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Snowbird, Utah

Inside Line
posted: 10/27/2005

Elevation: 11,000 feet
Vertical drop: 3,240 feet
Snowfall: 460 inches
Acres: 2,500
Getting There: From the Salt Lake airport, take I-80 East to I-215 South, then 6200 South/UT-190 to Wasatch Boulevard/UT-210 to Snowbird.
Info: 800-232-9542; snowbird.com

Beta: The Mormons may have established Salt Lake City as the Kingdom of God on Earth, but they undershot powder heaven by almost 30 miles. Just ask the skiing tribes who've come to regard nearby Little Cottonwood Canyon-home to Snowbird and some of Utah's best highway-accessed hike-to lines-as skiing's Holy Land. If you're not among the converted, just wait for the next two-foot storm: When the 'Bird's steeple-tight chutes, cathedral bowls, and technical ridgelines fill with Wasatch feathers, the most cynical skiers on earth have been known to quit their day jobs and become power-of-powder evangelicals.

Powder Day:Prevailing winds pick up snow in Gad Valley and dump it onto the east-facing Cirque. From the Tram, follow the ridge north and drop through the second gate into Silver Fox, where 40-degree chutes plunge into a powder field.

Three Days Later:West of the tram-zone traffic jam, Tiger Tail and Thunder Bowl are two vast, treed areas-with consistent 30- to 35-degree pitches and secret clearings. Access them via the Gad 2 Lift.

The Riding:The 'Bird's terrain is all fall line, which means lots of side-hilling (but little traversing). Head to Mineral Basin for huckable cliffs with pillow-soft landings-and a four-minute ride back up.

Proving Grounds:Marquee route: An 825-foot-long, 25-foot-wide, and 45-degree chute within ogle view of the Tram, Great Scott is a knee-wobbler-rocky, narrow, steep, and exposed. Trust us, you won't be worrying about the gawkers.

Off-Broadway: The 40-degree shots in Anderson's Trees, left of the Cirque (ask a local, they're not marked), line up like dime store aisles: tight, short, and straight.

Backcountry Access:Head to Flagstaff Peak, across the highway from Alta, for hour-long hikes to shady powder shots. For guided backcountry trips, contact the Utah base of Alaska Mountain Guides (utahmountain- guides.com). But first, check out Snowbird's new Rescue Training Center, where you can conduct a simulated three-victim search and get feedback on your technique (avalanche.org for conditions; 801-933-2156 for rescue training).

Weather:Storms sweep in from the west-northwest, gather moisture from Great Salt Lake, and fill Little Cottonwood Canyon with up to 150 inches a month. Go in March for the biggest dumps.

ApréFor live music, dollar tacos, and Utah's largest tequila selection (seriously, it's impressive), grab a seat in the Keyhole Cantina in the Cliff Lodge.

Fuel:Dollar tacos. 'Nuff said. But if you want to scale up a bit, sit down for a Sapporo and sushi rolls at the Aerie Lounge, on the top floor of the Cliff Lodge.

Up All Night:The vodka-and-Red-Bull crowd (you know who you are) will love the Tram Club, an '80s throwback with a smoky, neon aesthetic that keeps the party going until the wee hours.

Digs:Sure, it's cheaper to stay in Salt Lake, but sleep in Little Cottonwood if you don't wantto get locked outside the gates on a huge powder day. The cheapest, closest option is the American Express Early Week Package at The Inn: Book Sunday through Thursday with your AmEx and get one night of slopeside lodging and one day of skiing for $99 (800-232-9542; snowbird.com).

Essential Gear:There's no time for a water stop when you're trying to set a new tram-lap record. The winterized Camelbak Zoid holds 72 ounces of H2O, car keys, and a snack ($55; camelbak.com).

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