Overall Rank: #2
Little Cottonwood Canyon, home of Alta and Snowbird, is the motherland of American powder skiing. The upper reaches of this Wasatch box canyon regularly get 500 or so inches of the finest fluff in the country. And now, thanks to new lifts and a joint pass, you can ski (but not board) 4,700 seemingly endless acres of sharply angled exhilaration for $64 a day.
Eleven presidents have been elected since Alta's first chair fired into motion, and little has changed since. The ski area keeps its passes cheap ($40), limits ticket sales, and still refuses to allow snowboarders. It's also probably the only ski area in the country that regularly underreports its snowfall. Here you can still find freshies late on a powder day, courtesy of countless folds and tucks, tons of traversing, and a seemingly infinite refresh rate.
Snowbird's base is a series of charmless concrete bunk-ers fortified against the frequent avalanches, but the ski area itself is steep and strikingly aesthetic. New terrain in Mineral Basin has taken a lot of pressure off the front-side expert terrain, to the relief of locals. Tree lines are endless, cliffs are bountiful, and while the pow goes fast, at least they get a lot of it. Snowbird or Alta? Both? You can't go wrong.
Top Elevation: Alta, 10,550 feet Snowbird, 11,000 feet
Vertical drop: Alta, 2,020 feet; Snowbird, 3,240 feet
Snowfall: Alta, 520 inches (8,650'); Snowbird, 467 inches (10,000')
Skiable acres: 4,700 combined
Phone: Alta, 801-359-1078; Snowbird, 800-453-3000
Web: alta.com; snowbird.com
Eagle's Nest at Alta is a must-ski. Take Germania to the High Traverse past the entry to High Rustler, stay high and then left, dropping into the sustained 45-degree fall line slots through the trees. At Snowbird, hit Jaws, the hourglass line to skier's left of Great Scott's. It's especially tricky early in the year when its funnel narrows to five feet. Start your straight-line above the choke, point, and let 'em run AK-style into the bowl.
Storms march in from the northwest, pick up moisture from the Great Salt Lake, and funnel straight up the canyon, shedding their load in the process: It's one of the best recipes for consistent, frequent, low-water-content snow in North America.
The Sitzmark Club upstairs at the Alta Lodge is the closest thing to a party scene. (Be liberal with your definition of "party.") Even Snowbird, which gets a little après energy in the Tram Club, is mostly about skiing hard, eating well, crashing early.
"Rustler is the benchmark run at Alta. It gives great consistent vertical, around 40 degrees the whole way. The right and left sides of the trail have tons of little variations and airs."