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Utah's Exciting Non-Olyympic-Venue Resorts

Sundance to Solitude with Alta, Brighton, The Canyons and Snowbird in between. Sounds like a Native American vision quest. Actually it has to do with skiing and snowboarding what many ski aficionados consider the finest snow on Earth: Utah’s legendary dry Wasatch Mountain Range powder. A vision quest for sure.

Add heart, soul and spirituality to the mix once you’ve experienced the magic of the Wasatch.

While the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic venue resorts get most of the publicity, the nearby non-venue resorts probably offer the best snow and, indeed, the least crowds. Before, during, and after the Olympics, these resorts offer some of the finest adventures in America.

helmet3.jpg (6761 bytes)
Alta's ski terrain and the author
reflected in Jay Reuss' helmet


Small, intimate Sundance—an hour from Salt Lake City International Airport—is a mountain treasure. Conde-Nast Traveler magazine ranks it as one of North America’s top 20 resorts. Rustic and elegant, wild yet sophisticated, Sundance lives up to the ongoing ecological vision of its’ founder and owner actor Robert Redford. "Sundance is a mixture of old and new, lush and sparse, sophisticated and primitive—like art itself," says Redford.

Sun worshipers
Enjoying the mid-day sun at Sundance

Redford’s Sundance lies at the base of the Wasatch Range’s tallest peak, 12,000-foot majestic Mount Timanogas. Redford owns 6,000 acres here, of which 450 acres is the Sundance Ski Area and 23 additional acres are set aside for the resort buildings and environs. Sundance is devoted to recreation, the arts, and the environment. Unlike the frenzied building development taking place at the 2002 Olympic hubs of Salt Lake City and Park City, Sundance is into preserving the land, not changing it. Most of Sundance is wilderness and will always remain so.

When snow is on the ground it becomes an alpine and cross-country ski paradise. Only 1000 alpine skiers are allowed on the mountain at any one time, assuring no lift lines. A variety of expert to beginner terrain exists to accommodate all skier levels. There are 15 kilometers of groomed cross-country trails. When the snow melts, Sundance is a quiet Mecca for mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding and fly-fishing in nearby Provo River.

After a hail and hearty day of skiing, reserve dinner at Sundance’s award winning Tree Room Restaurant. Try chef Trey Foshee’s striped bass with caramelized onion sauce. Salad ingredients come from Sundance’s own gardens. Many of the fine wines served are hand picked by Redford. After dinner, cozy up to your Mandan Cottage fireplace for a few chapters of your favorite book. Let your eyes drift occasionally through the tall cottage windows as the falling Wasatch powder builds for your ski pleasures the following day.

Restaurant fare
Sundance's Tree Room Restaurant


The road is curvy and the large angular slabs of Wasatch rock rise precipitously as you wind your way up Little Cottonwood Canyon. Like a kid when you first went into the dark forest, you sense that there is something mysterious and secret locked within Little Cottonwood.

Powder skier
Photo::Ski Utah, Richard Price

The mystery begins to unveil itself as you strap on a pair of skies (you can be on the slopes within an hour after arriving at Salt Lake International Airport) and indulge yourself in one of North America’s greatest snow zones. Alta and Snowbird Ski Areas at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon receive an average of 500 inches of snow per year!

Alta is about skiing, pure and simple. Nothing fancy, no Kleenex boxes at the lifts, no high-speed chairs, no room service at the Alta lodge, no frills. Alta is the Holy Grail to ski purists. "No snowboarders allowed here, boarding doesn’t suit our terrain," says Bill Levitt, longtime Alta Lodge owner and Alta mayor. Skiing Magazine rated Alta number one in powder and value ($31 lift tickets). Steep, deep, and cheap are buzzwords attached to Alta. With limited grooming—still plenty for beginners and intermediates though—and abundant powder, Alta’s 2,000 acres are ski nirvana. My favorite runs include Devil’s Elbow, the off-piste Devil’s Castle, Big Dipper and Alf’s High Rustler.

Snowbird, Alta’s younger, more upstart and opulent neighbor, just a mile away, has a richer amenity menu—including a 125-passenger high speed tram, a rooftop lap pool, world class Cliff Spa, racquet and fitness club, numerous specialty shops and boutiques, eight restaurants, and a new ice skating rink. It also has an incredibly rich variety of challenging terrain. Mach Schnell, Silver Fox and Barry Barry Steep will make you whoop and holler at Snowbird. Good slopes also exist for beginners and intermediates. Additionally, Snowbird is becoming to snowboarders what Mecca is to Muslims: a holy place. Snowboard Life ranked Snowbird number one in the Ultimate Resort Poll. Snowbird’s 200 ski days and closeness to Salt Lake City International Airport (29 miles) makes it an enticing asset to the snow sports industry.

Cliff Lodge
Heated pool atop Snowbird's Cliff Lodge

Wasatch Ridge
Wasatch sunrise


Solitude, a mile down Big Cottonwood Canyon from Brighton, has an aura of closeness, yet remoteness. The European style village is quaint, charming, and beautiful. Unlike Alta Lodge in which there are no TVs in your room, Solitude has them; but, you’re not inclined to turn them on. This is a place where quietness, reflection and, yes, solitude rules the roost. Après ski life consists of a good novel, a chess game in the library, an evening stroll in the Plaza, a quiet dinner at St. Bernard’s or Creekside, a dip in the outdoor pool and spa. People come here to ski and relax. If you want the robust nightlife, better stay in Park City or Salt Lake.

Solittude Cafe
Solitude's Creekside Patio Cafe

Tree skiing
Nikki Brush skis
Solitude's aspens

Brian O'Reardon pours
at Solitude's St. Bernard's

Solitude has a nice mesh of groomed and non-groomed runs, along with 400 acres of off-piste skiing in pristine Honeycomb Canyon. Its Nordic Center is Utah’s oldest and most scenic, with over 20 kilometers of trails, many through beautiful aspen glens and glades.

The talented and affable St. Bernard’s chef Anthony Scorsone will thoroughly satisfy your palette with a variety of German, American and Italian dishes, including smoked trout cakes, roasted fennel soup and delectable desserts such as strawberry mascarpone napoleon with strawberry balsamic sauce. Try a bottle of their Caymus Conundrum wine. Divine!


Brassy and sassy Brighton, at the end of the Big Cottonwood Canyon, 30 miles southeast of downtown Salt Lake, has the energy and vitality of a flamenco dancer. Many Utahans learned to ski here and continue to come back with their own families. It is a resort that caters to all ability levels, offering incredible family skiing and snowboarding. For experts, it offers some of the best backcountry access in Utah. Brighton also offers night skiing 4pm to 9pm Monday through Saturday along 18-lighted trails. Kids under 10 (limited to two per paying adult) ski free day or night, as do all "kids" over 70.

I spent a memorable fresh powder day skiing behind snowboard wizard and Brighton public relations director Dan Malstrom. The powder was so light and fluffy that upon passing through, tracks were immediately sutured with nary a trace of one’s passage.

Brighton fan
Kids under 10 ski free
at Brighton


Utah’s newest resort on the block, The Canyons (formerly Park West), is also Utah’s largest with 2,700 acres of terrain. Located just outside Park City, The Canyons is ideally located for those who wish to ski or skiboard and have immediate access to the quickened Olympic pulse of events (bobsleigh, luge, ski jumping, alpine, snowboard and freestyle) taking place in and around Park City.

Click here for details to plan your own trip to Utah's winter resorts.

        Larry Turner
        Article and photos

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