Take your right hand and make a fist, thumb-side up, like you’re dropping rock in a game of rock-paper-scissors. That fist makes a rough map of a patch of Wasatch containing some of Utah’s best skiing. Your index finger is Little Cottonwood Canyon, home to Alta and Snowbird. Wrapping around that is the thumb of Big Cottonwood, where Brighton and Solitude sit. Your thumb’s knuckle is Park City Mountain Resort, its tip Deer Valley.
That’s a lot of terrain to hold in one hand, but the Ski Utah Interconnect Tour allows you to ski the whole fistful in a day—riding lifts here and ducking ropes there, blazing the ridges and valleys that separate the six resorts. Tours leave daily from either Deer Valley or Snowbird, hitting all six or only four (the Snowbird departure skips Park City and Deer Valley), leading 12 skiers across 25 miles of a little inbounds and a lot of backcountry. Think of it as the ultimate winter weekend: fly in, ski four of the West’s marquee resorts and two of its soulful family spots, fly out with a shiny pin labeling you an official Interconnect conqueror.
A fourth step should be mentioned: a giant breakfast. While attendees dream of untracked moonscapes of snow and knee-deep isolation, the effects of 25 miles of skiing—and traversing—should not be underestimated.
At the early morning safety meeting at Deer Valley’s Silver Lake Lodge—signing waivers, learning how to strap on our mandatory avalanche beacons—my group loads up on pancakes and burritos while our two guides, Deb Lovci and “Fast” Pat Reddish, go over the day’s protocol. “We’re going to be hiking and sweating,” says Reddish. “I try to make sure I say it three or four times every morning.” He looks around the room and raises his voice a touch. “Hiking and sweating.” Our initial excursion, however, involves neither: First chair at Deer Valley sounds pretty delicious, but at 8:30, it’s still ear-nip weather. Maybe it’s the cold, or a case of cold feet, that has most of my group—two father-son pairs, a married couple and a smattering of singles—riding silently up the Carpenter Express chair. This is not a gung-ho group. At least not at the moment.
“Some folks come all geared up, packs and shovels and altimeters” Reddish tells me. “Like, ‘We’re from British Columbia, let’s see what you’ve got.’” I shift a little on the chairlift, having come “all geared up” with a tough-looking pack filled with a half-dozen Clif Bars and a sweater. “But the most fun are the people who finish the day and say, ‘Oh my God, I’ve never done anything like that in my life!’”
Our gang is easing into its oh-my-God moments, bombing across Deer Valley’s modest blues on our way to the top of Empire Canyon, where we gather in front of the first of our day’s duckable ropes. We pop under and into the no-man’s-land between Deer Valley and Park City’s McConkey’s Bowl, a steep double-black bump run. My skier-sense tells me we’re starting big intentionally, so the guides can gauge our potential.
We bang down McConkey’s like we mean it, but the real fun begins after we make our way across Park City’s big ridges to the Jupiter Lift. At the top, we take off our skis for the short hike over to Scott’s Bowl, off the back of which sits another rope, this one leading to the wide breach between Park City and Big Cottonwood Canyon, home of Solitude and Brighton. A group of oglers in puffy jackets starts to follow us under the rope. Reddish lowers a pole in their path. “Sorry, guys, guided tour only.”
A series of short, steep—and, on this tour, deep with new snow—pitches pushes us into the canyon, rolling us right up to Big Cottonwood Canyon Road. Across the street: Solitude. And it’s not even noon yet. After lunch—and some quick runs between Solitude and Brighton via the SolBright trail, which links the two— we’ll skate the 20-minute “Highway to Heaven” traverse that leads to the steeps of Alta and, even farther, in the waning light of a long ski day, to Snowbird.
Warming up in the sun at lunch, I ask Reddish if he ever tires of leading backcountry newbies into the Wasatch. “Nobody’s trying to get home,” he says. “There’s a lot of terrain out there, and we should use it.”
SIGNPOST: Utah Interconnect
The Interconnect Tour is limited to 12 people per trip; skiers need not be familiar with the backcountry, but should be above-average skiers 16 and older. Six-resort tours (Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort, Solitude, Brighton, Alta and Snowbird) depart from Deer Valley on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays; four-resort tours depart from Snowbird on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Tours run through mid-April.
Cost: The $250 rate includes guides, avalanche beacon, lift pass, lunch, shuttle back to departure point and finisher’s pin.
Lodging: Since Interconnect skiers are likely spending their vacation in either the Park City area or in Little Cottonwood Canyon, lodging options are varied. In Park City, the Hotel Park City is an all-suite hotel central to PCMR and The Canyons, and its private shuttle serves Deer Valley as well (from $399; 435-200-2000; hotelparkcity.com). At Snowbird, the Cliff Lodge is the mainstay, slopeside and newly renovated (from $455; 800-232-9542; snowbird.com/lodging).
Contact: Ski Utah, 801-534-1907, skiutah.com/interconnect
- SKI MAGAZINE, JANUARY 2009