With over 40 global destinations included on the Ikon Pass, it's an overwhelming task to choose where to take your next ski trip. Of course, we in Utah are a little biased, but hear us out on why we think Utah simply offers the best bang for your buck. Here are a few rapid-fire reasons to consider Utah, and then we’ll dive a little deeper and provide some help with trip planning for Ikon Passholders.
There are five Ikon Pass resorts all located less than 50 minutes from Salt Lake City International Airport. Whether it’s just a weekend trip or spring break, you won’t ever have to navigate the same run twice! Check in at Snowbird, Alta, Solitude, Brighton and Deer Valley with your Ikon Pass. Snowboarders can access three of these resorts — Solitude, Brighton and Snowbird. Thanks to the flexibility provided by the Ikon Pass and the proximity of all the resorts, you can approach your itinerary with flexibility based on current weather conditions (more on this below).
Did you know there are 15 resorts in Utah and the bulk of them are located less than an hour of our international airport? The furthest resort is Brian Head, and it’s only four hours from the airport! No matter where you’re going, travel is a cinch, thanks to Utah’s excellent access.
A general rule for Utah’s winter climate: it’s either dumping or sunny, and it’s wonderful either way. With resorts across the state all racking up hundreds of inches each winter, Utah boasts a consistency in snow quality and storm frequency that most other states never, or rarely, achieve. Even in a year where snowfall totals do not surpass average, the coverage is still impressive. This makes planning a trip to Utah more of a sure bet than other winter destinations.
Sure Utah gets a huge quantity of snow but what elevates Utah above other ski and snowboard destinations is the quality of that snow. The arid climate and prevailing weather patterns produce snow with a low water content that is feather-light. The pictures you've seen of people snow snorkeling in Utah are because the snow is so light and dry that it can literally make you choke on the deepest days!
Here are a few rapid-fire tips about logistics for Ikon Passholders to consider when planning their trip to Utah.
Because Utah resorts are clustered together, there are a few ways to plan your stay. You could book lodging in Salt Lake City, Sandy or Cottonwood Heights that will serve as ‘basecamp’ while you travel to the resort of your choice each day. This will provide the most flexibility in terms of making a game-time decision on which resort to visit depending on current weather and snow conditions. This route will often be the most cost-effective, as lodging at or near the resorts and in Park City will generally cost more.
The second option is to book a few nights near each resort and bounce around to the different areas of Little Cottonwood Canyon, Big Cottonwood Canyon, and the town of Park City. For example, reserve a room for a couple of nights at Snowbird or Alta for your days spent skiing or boarding in Little Cottonwood, then move over to Big Cottonwood for one or two nights to experience Solitude and Brighton. Then spend a few nights in Park City to explore the town, enjoy the nightlife and ski Deer Valley.
All the Ikon resorts in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains are relatively close to each other. While busses do connect all five resorts, a rental car will provide the most flexibility. Alternatively, you could book a shuttle to your lodging and use public transport (click here for a complete guide) to travel to the resort destination of your choice. If you do opt for a rental car, DO NOT skimp on a 4WD vehicle with proper snow tires! Many a visitor has regretted their choice to save money renting a 2WD vehicle only to find they were unable to travel up or down Parley’s Canyon or Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons due to vehicle and/or tire restrictions during winter months. If you are not comfortable driving in the snow, ride the UTA Ski Bus or book a shuttle or car service.
In the event of bigger storms, Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons may entirely close while crews perform avalanche mitigation. On days when the roads are slick or snow-covered, it will be required for vehicles traveling up or down the canyon to have snow tires or chains or 4WD. You can always check the Canyon Alerts Twitter account for current road information and travel restrictions. This is just another great reason to rely on the UTA Ski Bus system.
ALTA SKI AREA
Vibe: Step back in time and remember what it is about skiing that we love so much when visiting Alta. This mountain community, nestled amongst breathtaking scenery, keeps the focus on family and skiing. Alta lacks the glamour and glitz of Park City or Deer Valley, but the atmosphere of old school ski bumming is alive and well and dangerously contagious. Many a ski tripper has visited Alta only to return home, sell all their worldly possessions and move to Utah. It can and does happen with regular frequency.
Alta is a resort for skiers; snowboarding is not permitted at Alta, but our shred buddies can keep busy at Snowbird, just a few minutes down the canyon.
Lodging: Alta has five different lodges and a number of private homes and condos that offer vacation rentals. All five lodges offer excellent access to the lifts. If you rent a vacation home, ensure that it is located near the town of Alta or along the Bypass Road, as search results will often pull up lodging in Park City or Heber, which are close as the crow flies, but require a 50+ minutes of commute.
Parking: The town of Alta does provide space for overnight parking, though spots are limited. All the lodges will provide overnight parking, though you may have to provide keys so the lodge staff can move cars around during times of snow removal.
When To Go: With lots of sheltered trees and terrain variety, Alta is generally excellent in any weather. If visibility is poor, stick to the Wildcat Lift and explore the trees. Thanks to its high elevation, Alta generally has excellent coverage beginning early in the season. Its high elevation and perch atop Little Cottonwood Canyon also position this resort to receive biblical amounts of snow. Alta is a powdery paradise and in the days following a big storm, ski patrol will be working hard to complete avalanche control on iconic sections of the mountain such as Devil's Castle, Catherine's Area and East Castle.
Vibe: Famed for its steeps, Snowbird is stuffed full of tech lines, big cliffs, gnarly steeps and an iconic aerial tram. Beginners will enjoy the mellower terrain and trees surrounding the Baby Thunder lift or Wilbere. Experts and intermediates will want to bag powder laps in Mineral Basin, a huge, open bowl with incredible views of Heber Valley and Mount Timpanogos. With plenty of dining options and Utah's highest restaurant, you'll never go hungry at Snowbird.
Lodging: There are four lodges at Snowbird which all provide relatively easy access to the slopes via ski-in/ski-out or a short walk. Home and condo rentals located on Blackjack Road offer the best access and just a short walk to the Who Dunnit ski trail, which will terminate at Peruvian Express or the Snowbird Center tram terminal.
Parking: Overnight parking is provided for all lodge guests at Snowbird. There is a covered self-park or valet parking structure located near the Cliff Lodge at Entry 4. Snowbird has four separate entries along Highway 210; it's best to use Entry 1 or 2 to park. There is a free shuttle bus that laps around the parking lots to whisk guests to the Creekside day lodge for the Gadzoom or Mid Gad lifts or the Snowbird Center which accesses Peruvian Express, Chickadee and the Aerial Tram.
When To Go: Snowbird can be a bit tricky to navigate if you are unfamiliar with the resort, it’s best reserved for a day with clear weather and good visibility. However, the powder here can be legendary on storm days and there are plenty of trees in which to take cover if you don’t mind braving the storm or poor visibility atop 11,000-foot Hidden Peak. There are groves of pines and aspens located off the Baby Thunder lift and plenty of good tree skiing off Gad II. Should you happen to nail Mineral Basin during a rope drop after a big powder storm, you may be in for the best turns of your life.
Vibe: A mecca for snowboarders, Brighton has an unpretentious air with an old school vibe. Brighton has an excellent ski/snowboard school, a dedicated learning area, freestyle parks and plenty of powdery terrain, too. A unique feature about Brighton: there are blue-rated intermediate trails accessible from the top of every lift, so groups of intermediate or advanced riders or skiers can stick together throughout the day. Milly Bowl is a huge open bowl beloved by locals with its benches, cliffs, trees and steeps. Brighton also operates a robust night skiing operation.
Lodging: Having traditionally catered to a mostly local crowd, Brighton only has one small lodge near the base area with a limited number of rooms and suites, The Brighton Lodge. The Silver Fork Lodge is located down the canyon 3.5 miles and there are also many vacation rentals available in Silver Fork or Big Cottonwood Canyon.
Parking: Brighton's lot is somewhat small so if it's a weekend, it's best to arrive early and grab a coffee or breakfast snack at The Blind Miner Cafe. You can also take advantage of the UTA Ski Bus to streamline the entire experience.
When To Go: Brighton offers excellent storm skiing thanks to its plethora of trees and rolling terrain. Consider using one of your Ikon days for a night skiing session, too! This is especially fun if a storm is rolling through. You’ll make wonderful memories lapping the lifts as fat flakes float down, illuminated by the floodlights. If you get too chilly, just dip into the cozy Molly Green’s Tavern for a round of beer or nachos.
Vibe: At Solitude, the vibe is mellow and easy-going. The mountain encompasses a huge variety of terrain so it’s awesome for groups of varying ability levels. With rolling groomers, steeps, trees and the famous face shots of Honeycomb Canyon, spend a day or two exploring the versatile terrain here.
Lodging: Solitude has a diverse array of lodging ranging from condominiums to luxury homes and townhomes, all with straightforward access to the Apex Express and Sunrise chairlifts from Solitude Village. The Silver Fork Lodge is 1.5 miles down canyon from Solitude and there are vacation rentals and homes available nearby.
Parking: Note that new for the 2019–20 season and beyond, Solitude will charge a $20 fee to park, with lower rates offered to cars with three or more passengers. If staying at Solitude, parking is included with lodging, so this may be reason enough to book lodging directly at the resort or take advantage of the UTA Ski Bus if staying elsewhere. It is entirely free to use the UTA Ski Bus with your Ikon Pass.
When To Go: Solitude is particularly mellow on weekdays and it offers a good mix of trees, groomers, bowls and powder runs. If there is fresh snow, keep your ears tuned for the reverberation of avalanche bombs. When you stop hearing them with frequency, head for Honeycomb Canyon. If it’s several days after a storm, you may find nice pockets of powder out in Black Forest.
Vibe: Experience meticulous grooming along the Wasatch back at Deer Valley Resort. Paired with excellent fine dining, customer service, fantastic cookies and a luxe atmosphere, Deer Valley is a real treat. On powder days, dip into perfectly spaced glades of aspens or the famed steeps of the Daly Chutes. The groomers at Deer Valley are practically endless, providing amusement for advanced skiers cranking out turns or beginners looking to gain confidence. Adjacent to the cultural hub of Park City, there is no shortage of action and entertainment when staying at or near Deer Valley.
Deer Valley is a resort for skiers; snowboarding is not permitted. Snowboarders will love the massive Park City Mountain next door, which features some of the best freestyle terrain parks, pipes and park features in the Mountain West. Note that PCM is a member of the Epic Pass and is not included on the Ikon Pass.
Lodging: With 12 lodges, the lodging options at Deer Valley can be dizzying when combined with additional lodges or hotels nearby in the town of Park City or at Park City Mountain Resort. Prices will spike during holidays and will generally cost more when they are near or on the slopes.
Parking: Deer Valley provides its guests with a huge unloading zone at the Snow Park base area where friendly Ski Valets greet patrons and help them unload and transport gear to the slopes. There is plenty of parking at the Snow Park base area. A complimentary shuttle is also provided to transport guests from their car back to the base area and lifts.
When To Go: If it hasn’t snowed in a while, head to Deer Valley to sample their exquisite grooming and bask in the sunshine. There are typically fewer powder hounds here, so it’s quite a wise choice on a powder day, as you can bag fresh turns in the glades and on the steeps. Deer Valley holds powder pockets for several days following a storm if temperatures remain cold.
Fly or drive to Salt Lake City and settle into your lodging before your first dose of Utah adventure.
Once situated, head up Big Cottonwood to check out the night skiing scene at Brighton. Three lifts for night skiing will spin Monday through Saturday from 4:00–9:00 p.m. This is especially fun on snowy, stormy nights. Check out the various terrain parks and freestyle features, blast down some groomers and get the lay of the land. When your fingers and toes can take no more, dip in to Molly Greens for a beer and pizza.
Day 1 — Solitude
AM: Best on a weekday. Most patrons will begin their day from the Moonbeam base area. If it’s a powder day, keep your attention on the status of Honeycomb Canyon as ski patrol performs avalanche control. If steeps are your thing, rack up a few laps on the Powderhorn II lift. If trees are your jam, explore Headwall Forest and Corner Chute off the Summit Express chair. For speedy groomers and a pleasing pitch, hit Sunshine Bowl off the Eagle Express; find moguls to skier's left.
Lunch: Don’t miss the amazing Himalayan fare at the mid-mountain Roundhouse. There’s a nice east-facing patio here to enjoy the sun if the weather is fair.
PM: If you’re looking for untracked powder in the afternoon, there’s a sneaky black diamond beneath the Sunrise chairlift aptly named Roller Coaster that features fun, rolling terrain. Because this lift accesses primarily intermediate terrain, this run often goes overlooked and can hold powder pockets later in the day. You'll find additional powder pockets in Black Forest off the Summit chair.
Day 2 — Brighton
AM: Grab breakfast at the Milly Chalet and pop in line for the Millicent lift. Milly Bowl is renowned for its pillow lines, playful pitches and tree skiing. You can easily spend the morning here and never experience the same line twice. If you crave groomers, exit right off Milly and carve down Backbone and Easy Out trails.
Lunch: Brighton is no-frills and the lunch options here are limited. The best selection can be found in the Alpine Rose Cafeteria.
PM: Explore the eastern boundary of Brighton by lapping the Snake Creek Express and Great Western. Snowboarders will not want to miss the Brighton Store at the base of the Snake Creek Lift. This shop features Burton demos for just $20, gear and snacks. For those with the freestyle itch, sample Brighton's many parks and features off the Majestic and Crest Express lifts.
Après: There aren't many options, but Molly Green's is always a good time. Molly's is a full-service bar and grill, complete with taxidermy, a fireplace, hand-tossed pizzas, nachos and plenty of beer.
Day 3 — Deer Valley
AM: Whether it's groomers or steeps, there's enough terrain at Deer Valley to keep everyone happy. Head up to Bald Mountain for perfectly gladed trees and a nice mix of black and blue runs. If there are kids in the group, they will love Flagstaff Mountain where there are special children's runs and play areas like Oompah Loompa Land, Quincy's Cabin and Bucky's Backyard.
Lunch: The most difficult choice of a day at Deer Valley centers around the plethora of dining options. Whether high or low, there is a spot to nosh at Deer Valley. Easy options include the Snow Park and Silver Lake Restaurants or the Empire Canyon Grill in the Empire Canyon Lodge. For a quick snack, cookie or hot chocolate, step into Cushing's Cabin.
PM: Conquer Deer Valley's steepest pitches off Empire Peak in the Daly Chutes. If black diamonds are your thing, head for the Lady Morgan lift where glades of aspens, pines and powder pockets may be plundered. For scenic blue and green runs, Mt. Flagstaff is calling.
Day 4 — Snowbird
AM: Warm up on the groomers off GadZoom and see if there is any powder lurking around Bananas on Gad II. For mellower pow turns or gentler groomers, make moves over to Baby Thunder. Intermediate skiers will want to explore the terrain off the Wilbere or Mid Gad chairs. If it's a powder day, check on the status of avalanche control in Mineral Basin or off the Road to Provo cat track in Little Cloud Bowl.
Lunch: It would be foolish to pass up the opportunity to dine at Utah's highest elevation restaurant on 11,000-foot Hidden Peak. The Summit serves up grilled paninis, succulent BBQ and healthy, organic fare.
PM: Spend the afternoon exploring Peruvian Gulch and if you're seeking thrills, the Cirque will be certain to deliver. If groomed, Lower Silver Fox is easily one of the steepest groomers on the mountain. For the best possible afternoon view down the canyon towards Salt Lake City, take a detour way out on Who Dunnit in Peruvian Gulch.
Après: Locals head down into the maw of the Snowbird Center to the Tram Club on the bottom floor. Watch the giant bullwheels of the Tram spin while you sip beer and guzzle cheese fries.
Day 5 — Alta
AM: Start from the Wildcat base area and whisk up Collins Express to get the lay of the land. The steepest runs and most technical lines can be found off the High Traverse. Main Street is a nice and mellow groomer if you'd like to warm up first. The tree skiing off the Wildcat lift is fantastic. Beginners or intermediates will want to commence their day from the Albion base area, further up the road, as this is where the bulk of the blue and green-rated terrain will be found. Be sure to grab a snack and soak up the stunning silhouette of Mount Superior from Alta Java on the lower level of the Albion Day Lodge.
Lunch: Options abound at the mid-mountain Watson Shelter. On level one, Baldy Brews serves fine coffee, snacks and treats. Upstairs the Watson Cafe offers fine views with cafeteria-style service. On the top level, the Collins Grill provides upscale atmosphere and a full-service dining experience with a European-inspired bistro/grill menu, wine and spirits.
PM: Advanced skiers will want to ascend to the steeps of Supreme. There is classic Alta skiing to be had in Catherine's area to looker's left of the Supreme lift. Exiting right off the lift will lead to a number of mogul runs or steeper groomers. There are quite a few sneaky cliffs underneath the Supreme lift line, so when in doubt, follow established traverses or ask a local.
Après: The best wings or nachos in the canyon are found upstairs in the saloon at the Goldminer's Daughter. The convivial atmosphere is ideal for sipping beer near one of the fireplaces while you watch skiers wrap up their day on Corkscrew or Schuss Gully. If cocktails are what you want, head to the newly renovated Snowpine Lodge and order a fine drink from the menu in their pub, The Gulch.
With so many options for Ikon passholders, the decision to visit Utah this winter should be an easy one. For a few different ideas on trip planning, check out Dane's article about a road trip to Southern Utah's resorts. For those itching to explore up north, check out our road trip report here.
And some other inspiring itineraries:
Off the Beaten Path