“What’s your favorite ski resort?” yet another visitor eagerly asked.
“That’s like asking me to pick my favorite child,” I diplomatically replied.
“But, really, which one?” he pressed.
“The one that brings my heart joy,” I blurted, “and the one that frustrates me the least. The same goes for ski resorts.”
Paula celebrates making it to her 15th resort – Cherry Peak – the cherry on top!
Last summer, I turned 55 years old, moved all of my children out of the house, and declared to Instagram and the world that, with all this free time, I intended to ski all 15 Utah ski resorts and visit The Mighty 5 national parks. On March 17, I finished the first half and, arguably, the more difficult — the skiing. Standing at the summit of Cherry Peak, Utah’s newest resort near the Idaho border, I looked out over the sunny panoramic expanse of Cache Valley and skied not the highest, longest or most challenging run but, in my mind, one of the best of this epic season.
Goals are important, no matter your age. They nudge you to improve year-over-year and to try new things. As someone who only learned to ski in her 40s, I’ve felt that my skiing has improved each season but, like many, I have gotten into a rut of skiing the same runs at Snowbird, Deer Valley and elsewhere. (Roll your eyes. I know, it’s hard to feel sorry for me.) Yes, skiing the same runs builds confidence, but I discovered it was better to push beyond my comfort level in order to actually improve technique or, in the case of Woodward Park City, learn a new trick. So, my goal this season was to expose myself to new runs and new resorts. I cheekily called it “The Full Yeti.”
If you’ve visited Salt Lake City, you’ve discovered that 10 of the 15 resorts are less than an hour away along the Wasatch Mountains. However, skiing these and the four others in the far northern and southern reaches of the State makes you realize that, like children, each has its own personality, look, feel and vibe. I can tell from any given photo what resort it is. Sundance Mountain Resort, encircled by pine trees and mountains, looks very different from the gambel oaks that cascade down the contours of Powder Mountain. Snowbasin Resort's Needles Lodge would never be confused with Park City Mountain's Cloud Dine. Mineral Basin at Snowbird is easily distinguishable from Solitude's Honeycomb Canyon. Although the rating systems for the runs are always green, blue and black, most would agree that a blue at one might not be a blue at another.
Paula and pal, Jane Kim, hike through more powder at Snowbird
And on any given day, a particular run may ski completely differently than before! Sundance’s Pipeline could be a flowy, fun zone sending you high up the sides or an icy luge gripping for dear life. Taking The Plunge at Brian Head on a bluebird day could reward you with breathtaking views of Cedar Breaks National Monument or, with a southwestern gale, blow you halfway back to Salt Lake City. Although I generally prefer soul-affirming bluebird days, I’ve typically “whooped out loud” on runs I discovered on…less-than-optimal days. (Translation: Learn to ski the trees, especially at Powder Mountain off Mary’s and Deer Valley off Empire.)
The Full Yeti has pushed me to ski places I knew nothing about…or thought I knew about. I wrote earlier this season about Nordic Valley, which I still think is one of the best-kept secrets in Utah. Just an hour from Salt Lake City in Ogden Valley, Nordic Valley offers authentic, affordable and accessible skiing. Lift tickets are as low as $12. (No, that price is not missing a zero!) It has real lifts and runs and trees and views…on just over 600 skiable acres (compared to Powder Mountain’s 8000 acres on the opposite side of the valley). For many families or college students or those who want to try skiing or snowboarding, Nordic Valley is a great place to start your next ski vacation. Then, head over the Pow Mow (especially on a day with 6” or more of fresh snow) or to Snowbasin, where on a sunny day, the longgggest runs or 360-degree views off Strawberry Peak are incredible!
The same goes for Beaver Mountain near Logan. Family-owned and operated (Marge is usually at the ticket window welcoming guests), The Beav is a locals’ favorite. It has a laid-back vibe with long, flowy runs and, even on a holiday weekend, few crowds and some of the best on-mountain events, including its annual Snoopy Carnival. One of the unsung highlights is the food. Yes, the Crispy Chicken Sandwich, prepared to order, at the Beaver Mountain Grill is one of my favorite selections at any resort. You need a lot of fuel to ski all day in a Snoopy costume.
Eagle Point was, by far, the biggest surprise of The Full Yeti. Located in the Tushar Mountains in Central Utah, Eagle Point is not the easiest resort to get to, but does it deliver! Three hours from Salt Lake City and two hours from St. George, the closest landmark to Eagle Point is The Creamery, off I-15 in Beaver. The resort should be nicknamed ‘The Creamery,’ as well. Instead, it’s known for its ‘Powder Fridays.’ Because Eagle Point is only open Friday through Monday (Sunday in March), the snow piles up undisturbed, which means that EVERY Friday is potentially a powder day. The Friday I skied was easily one of the season’s best!
Practically, the skiing part of The Full Yeti can be accomplished in a few ways. First, is to gun it like an intrepid group from Ski Utah and ski all 15 resorts in a single 24-hour period. Other than a lot of caffeine, this requires several resorts to open and close past normal lift hours. So, that’s probably not realistic. Second, the Ski Utah Interconnect can knock out a chunk by allowing skiers and snowboarders to link six resorts (Deer Valley, Park City, Brighton, Solitude, Alta Ski Area, Snowbird) in a single day.
Third, for those that need a bit of recovery time for their muscles and wallets, buy a Ski Utah Yeti Pass, providing one day at each of the 15 Utah ski resorts. Similarly, max out an Ikon Pass, which includes up to six Utah resorts: Deer Valley, Snowbasin, Brighton, Solitude, Alta, Snowbird. Then, save even more with the Indy Pass, covering Brian Head, Powder Mountain and Eagle Point.
Fourth, group the resorts. For example, if time is an issue, Beaver Mountain and Cherry Peak can be skied in a single day. Eagle Point can be skied on Friday and Brian Head can be skied Saturday. An Alta/Bird pass will allow you to ski both resorts in a single day for a small upgrade. Brighton and Solitude are adjacent to each other. The Ogden Valley resorts are just minutes from each other. No matter how you do it, it’ll never be enough, but you’ll have a great overview of all that Utah has to offer.
You Really Want to Know Which One Was My Favorite
The 2022–23 season was one for the record books…literally and, as of April 3, with another multi-day storm, it is unclear when the ski season will end. (Yes, we would like to mountain bike and hike, eventually.)
Paula and a group of gals enjoys some sunny skiing in Little Cottonwood Canyon
I’ve enjoyed 60 ski days and counting. There was no one resort that was my “favorite,” but there were many moments that I’ll never forget: (1) soaring down Gutsy at Cherry Peak with my friend, Jane, cheering me on as I reached my goal; (2) enjoying ‘Powder Friday’ fresh laps in deep powder with my hubby, Howard, all day long at Eagle Point (relationship gold); (3) introducing some Bostonians to so many off-piste powder stashes at Snowbird that they may be looking for Utah property; (4) introducing Alison, Valerie and others to tree skiing at Deer Valley Resort; (5) discovering a bunch of new ‘hero runs’ with jaw-dropping views all over the State that made me feel like I could conquer anything. To be honest, I had incredible experiences at EVERY SINGLE ONE of the 15 Utah ski resorts. Like my children, they provide magical and miraculous moments and never cease to amaze me.
Now, off to set more goals and find more great experiences throughout Utah.