Wasatch in the Winter: Salt Lake City Basecamp

The Wasatch Mountains are the heart and soul and backbone of Salt Lake City. This rugged range forms the backdrop for our cities. We look up every day and watch with anticipation as the first snow falls and covers the peaks in what we proudly proclaim the “Greatest Snow on Earth.” Exploring the Wasatch in winter is a multi-billion dollar industry with visitors arriving from around the world to ski and board (mainly) and more importantly the proximity and grandeur of the Wasatch. It’s something we locals get to do every day, and at times, sigh, at times we take it for granted. We bemoan storms, canyon traffic, and, well, just the general hassle of winter (apart from the moisture, which we eagerly celebrate). This winter, let’s stop all the bellyaching and get up there and enjoy the adventures waiting to be had. 

Basecamp #1: Salt Lake City

The two largest canyons within the mountains that tower above Salt Lake City City, Big and Little Cottonwood, are your access to four of Utah’s most famed ski resorts—Brighton/Solitude in Big Cottonwood and Alta/Snowbird in Little Cottonwood. Each canyon has its own vibe that derives from the landscape itself, which, in turn, influences how the resorts make use of the terrain. Big Cottonwood is a wider canyon with more gradual walls, meaning Brighton and Solitude feature wider runs and, for the most part, more gradual inclines. Little Cottonwood, on the other hand, is much more narrow and steep which informs Alta’s and Snowbird’s reputations for steep and, for the most part, narrow runs. 

Salt Lake City Wasatch Mountains
Photo by Austen Diamond /Visit Salt Lake
Solitude Mountain Resort
Photo courtesy of Solitude


Snowfall 500” • Acreage 1,200 • Vertical 2,047’

TERRAIN: Solitude is divided into two distinct areas from which to launch your mountain adventures, the Moonbeam and Village bases. Moonbeam generally services day skiers while the Village area is home to most of the resort’s lodging. From the Moonbeam base, you’ll have easy access to the Moonbeam and Eagle Express lifts. From the Village base, the big show is the Apex Express that connects to the Summit Lift and accesses Solitude’s most daunting and rugged terrain, the famed Honeycomb Canyon.
PROVISIONS: On-mountain, you’ll find the Roundhouse, a circular (naturally) day lodge that serves Himalayan mountain food (the butter chicken is lovely) as well as mountain comfort food. For a real dining adventure, book a space at the Solitude Yurt, where, after a nice snowshoe into the woods, you’ll dine at communal tables for this one-seating-a-night gastronomic experience.
ONE COOL THING: The bartenders at the Thirsty Squirrel are Solitude pros. They can give you good advice for finding powder stashes and venturing off-piste while mixing your drinks.  


Snowfall 500” • Acreage 1,050 • Vertical 1,875’

TERRAIN: Unpretentious and friendly, Brighton’s sprawling runs attract a young crowd, a large contingent of brash snowboarders. It has the well-deserved distinction of being the resort where most Salt Lakers learn to ski or board. Brighton is also home to Salt Lake’s most prolific night skiing with more than 200 acres of lighted runs.
PROVISIONS:  Brighton keeps it simple—burger, beer, nachos on a sunny patio for your midday reprieve and a full menu at Molly Green’s afterward, which includes the best resort nachos in Utah. The Silver Fork Lodge, below the resort, has great grub, notably a breakfast that includes sourdough pancakes made with a 100-year-old starter.
ONE COOL THING: The views from the top of Snake Creek Pass, accessed by the Great Western and Snake Creek Express lifts, make it the perfect spot for your rub-it-in selfie. 

Snowbird Resort

Snowfall 500” • Acreage 2,500 • Vertical 3,240’

TERRAIN:  Snowbird is known around the world for its steep terrain and long continuous runs. The resort contains three drainages (Mineral, Peruvian Gulch and Gad Valley) all served by its iconic Tram atop Hidden Peak at 11,000 feet above sea level.
PROVISIONS:  We love The Steak Pit, serving dry-aged, prime beef alongside a stellar wine list. Next on our list is Seventy-One, an airy bistro with throwback decor that pays homage to the year Snowbird opened (1971).
ONE COOL THING: The patio outside of The Steak Pit is home to a family of porcupines who make regular appearances to get a snack from the kitchen staff. 

Salt Lake City Wasatch Mountains
Seventy-One at Snowbird Resort. Photo by Adam Barker courtesy of snowbird resort


Snowfall 551” • Acreage 2,200 • Vertical 2,020’

TERRAIN: Alta’s skiers-only terrain is among the steepest and most scenic in Utah. The famous resort, known for inspiring hikes to chutes and bowls well off the piste, is one of the oldest resorts in America and a key progenitor of the sport of skiing, period.
PROVISIONS: Rustler Lodge is famous for its community tables—single diners and couples can request to be paired with other guests and make new friends over a sumptuous fully coursed dinner. Goldminers Daughter’s beautiful views of the mountain make for the perfect start to your day with its breakfast buffet, and you’ll find the rowdy après ski at the Peruvian (as well as the best nachos on the mountain). And don’t miss the wine list at Alta Lodge.
ONE COOL THING: You can ski both Alta and Snowbird on one ticket. You access the ’Bird via a high mountain gate atop the Sugarloaf lift. However, snowboarders can’t come into Alta.

Alta: ‘Home of the Avalanche’

By 1872, the population of the mining town of Alta Town had grown to several thousand miners and camp followers, and that winter 10 died in a December avalanche. In 1885, 16 were killed in a deadly slide that destroyed the town and left 50 feet of snow on its ruined Main Street. The frequency and deadly nature of the slides prompted The Deseret News to dub Alta the “Home of the Avalanche.” Today avalanches in Little Cottonwood Canyon are still a threat but are mitigated by aggressive avalanche control by the Utah Department of Transportation and the Alta and Snowbird ski patrols. 

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Jeremy Pugh
Jeremy Pughhttps://www.saltlakemagazine.com/
Jeremy Pugh is Salt Lake magazine's Editor. He covers culture, history, the outdoors and whatever needs a look. Jeremy is also the author of the book "100 Things to Do in Salt Lake City Before You Die" and the co-author of the history, culture and urban legend guidebook "Secret Salt Lake."

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