Skiing at Snowbird: Snow, sun, wind & more in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains

Wednesday, April 2, 2014 at 11:04 AM

Enjoying sunny slopes in Snowbird's Mineral Basin.
Views from atop the Gadzooks trail off Gad 2 Quad.
A tree run off of the Gad 2 Quad.
The Tram crosses over double-black diamond runs.
A snowy whiteout makes things challenging in Little Cloud Bowl.
An on-mountain break can be found at Mid-Gad Lodge.
Views through tall Mid-Gad Lodge windows.
The brick deck next to the Tram at the Snowbird Center.
Looking down Peruvian Gulch from the top of the Peruvian Quad.
A look at some of the steep tree runs in the Gad 2 area.
More trees to ski between in Ski Patrol Gully in Mineral Basin.
Looking up Mineral Basin at the Bookends Traverse (at top of view).
Looking at the bowl beneath the Road to Provo traverse (at left).
Dining with a mountain view atop the Cliff Lodge.
Nice sunny view from our lodging at base of Snowbird.

When I think of my trip to ski at Snowbird Ski Resort in Utah last week, I think of bookends. The ski trip was bookended by two snow storms, both dropping a foot or more of snow. In fact, my friends and I were hoping to be snowed in by the last storm on Sunday. But alas, that was not to be! The airport shuttle vans here have very good snow tires. (Darn it!) 

The other bookends that I think of are the Bookends Bowl in Snowbird’s back bowl called Mineral Basin. You do a traverse here to find snow that is kept mostly shaded by the high, rocky peaks above. We enjoyed runs here on a bluebird morning when the snow was a day old, but still quite soft and light.

Snowbird is a large resort and we were fortunate enough to explore its terrain for three days. Three friends and I stayed in the resort-owned lodging at the base of the ski area (all the lodging and dining at the mountain is owned by Snowbird). We found a decent late-March deal on a hotel room that came with a small fridge and ample storage space so we could make our own breakfasts and lunches and then walk to the Tram or Peruvian Express Quad to start our ski day. They even had a free ski valet near the Tram so we didn't have to cart our skis around every day. Nice. Our room deal included some ski tickets, as well. 

SNOWY THURSDAY

We typically started our day on the Aerial Tram except for once when it was on wind hold in the morning. Along with 121 new friends, we piled onto a Tram car and ascended from 8,110 feet to 11,000 feet in about eight minutes. When the doors opened, we put our heads down and ventured out onto the windy summit. We tried to have a plan on what trail we wanted to hit before we got out of the cabin.

Thursday we saw about eight inches of fresh snow in the morning and it snowed most of the day. The snow was deep in places where strong winds had deposited new snow — especially in the woods. Along with snowflakes and wind came diminished visibility at the summit that morning. We inched our way down to the Regulator trail just below the Tram summit and made turns in rather deep powder. We took a lap on the upper-mountain Little Cloud lift (appropriately named on this day) and skied under the lift in windblown snow. Some less-exposed spots in this open bowl provided deep caches of new snow.

But it was time to get lower on the mountain and into the trees so we could see. We headed for the Gad 2 Quad chair which runs from 8,600 feet to 9,840 feet in elevation on the west side of the resort. I remember this lift from the first time I skied Snowbird in 2008. It was a slow double chair then, but now it's a quick quad!

Here's a Google Map view of the ski resort including trails.

We jumped into the snowy trees on the Tiger Tail trail and ended up in the snowy Ted's Bowl. We continued by skiing steeper trees in S.T.H. and also a line that was under the Gad 2 lift line (where I had a nice, soft wipeout in the powder!). We also explored a different tree line in Tiger Tail. The trees in this area were steep — no doubt about it  but I wasn't too concerned with coming upon rocks that I could not get around. It wasn't super-cliffy in the Gad 2 area and signage gave us some warning anyways.

The Gadzooks and Election trails provided mellow breaks from the steeps and allowed us to hit the scenic Mid-Gad Lodge for a lunch break. It's the only mid-mountain lodge at Snowbird.

That afternoon we skied down Big Emma to get to the old Wilbere double lift. We looked up as we passed very, very steep chutes. We then skied the black-diamond rated Harpers Ferry East to get back to the base of the Tram and the Snowbird Center. We crossed a short bridge and ended up at the edge of the brick-covered deck, where we decided to take one more run on the Tram because the clouds seemed to be clearing. Well, it wasn't clearing on top so we felt our way down to the expert Primrose Path trail which was snowy, open and windy. We steered our skis toward the snowy tree line and meandered down to the Lower Silver Fox trail, which dropped us right back at the base of the Tram.

Exhausted from our first Utah powder day of the season, we checked our skis and dropped into the Tram Bar, where you can get a cold beverage and watch the large wheels and weights of the Tram at work through some windows. Very cool.

SUNNY SATURDAY

For a few of us, our favorite part of the resort was the back bowl called Mineral Basin. You can get to this very large bowl from the Tram or through a tunnel dug through the mountain from the top of Peruvian Express Quad. (No joke!) In the tunnel you stand on a magic carpet as it slowly delivers you back into the light at Mineral Basin. 

We alighted from the tunnel and headed for Bookends Bowl, which provided light snow. We also traversed farther beyond Bookends to ski the steeper Endoras run, complete with tall trees and cliffs to avoid. In Mineral Basin, which mostly faces east and south, we also skied soft, sun-warmed snow under the Baldy Express Quad (one of two quads in the Basin) and slightly heavy powder in the woods in Ski Patrol Gully. The goal was to try to find light snow in the shade of the trees. We often did not know exactly where an expert trail would lead us or if it would run into some cliffs, so in the case of Ski Patrol Gully, we bailed out early onto the Bassanova trail to avoid overshooting any trail or traverse that would bring us back to the chairlifts. 

On this bluebird morning we enjoyed glorious views of the mountain peaks and snowy bowls. From the top of the Mineral Basin Express Quad we could see the sprawling Salt Lake City metro area and a corner of the Salt Lake. It was in the 40s on the hill — even in Mineral Basin — so we drank lots of water. I actually wore a Camelback-type water system during this ski trip (although it froze up sometimes!). Sunscreen was also a must at this elevation.

We took the Road to Provo cat track and enjoyed rather deep snow in the small bowl beneath it. We looked up at the tall rock faces above us. Later we would ski the nearby Rasta Chutes off the Road to Provo — some nice steepness in between some well-spaced ledges.

With the sun shining we were now actually able to see some of the terrain we had skied while it was snowing, as well as the rocky peaks that surrounded us here in Little Cottonwood Canyon. It was gorgeous!

As the afternoon turned cloudy, one of my friends and I took a “tourist run” to end our ski day. We rode the Peruvian Express Quad on the eastern side of the ski resort and took groomed intermediate trails. We stopped here and there to check out the views and various trails and cliffs above the trails we were on. Our run incuded the long, intermediate Chip's Run and Rothman Way, and the steeper Primrose Path. We took our time and when we arrived back at the Tram base, our friends had a great treat for us: They had purchased a few beers and grabbed our snacks so that we could do après out on the deck by the Tram. Ahhhh! The hot tub followed as well as a nice dinner. Not too shabby!

MORE SNOWFALL ON SUNDAY

We were expecting a snowstorm on Sunday, our last day of skiing, and we packed our luggage and stored it for the day at the hotel before heading for the Tram. The wind was howling at the top of the Tram so we bundled up and headed to the intermediate Road to Provo, where I had to shield my face from the snow that was billowing up from the slope over the cat track. We knew the snow had crusted up a bit from the previous day's warm weather so we were headed for the groomed part of this small bowl  the Mark Malu and Goblin Gully trails. Flat lighting made me make controlled, deliberate turns here, surrounded by whiteness!

The snow did not come in the morning and the trails were pretty firm so we continued to ski groomed runs in the morning, including Election, Bassackwards, Bananas and Gadzooks off the Gad 2 chair. Poor visibility had brought us back to this fun area that has lots of tall trees. Also, a couple of us could ski steep woods runs while others could hit up cruisers and we could easily meet at the same lift.

We discovered that the tree runs that directly faced the canyon (facing north) still held soft snow. We tested this theory successfully on the black-diamond tree runs called S.T.H., Tiger Tail, Gadzooks Woods and Organgrinder. Woods runs here are more spacious than in Vermont. The trees are typically wider and taller, and thus farther apart. This spaciousness persuaded us to tackle some very steep terrain — even stuff that initially made my heart skip a beat while looking at it!

After lunch, the snow started falling heavily and we enjoyed some silky turns on the snow that was piling up on the slopes. My friend and I skied until 4 p.m. to make the most of the fresh snow.

We joked that perhaps the sketchiest traverse we did at Snowbird was while wearing street shoes on our way to dinner at the Cliff Lodge. On this “Après Traverse” we had to walk across a beginner ski slope from the Snowbird Center to the Cliff Lodge  even avoiding beginner skiers who could ski on the Chicadee lift until 5 p.m.! We were worried about the walk back after our beverages, but I'm glad to report that we made it across in one piece ;)

Snowbird Ski Resort, Utah, At a Glance

Location: Snowbird, Utah is in the heart of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Snowbird is 29 miles (about 45 minutes) from Salt Lake City International Airport and 25 miles from downtown Salt Lake City.

Lifts: One Aerial Tram, 10 chairlifts including six high-speed detachable quads and four doubles (most with safety bars) and one conveyer lift.

Uphill Capacity: 17,400 skiers and snowboarders per hour.

Runs: 85.

Acreage: 2,500 acres.

Terrain: 27 percent beginner, 38 percent intermediate, 35 percent advanced/expert.

Elevation: Top of resort is 11,000-foot Hidden Peak, lowest point on the mountain is bottom of Baby Thunder chairlift at 7,760 feet.

Longest Run: Chip’s Run at 2.5 miles.

Longest Descent: Gad Valley at 3.5 miles.

Terrain Park: The Snowbird Terrain Park is located on the lower part of the Big Emma run, accessed by the Mid Gad or Gadzoom lifts.

Snowfall: Snowbird averages approximately 500 inches annually.

Season: Mid-November through May, conditions permitting.

Ski School: Snowbird’s Mountain School offers everything from class lessons to ski and snowboard camps.

Lodging: Four slopeside lodges – 882 total rooms.

Restaurants and bars: 20 serving everything from fine dining to burgers to beers.

Lodging deals to consider: Look for Snowbird lodging deals that include a free night when you book a few nights in a row.

Ticket deals to look for: Look for lodging deals that include some ski tickets with the room. Also, check out the Boarding Pass Program that offered a discounted $52 ticket within 24 hours of arrival to Salt Lake City International Airport.

Filed in: Alpine / downhill skiing, Utah skiing, Western skiing

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