Before the season even started, ski industry execs were calling this the “year of the road trip,” anticipating that skiers and snowboarders would be more apt to hit up resorts within driving distance than hop on a plane.
For many Aspenites, heading to Utah has long been a favorite winter road trip. If you splurged this winter on an Aspen/Snowmass premier pass, then you also got an Ikon Pass, which provides access to five resorts in the Beehive State. Set aside a few days this winter or spring, preferably midweek, and drive the six and a half hours to Salt Lake City (assuming we’re not experiencing another pandemic lockdown). Then, explore Deer Valley, Alta, Snowbird, Solitude, and Brighton, which are all within 40 miles of each other.
As of press time, only Brighton required reservations to use the Ikon Pass, but check each resort’s website for up-to-date information on pass use, as well as a rundown of Covid protocols, before heading out.
Sure, the resort’s posh rep derives from its white-glove service, renowned grooming, and the perfectly coiffed image of the late Stein Eriksen, who served as director of skiing for 35-plus years—and you really shouldn’t miss a top-to-bottom morning schuss down Bald Mountain on Stein’s Way. But in addition to those miles of manicured cruisers, spread across 2,026 acres and six peaks, Deer Valley has an unsung trove of mogul runs and some truly legit steeps. Places like the Daly Chutes and the glades of X-Files will test the mettle of many skiers (the resort doesn’t permit snowboarders), and the long tree shots of Centennial, on Lady Morgan Peak, are Aspen Highlands–esque.
Stay Luxe hotels like the newly expanded Goldener Hirsch, the Stein Eriksen Lodge, the Montage, and the St. Regis are resort classics, but for near-to-the-slopes convenience at a slightly lower price point, check out the spacious condos at the Lodges at Deer Valley, which include a complimentary hot breakfast buffet each morning.
Eat Lunch at the mid-mountain Royal Street Grill, where ahi tuna tacos and blueberry mojitos are among the signature items. See if you can score an après reservation in one of the Stein Eriksen Lodge’s new Alpenglobes. For dinner, Rime at the St. Regis Deer Valley offers reinvented classics like a splurge-worthy shellfish tower (lobster, oysters, shrimp, and more), thick pork chops, and Niman Ranch steaks.
Heading up storied Little Cottonwood Canyon, site of side-by-side Alta and Snowbird, feels a bit like going to worship at the altar of skiing. With an Ikon Pass, you can ski between the two resorts via three gates—that’s more than 5,000 total acres of terrain. As for the skiing, Alta is renowned for its plummeting steeps, vast powder fields like Devil’s Castle, and huge amounts of snow (as well as for welcoming skiers only). That said, almost half of the terrain is rated beginner or intermediate, and the Albion and Sunnyside lifts exclusively serve the gentlest slopes. For a good introduction to the ski area’s wide-open faces, ride the Collins lift and traverse over to Ballroom. (Fully exploring all of Alta’s terrain requires some traversing and sidestepping—the resort’s website offers helpful tips on both.) From there, discovering the mountain’s nooks and crannies is like being in a vast, snowy playground.
Stay Alta has limited parking capacity this season, making it even more desirable to overnight at the resort. Base yourself at the 57-room, family-run Alta Lodge, which has drawn a devoted clientele since 1940 for its down-to-earth hospitality (it still provides real room keys), or the Snow Pine, which underwent a stunning remodel two years ago, transforming it from a cramped stone lodge into a model of understated luxe.
Eat Two new food trucks at the base amp up the grab-and-go lunch options. The bars at each of Alta’s five lodges, normally hubs for après-ski, are now open to overnight guests only. Traditionally, most visitors eat dinner at their lodges, as meals are included in a package stay, and call it an early night.
Solitude and Brighton
Situated near the head of Big Cottonwood Canyon, the pace (though not the number of skiers and riders) at this pair of resorts trends lower-key than at the Little Cottonwood resorts, but make no mistake—the terrain, some 2,200 acres between the two areas, certainly holds its own in terms of challenge. Half of Solitude’s 82 runs are beginner and intermediate, and you’ll find plenty of places to cruise. But for gravity-defying descents through tight trees, head for Headwall Forest or any of the double-black trails to skier’s left of the Summit chair. And don’t miss sampling the resort’s best-known expert terrain in Honeycomb Canyon: treed runs and chutes on one side face cliff-studded powder fields—accessed by a traverse or a bootpack—on the other in this backcountry-style playground.
Brighton—Utah’s oldest ski area, founded in 1936—is now a favorite with jibbers for its five terrain parks. But the mountain also offers lots of natural features to play on, like gullies, rollers, and rock drops on the open slopes off the top of the Milly Express chair. And though in many ways the resort has an appealingly no-frills vibe, four high-speed quads (out of six lifts) provide efficient access to all of the runs. The SolBright ski run connects the two resorts.
Stay Rooms are spacious at the Euro-style, slopeside Inn at Solitude, while the base-area Brighton Lodge offers hostel-style rooms. Solitude offers Ikon passholders up to 25 percent off lodging this winter, including free access to Solitude’s Nordic Center. Two miles downvalley, the charmingly rustic Silver Fork Lodge has seven homey guest rooms above its popular restaurant (full breakfast included).
Eat Dining at Solitude is primarily limited to grab-and-go options, both on mountain and off, this season, and the usual après-ski spots are closed. At Brighton, Molly Green’s, in a classic A-frame, slings pizzas, burgers, and huge platters of nachos.
Like its neighbor, Snowbird benefits from huge snowfall (some 500 inches annually), which blankets terrain like the Cirque’s elevator-shaft steeps, cliff-studded faces off the High Baldy Traverse, and open bowls like Baldy’s. Begin your day on the ski area’s backside, exploring the intermediate and expert runs on the south-facing, above-treeline slopes of Mineral Basin. To get there—and experience one of skidom’s coolest “lifts”—eschew Snowbird’s iconic Tram (it’s running at 25 percent capacity this winter) in favor of riding the Peruvian chair, then slide onto a conveyor belt that takes you through a tunnel decked out in displays related to the area’s mining history. If tree-skiing is your thing, spend the afternoon lapping the Gadzoom and Gad 2 lifts. Or play it mellow on the green and blue runs off the Baby Thunder chair.
Stay The resort requires parking reservations this winter, so staying at the base is even more of a plus. Better yet, Ikon passholders get up to 25 percent off accommodations like the flagship 10-story Cliff Lodge, with a large spa and a rooftop pool.
Eat The Summit atop Hidden Peak—at 11,000 feet, Utah’s highest restaurant—offers a rotisserie station at lunch. For dinner, refuel with classic comfort food at SeventyOne in the Snowbird Center; named for the year the resort opened, the restaurant features appropriately groovy decor.