Nov 06, 2008
Some of Utah’s tightest chutes and driest powder, no on-slope lodging, and few crowds.
Tucked in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon on the road to Alta, Snowbird is known for hanging bowls, 50-foot cliffs, and over-the-head powder.
With 3,700 acres spread across eight distinct peaks, The Canyons is Utah’s largest individual resort. (Only Snowbird/Alta is bigger.)
You'd think that Solitude skiers would get a case of canyon envy, what with the masses Nascaring up Little Cottonwood Canyon to Alta and Snowbird. But Big Cottonwood skiers, who bring their two-for-one coupons and seven-year-old jackets to No Big 'Tude, couldn't care less. Their powder is just as light, their sky just as clear, their runs just as sheer. Even on the biggest dump days the place is peaceful: Lift lines barely push four minutes, and locals take leisurely dips into untracked shots all day. The summit gates have the best backcountry access—to stadium-sized cirques and closet-tight chutes—in the Wasatch. Even if you stick to the inbounds Honeycomb Canyon, you might as well be out-of-bounds for all the elbows you have to throw.
Powder Day: While patrol is doing avy work in Honeycomb Canyon, take the Powderhorn lift before dropping into the treed and technical Milk Run or the gully ride Parachute. When the rope drops at the top of the Summit lift, sidestep uphill for the steep, shady glades of 3700 Bowl (between Buckeye and Black Forest). Next run, pick a line 30 feet farther over and repeat.
Three Days Later: Poke around in the trees of Black Forest, or traverse skier's left into Honeycomb until you find the sweeping lines past Prince of Wales, where ample storm remnants await.
Must Hit: At the top of the Summit lift, boot-pack up the knife-edged Fantasy Ridge to Chutes 1—26 (there really are 26 distinct spillways, but some close when the snow is thin). Try 5 or 6 for rock-rimmed doglegs that fan out into Honeycomb Canyon.
The Stash: Huff up the ridge again. Chutes 22—24 require mandatory air and don't-blink-don't-think exposure.
Backcountry Access Skin 40 minutes on the Highway to Heaven trail to the enormous amphitheater of Wolverine Cirque; keep gliding for another 10 and drop into Alta's Grizzly Gulch. Check avalanche.org for conditions, or sign up for Back Tracks (801-534-1400, x2225), the ski patrol's full-day, OB guided tour. The price, which includes equipment and lunch, depends on group size. Bring four buddies along, and you'll each pay $150.
Local's Take: "Don't drink too much coffee if you're gonna hike Fantasy Ridge. It's like walking a high-wire; you don't want to shake yourself clear off. —Kristen Ulmer, extreme skiing pioneer.
Weather: Like a South Beach cocaine dealer, storms swing in, drop their flakey white cargo, and disappear completely. For thigh-high accumulation, visit in early March, when two- and three-day weather cycles leave the mountain buried in up to 40 inches (and usually glittering under blue skies).
Don't Miss: You won't find it on the resort's website, but come mid February, locals stage the Big Cottonwood Olympics. Ask around for details, especially if you have experience in broomball tourneys and naked ski jumping.
Après: If you want a buzz in the Beehive State, hit a "private club, like the Thirsty Squirrel. Once located in a worn A-frame, it's now a clean-cut bar in the Powderhorn Lodge.
Fuel: With schnitzel, spaetzle, and Wine Spectator accolades, St. Bernard's is the spot for white-linen dining. Try Creekside for wood-fired pizzas slathered in roasted garlic and tomatoes. For a five-course spread of lobster crepes, rabbit stew, and duck breast in orange sauce, cross-country ski 15 minutes by headlamp to The Yurt (801-536-5709, reservations required). Stash a bottle of wine in your pack—it's BYOW.
Up all night: Don't count on disco balls. If you're staying at the base, the last tap (in St. Bernard's) runs dry at 10 o'clock. Salt Lake's dance halls, private clubs, and brewpubs are 12 miles down-canyon.
Digs: The Inn at Solitude ($215—$330; skisolitude.com), with a pool, spa, and breakfast at St. Bernard's, is the only true hotel in the base village. Condos start at $250. A mile down the road, the Silver Fork Lodge, an 1850s mining camp, has rustic wood paneling, Foosball, and sourdough flapjacks for $135 a night.
Elevation: 10,035 feetVertical Drop: 2,047 feet Acres: 1,200 Snowfall: 395 inches (at 8,800 feet) Getting There: From Salt Lake, take I-80 east to I-215 south, and follow to Exit 6. Continue east onto Wasatch Boulevard and into Big Cottonwood Canyon. Info: 801-534-1400, skisolitude.com