Well, I do have to apologize for the long duration before this post as I was busy with some stuff since I am in the midst of switching careers. Anyway, this post could certainly be considered one of the highlights of my winter/spring snowboarding, even though I am posting this in early summer. So I mentioned I headed out to Salt Lake City, Utah where I would snowboard at Snowbird Ski Resort. Salt Lake City is a skiers’ city and has gained even more attention ever since it hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics. Alta and Snowbird are 2 ski resorts that could be accessed on the same day lift tickets and located not too far from downtown SLC. In fact when staying in the Sandy/Cottonwood area, Snowbird is probably a 15-20 minute drive away. I headed out roughly around 9:30am from the hotel and there was a slow and steady stream of cars headed out to the Cottonwood valley since it was a sunny day and looks great after fresh snow overnight at the valley.
Initially I was worried of requiring a 4-wheel drive vehicle to drive into the Little Cottonwood valley where Snowbird is located at. But in early March it seems that was not necessary since the road was dry with no sight of ice or snow. Upon reaching the ski resort itself, there was free parking available but it filled up real quick and drivers are encouraged to head out earlier to get the lots nearer to the tram station. Otherwise visitors could hitch a short ride from the parking lot to the tram station.
Snowbird might not be as big as Whistler Blackcomb (but then again, not many ski resorts are as huge as Whistler!) so most skiers take the aerial tram that brings them up to the peak immediately. This is similar to the system in Grouse Mountain near Vancouver. The difference is that skiers can ski down the whole vertical rise of the mountain in Snowbird. One note of caution though, the trails down from the face are more suited for intermediate and advanced level skiers and snowboarders (ie. blue and black runs). In fact a majority of the terrain are black runs which makes this mountain by far one of the most challenging in terms of terrain that I have visited thus far.
However the great part is that there is a ‘bowl’ ski-area called Mineral Basin in the other side of the mountain from the top. This area is comprised of some blue runs that are some of the most fun for snowboarders! I could totally spend the whole half a day snowboarding here! Now back to the terrain, and as I mentioned, it is challenging but it is a whole lot of fun and by challenging, it means skiers and snowboarders can really improve their riding ability!
Mineral Basin is easily accessed via the Aerial Tram and the wait for the tram can be around 10-15 minutes in the morning and very good views can be had from the tram during lunch hours when the tram usually runs quite less than capacity. For those visiting just for a day, you can even take the tram downhill to just savour the views! Another way to access the Mineral Basin area is to take the ‘Peruvian Express’ chairlift that gets you up above but not as high as the tram. There is however a tunnel access that goes to the back-side of the mountain, exiting at the green runs of Mineral Basin. However I do recommend the Blue runs since they are much more fun!
For the beginners and novice skiers, there is always the Mid-Gad Valley area. This area is served by the Wilbere, Mid-Gad and Gadzoom chairlift with the latter 2 chairlifts located at the other end of the resort. This area is not as crowded as other parts of Snowbird and there was virtually no wait for the chairlifts when I explored in the afternoon. Probably the learners have all retired for the day. The terrain park is also located in this area for those keen on that. It is worth noting that the Gad Valley area does have quite a few blue and black runs at the upper levels too, but I was just having too much fun in the Mineral Basin area to actually have much time to explore this part of the mountain.
The snow in the mountains are probably one of the best I have seen. They are soft and powdery even at the base which is not what can be said of Whistler. I guess that is to be expected when the license plates in Utah states that they have the ‘Greatest Snow on Earth’. Comparing that to Niseko, I think they were on par considering I went to Snowbird in early March while my experience in Niseko was in late December. However the terrain in Snowbird definitely was a lot more fun than Niseko!
The only drawback is that Snowbird is not exactly a big-ski-resort type for those seeking a ski holiday. There isn’t much dining options on the mountain. Skiers could either dine at the Mid-Gad Restaurant at the top of the Mid-Gad lift or on the base of the Gadzoom, and the Aerial Tram station. This means that most skiers would need to either pack some granola bars when they want to spend time in Mineral Basin or at the top or get back down to have lunch before heading back up. I had fish tacos at ‘The Forklift’ restaurant on the Snowbird Center and they were just average food, as in okay but not something memorable. Another drawback really applies to snowboarders since skiers would get access to Alta but not snowboarders as Alta is probably one of the few mountains that prohibits snowboarders.
For those looking to visit for a holiday, the resort has 3 on-site accommodations with The Cliff Lodge, Spa and Conference Center being the closest to the Snowbird Center. The Center is also where the aerial tram departs and all the amenities like ski shops, rentals and other facilities are all located at. There are also 3 other lodges located around the parking lot and the base of the Gad Valley. Though for the hotel rates they were asking at around US$200-250 per night, I would just stay at the Sandy/Cottonwood area in Salt Lake since hotels there are usually around US$70-90 per night and be able to enjoy the downtown in the evening. Even with the cost of a car rental, it is still a saving!
Snowbird is one of those mountains I would want to visit for those seeking more challenging terrain. There is also the convenience of a one time ride to the peak rather than taking a combination of gondolas plus chairlifts like in the large scale resorts. The smaller scale of the mountain does not translate to a significantly lower cost though since the day lift tickets were US$92 (Snowbird only)/US$105 (Alta + Snowbird). I did, however, purchase a Mountain Collective Pass for US$379 and that pass gave me access to 2 nights each at 6 different resorts, with future days at the 6 resorts at 50% off. In comparison, the much larger Whistler Blackcomb charges just C$109 and that is without discounts when you pre-purchase the tickets before arriving at the mountain. I guess that is one advantage of getting the Mountain Collective Pass, since I really did get to enjoy the varying terrains of different mountains!