Beyond the Chairlift Bucket List

By Tele Tony Oct 12, 2023
Six must-do Utah mountain adventures for those with a yearning to see what lies beyond the ski area boundaries.
Beyond the Chairlift Bucket List

With 15 resorts boasting The Greatest Snow on Earth® scattered throughout the state, Utah is uniquely celebrated among skiers and snowboarders. And it’s no wonder. With a collective 134+ chairlifts accessing more than 30,000 acres of terrain, who can blame anyone for assuming little exists beyond what can be accessed from the lifts.

However, with a shifted gaze and a widened focus, an altogether different vision of Utah emerges. Whether aided by helicopter, snowcat, snowmobile, gravity or good old-fashioned human power, the variety of ways to explore Utah’s mountains each winter are as expansive as your imagination and appetite for adventure.

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Helicopter Skiing and Riding

Once the exclusive realm of professional athletes (or those with the privately held net worth of a small island nation), helicopter skiing has never been more accessible for everyday skiers and snowboarders than it is now. Expect the adrenaline to flow as you step out onto an alpine ridge with the whirring thump of helicopter blades overhead. Bask in the surreal quiet of that first turn, a silent explosion of stellar dendrites. In Utah, Powderbird Helicopter Skiing is the portal to the steepest and deepest the Wasatch Range has to offer. Powderbird has exclusive access to more than 170,000 acres of open, powder-filled bowls and jagged ridgelines. But don’t be intimidated by preconceived notions of the extreme side of heli-skiing and -riding. Powderbird’s guides tailors each group’s experience based on what they are after, from stacking every possible foot of vertical in gnarly terrain or simply enjoy some meadow-skipping powder turns. Convenient locations at the base of Snowbird and Park City Mountain Resort make it easy to enjoy a hassle-free day of unforgettable skiing and riding. 

More outfitters: Diamond Peaks Heli-Ski Adventures takes skiers and riders into the backcountry in and nearby the Ogden Valley.


Snowcat Skiing and Riding

During periods of intense snowfall and low visibility, helicopters are typically temporarily grounded. But no matter how heavily storms are pummeling the mountains, snowcats are up to the task. The more powder the better. With PC Powder Cats and Heli-Ski, skiers and snowboarders can explore the wild, remote terrain of the Uinta Mountains’ Thousand Peaks Ranch. From perfectly spaced, untouched glades to rock-lined chutes to wide open bowls like No Name and Giant Steps, Powder Cats guides will scout out the best terrain and snow to suit your group and the conditions. Relax in heated comfort on the way up to save your legs for the all-you-can-shred powder buffet on the way down. Park City Powder Cats base camp is only a half hour drive from Park City and yet feels worlds away from the typical resort experience.

More outfitters: Powder Mountain offers unguided snowcat rides to the top of the resort’s Lightning Ridge and Raintree areas plus Snowbird operates a cat skiing program too! 

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Guided Backcountry Skiing and Riding

Without a guide, backcountry skiing can be difficult—and dangerous—for the uninitiated. But the sense of accomplishment you get from accessing the goods under your own power is second to none. Guided backcountry skiing tours are the perfect way to leverage local expertise to safely explore the mountains and make the most out of your day in the Wasatch backcountry.

Snowbird Mountain Guides leads customized backcountry tours with a focus on education geared towards safe route finding, appropriate terrain choice and, of course, skiing the best powder on the planet. Tours leave from Snowbird, right in the heart of the Wasatch’s most iconic mountains. 

Ski Utah’s Interconnect Tour takes a different approach, with guides leading skiers through backcountry terrain on the way to experience six Utah resorts—Deer Valley Resort, Park City Mountain, Brighton, Solitude Mountain Resort, Alta Ski Area and Snowbird—in a single day. Two different Interconnect flavors mean you can start in Park City at Deer Valley and end at Snowbird in Little Cottonwood Canyon, or both start and end your day at the ’Bird. (Due to restrictions in some Utah resorts, snowboarding is not permitted on the Interconnect Tour). Book a private tour for a customizable starting point and route! 

More outfitters: Wasatch Ski Touring and Utah Mountain Adventures guide skiers into the Central Wasatch Mountains backcountry. Guides with Inspired Summit Adventures take groups into the backcountry around Park City and the nearby Uinta Mountains.   


Zip Lining

Feel the rush of acceleration as you hurtle through the air at 65 miles per hour and take in the Wasatch Range from an entirely new perspective up high against the towering backdrop of snow-covered Mount Timpanogos. The exhilaration you’ll feel while racing down a zip line is the closest you’ll feel to flying without jumping out of an airplane. The Winter Zip Tour at Sundance Mountain Resort features more than 3,870 feet of riding—the most in the United States—across the Outlaw and Demo Spans. The zip line’s side-by-side double cables let you ride alongside your friends and family. Riders control their own speed, so you can test your mettle by racing your compatriots or keep it mellow by slowing it down mid-span to soak in the views while dangling high off the deck. 

More outfitters: Park City’s Utah Olympic Park and Zipline Utah, located at the Deer Creek Reservoir, just outside of Heber City.


Via Ferrata 

The via ferrata—Italian for “Iron Road”—was invented during World War I to help Italian Soldiers—particularly flatlanders who were less familiar with steep terrain—move ably and quickly through the mountains to gain higher ground as they fought the Austrian Military. Via ferrata climbing routes are protected by steel cables, rungs and ladders fixed into the rock, allowing climbers to secure themselves with leashed harnesses that limit potential falls. By utilizing via ferrata routes, people can safely experience epic terrain typically reserved for highly trained climbers. While hundreds of via ferrata routes exist in the European Alps, one of the few stateside is right here in Utah. The Mount Ogden Via Ferrata allows even novice climbers to scale the sheer walls of Waterfall Canyon. Meet your guide right at the trailhead—climbers must be part of a guided trip to explore the area—take a short 4x4 ride partway up the hill, gear up and get climbing.

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The guttural growl that emanates from a snowmobile as you pin the throttle is intoxicating. If you don’t have a visceral reaction you should probably check your pulse. If you want to cover serious ground and explore seldom-seen terrain, there’s no better ticket than a snowmobile. 

Lofty Peaks Snowmobiling has snowmobile tours that leave right out of Snowbird’s Mineral Basin. Start your day with a ride on the Aerial Tram to the 11,000-foot Hidden Peak, where a short chairlift ride into Mineral Basin brings you right to your snowmobile. Lofty Peaks guides provide all the instruction you’ll need to rip along groomed trails, play in powder-filled meadows and access ridgelines for endless, stunning views. Visitors staying on the Wasatch Back can sign up for guided trips that start conveniently out of Heber City. For more outfitters, visit our activities page.

Also check out Backcountry Snowmobiling for guided adventures in the Uinta mountains just outside of Park.City, Utah. They offer two and three hour tours as well as private and group tours. 

What are you waiting for? Book your signature Utah adventure today and get ready for the thrill of a lifetime on The Greatest Snow on Earth®.