We recently road-tripped from Colorado — about nine hours with stops — to confirm for ourselves the rumor of consistent early season snow. And Utah delivered.

We checked out multiple resorts around Salt Lake City, including Park City, which now includes adjacent Canyons Ski Resort, for a whopping 7,300 acres of skiing, the largest in the U.S. We followed that up with the exact opposite: two small ski areas — Snowbird and Solitude — which were delightfully blanketed in 25 inches of fresh over two days.

Voormi outerwear for skiing powder

We lodged in a Vrbo condo in Cottonwood Heights, the perfect jumping-off point for accessing notorious powder stashes in Salt Lake’s two most famous snow magnets: Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons.

If you’ve only got a weekend, I recommend picking one side of the Wasatch Mountains for skiing and hitting up the other for nightlife, and possibly lodging, depending on your budget.

It would take a week to solidly explore Park City, but you can make some headway in two days as long as you’re strategic. Or check out three more intimate ski hills in the Salt Lake foothills — the two I mentioned above, plus Brighton, just up the road from Solitude. Of course, Snowbasin and Alta are nearby too.

Lots of powder skiing in Utah

Importantly, Park City is on Vail Resort’s popular Epic Pass, while Brighton, Solitude, Snowbird, and Alta (skiing only) are on Alterra’s Ikon Pass. That may help you make the first big decision.

Tips For Upping Your Fun Efficiency

In a short few days of exploring Utah’s cluster of resorts, all within an hour’s drive of Salt Lake, I returned with some tips that should help you maximize a weekend ski trip here. If you’ve only got 48 hours, and want to get the most snow under your skis with enough après-adventure to make it memorable, here’s what I recommend.

Avalanche terrain at Snowbird ski area

Study the snow report. Snow events that hit the Salt Lake area are often micro storms that can vary greatly from canyon to canyon and mountain face to mountain face. This, of course, may impact where you go on which day, but also how long it will take you to get there and back.

Make friends with UDOT. You absolutely must follow Utah’s Department of Transportation’s website for closures and live traffic updates. The mouths of both Cottonwood Canyons are just a few miles apart, but each has its own personality. Access points are closed regularly for morning avalanche blasting, which can lead to standstill traffic backups. If you are taking the bus, which is a great option and free with the Ikon Pass, this traffic will also impact bus times, which can leave you standing in the cold.

Snow on high-clearance ski van

Likewise, a single crash or silly front-wheel-driver can back traffic heading in or out of Salt Lake’s 15 canyons for long periods. Despite spending two hours getting to Snowbird and another 45 minutes exiting in dumping snow while a crash was cleared, it was worth it for two feet of powder at one of the coolest little ski areas I’ve ever been to.

If you’re heading to Park City, you’ll have less of an issue, as a giant four-lane highway can carry a lot of cars to the mountain. However, once you’re off the highway, traffic can back up on the town roads narrowing to the bases of Park City and Canyons. Oh, and Siri is a bitch. Twice she tried to take us into a gated community by Deer Valley Resort, adjacent to Park City. Heed that.

Those are my two biggies, but here are some more ideas for increasing your fun efficiency:

Stay at Snowbird. If you can swing it, don’t deal with the canyon at all. Check out the funky lodging at this retro-modern ski area. (There are some deals for pass holders.) Then go into Salt Lake for dinner one night after the ski area closes. Park City is more expensive, but the same goes for this resort. If you can, stay close to town, which gives you more nightlife options.

View of Park City from the mountain

Ignore après-ski. Due to Utah’s quirky and changing liquor laws, there’s no real communal on-mountain post-ski drinking scene, which is a bummer. Head to the nearest town or bar instead. Or just pick up a six-pack and kick it around your fire. Oh, and if you’ve got kids, don’t even think about après-ski anywhere that they serve more alcohol than food. We were escorted out the door just for peeking inside. Learn more about that here

Try the tram or tunnel. Again, I’m pimping Snowbird, because it gave me the best snow and overall vibe, but part of the adventure here is taking a very vintage Euro-style aerial tram with other powder hounds directly to the back bowls. You can also conveyor horizontally via the very clever Peruvian Tunnel 600 feet through the mountain. How can you pass that up?

Inside Honeycomeb Canyon at Solitude ski area

Hover near Honeycomb Canyon. At Solitude, watch the status of Honeycomb Canyon like a hawk. If there’s big snow, give ski patrol the morning to blast for avalanches, then get up to this sheltered skiing experience for first tracks. You can also ski right on over to Brighton later in the day when the canyon is all tracked out.

Mind the wind. It can get very windy and didn’t disappoint on that front at Snowbird. But while the tram to the back bowls may close when the wind gusts are too strong that doesn’t mean the rest of the mountain will be a whiteout. Head to the steep, protected side for endless tree runs under the Gad2 lift. Let’s just say the universal refrain on our windy day is still stuck in my mind: “Back to Gad2! Back to Gad2!”

The Bridge Cafe at Town Lift in Park City

Find fun food. There’s nothing I hate more than wasting cash on subpar, overpriced on-mountain food. Luckily, during our trip, we found a couple of money spots that are worth a call-out. The first is The Bridge at Park City. Take Town Lift directly here and relax over a reasonably priced sit-down brunch inside or out.

The second was Roundhouse at Solitude. Off a tip from our parking (second entrance to Solitude for a carpool discount) attendant, the brilliant little mid-mountain Himalayan hut, served up some incredibly tasty and cheap Indian food. Dal, chaat, curry fries, oh yeah.

View from Snowbird ski area near Salt Lake City

Our friends decided to try Brighton, but our legs were too fried for the fourth day of skiing. So we hopped in the car, took Interstate 80 to avoid the dreaded Sunday ski traffic on I-70 in Colorado’s mountains, and it paid off.

Except for a few whiteouts from blowing snow, it was smooth sailing all the way home. That night, like zombies, we crawled into our beds with visions of Utah powder dancing in our heads.

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