When many people think of skiing in the US, they often think of places like Colorado, Tahoe, or Wyoming. We think Utah is one of the most underrated ski areas in the entire world, much less the USA. Perhaps one of the greatest advantages of living near or traveling to Salt Lake City Utah is the chance to visit some of the best ski resorts in the country.
Most of the great Utah ski resorts are just an hour’s drive from Salt Lake City, with each offering a unique flavor and its own terrain. As far as the best family ski resorts go, Utah is home to several of them, and they are arguably more convenient to get to than any of the other great resorts in North America. What’s more, you have everything from high-end, pampered ski experiences to no-frills, old-school slopes. Imagine skiing Olympic downhill or precision-engineered terrain parks; impressive right?
Orientation: A Guide to Utah’s Ski Area
To give you a flavor of Utah’s ski area, we will use Salt Lake City as our central reference point. Chances are you will be flying into SLC anyway, so this is a good place to start. From SLC, there are really three different directions you can go to find your skiing. This is great, because it means that with traffic dispersing three directions, the skiing crowds spread out a bit rather than all trying to make the same trek to the same line of resorts.
- To the South and East off Hwy 190 is Cottonwood Canyon, home to such classic resorts as Alta, Brighton, Snowbird, and Solitude. This area is known for excellent snow because of its positioning on the Western slope of the mountain range. The resorts tend to be smaller, and a bit harder. These tend to be better for intermediates and above. There is not as much of a village at the base area as in Park City.
- More directly to the East, off I-80, is the Park City Park City is home to three major resorts: Park City, the Canyons, and Deer Valley. Park City and the Canyons started as separate resorts but today try to operate as one. This area has much more range in terrain, lots of beginner slopes, and a village and base area that offers many restaurants and amenities. A great destination for the non-skiers, downtown Park City has lots to do and see off the slopes. We actually named it to our list of the best ski towns in the USA.
- To the North is the Powder Mountain and Snowbasin These resorts tend to be a little quieter, without quite as many amenities. But the skiing is excellent, and if you want something that is a little less hectic, this area is worth looking in to.
With that as the backdrop, here are a few of our favorite Utah resorts for families.
Cottonwood Canyon Area. Talk to any avid skier, and they will often recall fondly a trip to Alta. Nestled on top of one of Utah’s best canyons is Alta. Alta is considered as a skiers paradise attracting thousands of skiers annually. This is a ski-only resort, so snowboarders should head somewhere else or strap on the skis for the day. Alta is only a 45 minutes’ drive from Salt Lake City International Airport making it very convenient for you to access the resort. Alta tends to feel a little more old school, and you might have heard a rumor that Alta’s lifts are made from wood. Well, this couldn’t be further from the truth. While Alta skiing tradition appears a little old school, there are no wooden ski lifts. What there is, though, is an very good chance of skiing powder. It is important to understand beforehand that Alta is a great place for advanced skiers but could prove to be a little challenging to beginners and intermediate skiers. If you ski here, take it seriously and wear your helmet, but most intermediate-to-advanced skiers will find plenty of great terrain. Alta is however described as lacking any emphasis in dining and nightlife. Generally, Alta offers great outdoor experience that include skiing, hiking, rock climbing, beautiful trails and campgrounds.
Brighton Ski Resort
Cottonwood Canyon Area. Brighton is one of the areas that has continued to mesmerize skiers in the Utah area longer than any other resort. The history of Brighton dates back to 1936 when a team of skiers from the Alpine ski club decided to pull their efforts and build a rudimentary rope tow meant to get folks up the mountain. This mission still remains today where Brighton’s mission is essentially to get folks up the mountain so that they can enjoy skiing and gliding. The only difference from the previous Brighton Ski Resort and the modern one is that today, the resort has over 1000 acres and can be accessed by high-speed quads. Perhaps the best part about Brighton is that it is only 45 minutes from Salt Lake City airport and just 20 minutes from downtown Salt Lake City.
Brighton offers a very user-friendly skiing experience for skiers of all ages. Kids below the age of 7 years can ski anytime while the hospitable nature of Brighton locals will make you feel right at home. Because of its laid-back vibe, Brighton has been described as one of the top travel destinations in Utah for locals and visitors alike. This is one of the resorts that you can ski old school without necessarily feeling old school. Unlike most resorts that mostly attract skiers in Salt Lake City, Brighton Resort attracts both skiers and boarders alike, and for those looking to save money skiing, is usually the lowest-price single day lift ticket of the larger Utah ski areas.
Park City Mountain Resort
Park City Area. The Park City Mountain Resort is the perfect definition of sophistication, excellence and world class terrain skiing experience. This resort was ranked as north America’s most accessible resort adding to its reputation of none mountains, refined amenities, three terrain parks and its access to the adjacent Canyons Resort. Many intermediates and above consider the Canyons side to be the superior skiing of the area. Park City Mountain Resort is of unimaginable reputation that greatly overshadows all the other resorts in Salt Lake City. Starting with the 30 to 40 minutes’ drive from the Salt Lake City International Airport, we aren’t sure there are any better ski resorts so close to major airports in the USA. Park City boasts of 17 mountain peaks, approximately 7,300 acres of seven terrain parks and a total of 17 bowls. In terms of sophistication, the whole Park City Mountain Resort is connected by a $50 million passenger gondola that can accommodate a total of 8 people. Using the gondola allows travelers to enjoy the scenic view below.
The longest run by skiers at the Park City Mountain Resort is 3.5 miles and only the most experienced skiers can match the mountain’s uplift. The Park City Mountain Resort is a clear indication of just how attention to details can transform the surrounding areas. Even the canyons close to the resort are slowly turning out to be an amazing tourist destination. Once you are at the resort, you can expect a family-friendly cruiser that runs through the resort. The expansive terrain is the reason why Park City Mountain Resort offers a wide range of outdoor activities such as snow sports, horse drawn sleigh rides, snowmobiling, zip tours, dog sledding, Heli skiing and snowshoe tours. Major events that are common in the resort include ice skating and alpine coaster events.
Owned by Vail Resorts, Park City and the Canyons are both accessible via the Epic Pass, in addition to regular lift tickets.
Deer Valley Resort
Park City Area. Pampered….. a great word to describe Deer Valley. This resort is one that grooms its trails meticulously, has high speed quads going nearly everywhere, and limits the number of skiers on busy days. Deer Valley Resort is among the most luxurious resorts in the larger Utah state. The staff at the Deer Valley Resort go to great lengths to ensure that you have the best experience while at the resort. Most people are of the view that you can never have a bad day while at the Deer Valley Resort thanks to the excellent customer service from the staff. The number of visitors to the Deer Valley Resort is so high that the resort often limits the number of tickets sold in a day in order to ensure premium services for the clientele. The Deer Valley Resort was voted the best resort near Salt Lake City in terms of best grooming. Once you are at the resort, you do not have to worry about anything since the staff has everything figured out. The resort is less than 45 minutes form the Salt Lake City International Airport.
This is a ski-only resort. No boarders allowed. For many, that is part of the allure. But if you have serious boarders in your family, you might need to opt for nearby Park City / Canyons.
There are several ways of tackling the Deer Valley six mountains that can be fun for an average skier. You can decide to follow the path that the Olympians followed during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games that included freestyle and slalom events. We like getting to either of the back mountains and tackling the blue and blue/black terrain. The Deer Valley area has the luxurious slope side hotels such as St. Regis and Montage. There are also hundreds of condos on the slopes of the mountain that make the skiing experiences in this area unforgettable, and you can also find many vacation rentals at the resort or just a few minutes away in the Park City village.. To make you have the best skiing experience while at the Deer Valley Mountain Resort, it is advisable that you plan in advance for your trip and outline the activities you intend to undertake.
North of Salt Lake City. North of the other resort areas, in its own general region, are the resorts of Powder Mountain and Snowbasin. They are in a range closer to Ogden and Brigham City, away from the more populated destinations like Park City. 9 lifts at Powder Mountain service just under 3,000 acres of skiable terrain, and if you want to hire a snowcat you can access another 3,000. The beauty of Powder Mountain, though, is how family-friendly it is. Smaller and quieter, it leans heavily on the beginner and intermediate terrain, making the entire mountain accessible for many skiers. The downside is that you have less nightlife or on-site amenities than a place like Park City. Staying in Ogden will give you access to more creature comforts, and is a 30-minute drive away. Powder Mountain and Snowbasin are both about 55 minutes from the Salt Lake City airport. Powder Mountain is on the Max Pass network.
Paul Miller is the Founder of Family Skier. He is an advanced skier and has extensive experience with family travel and ski schools. An accomplished skier, he has skied in 15 states and provinces and 6 countries. In addition to FamilySkier, his writing can be found on many ski-related websites, and as curriculum for many ski clubs in North America.