the Spiro Tunnel. Dubbed the "skier subway" it was a rather cold and dirty ride in a mining cart.

I’m not going to share all the cool historic facts here because that would ruin the fun of taking the tour. However, I will share several insights I gathered from Sandy during the tour.

Good run for an intermediate skier:

Check out the view at the top of McConkey’s on a clear day.

Adrenaline rush for expert skiers:

Check out the terrain off Jupiter Lift or hike to Jupiter Peak.

Delicious lunch spot:

Head to the Mid-Mountain Lodge. It has a great deck, is just the right size so you can hear a conversation, and the food is good. This lodge has a lot of history and is slated to get an update in the coming year. Fun fact: The little pole high on the roof once supported a suggestion box until a storm blew it down. The only suggestion found inside…”put the box someplace easier to reach.”

Best tip for skiers who only get on snow 1-2 times a year:

Take a lesson right away. You’ll not only increase your confidence, you’ll also learn your way around the mountain. Most instructors are locals who can also give you ideas for fun things to do in town or other activities not to miss. If you don’t want a lesson then at least take a tour with a mountain host such as Silver to Slopes.

This was when I learned one of the coolest tips ever…Stash Items.

When the tour was over, we decided to take Sandy’s suggestion to eat at the Mid-Mountain Lodge. This was when I learned one of the coolest tips ever…Stash Items. Whaaaat you ask? These are hidden lunch upgrades you have to ask for, and then they are FREE. Most mountain dining locations have a dish with a “Stash” option. The Stash Item at the Mid-Mountain Lodge was the grilled cheese. Ask for it “Pickle Axe Style” and you get a house-made pickle skewer added to the sandwich.

Here is the full list:

Park City Mountain Dining Stash Menu Items

Legacy Lodge - "Double Black Style" Chipotle Queso Sauce for the Quesadilla

Mid Mountain Lodge - "Pickle Axe Style" House made pickles stacked and skewered to the grilled cheese sandwich

Summit House - "Blue Bird Style" Warm Buffalo Sauce/ Fresh Blue Cheese added to Tenders

Miners Camp - "Silver "loaded" Style" Fries with house made Sriracha beer cheese sauce, crumbled bacon bits and green onions            

Cloud Dine - "Papa Mitch Style” Garlic Butter dipping sauce for the pizzas

Tombstone - "Inferno Style” Extra-Extra-Hot BBQ Sauce

Red Pine Lodge – “Buffalutah Style” Local Slide Ridge Honey Buffalo Sauce added to the Tenders or Fries Smothered

Sun Lodge – “Border (boarder) Style” Green Chilies, Salsa Verde, Sour Cream, and Jalapenos on fries (will be rung in the same as chili-cheese fries cost).

Park City complementary tours:

Silver to Slopes Historic Mining Tour on the Park City Base Area side of the mountain, Park City Mountain Village at 10:00 am near the Eagle Statue and 1:00 pm at the Trail Map near the top of Bonanza Express lift. After the tour, you’ll receive a signature pin to commemorate your visit to Park City.

Mountain Experience Tour on the Canyons Village side. This tour meets at the top of Red Pine Gondola at 10:00 am and 1:00 pm and focuses on familiarizing the on-mountain terrain on the Canyons Village side.

Both tours require intermediate skiing/riding skills and last roughly 2 hours. They can fill up, so be sure to arrive early