Well folks, last week I realized what just might be every skier’s dream.
It was the middle of March. As a Minnesota local, Spring rains had already done their damage on the local ski hills and washed away nearly all our snow. Even worse, I’d already used up my ski-travel budget for the year, which meant my skis now sat quietly in the basement, relegated to a life of hibernation until next winter.
And that’s when the world’s best email hit my inbox…
My work was sending me to Salt Lake City. I didn’t have much say in the matter; I was to report for duty, Monday through Friday in the last week of March.
Of course, my mind immediately began racing. Salt Lake City in the winter? That sounds like skiing to me.
I double checked the date. Late March is in fact still ski season, I thought.
Even better, Salt Lake City typically skis better in late March than just about anywhere in the country.
At this point, I knew what I had to do. Work was flying me within a mountain range, and I was going to ski it.
How lucky was I!?
Late March in Salt Lake City – Where to ski as a single skier?
First thing’s first, I had a decision to make about where to ski.
Going into the trip, I knew a few things:
- I was responsible for working all through business hours on Friday.
- I had a company rental car, but I’m sure my company’s legal team would probably come knocking on my door if they found I took a road trip to a ski resort for the weekend…
- I’d have Saturday and Sunday all to myself – the very last two days of March.
I was also a proud owner of the Mountain Collective pass, which really narrowed down my choices to Alta, Snowbird, or Snowbasin.
And among those, we had a clear winner when it came to playing the odds of good late spring season skiing. While any mountain could hit the powder lottery on any given day, if we’re hedging out bets, then the answer is clear. Alta and Snowbird, complete with more frequent and higher quality snow than just about anywhere in North America, are the undisputed kings of spring skiing.
It was a done deal. I was making my first ever trip to check out Alta and Snowbird, and I couldn’t have been more excited.
Now I just had to do my best to make it through the work week undistracted!
Friday Evening: A First-Timer’s Pilgrimage to the Mecca of Skiing
To prove just how much I’d been counting down the minutes until my ski trip began, I returned the company rental car into the Salt Lake City airport at 5:00. Right on the nose.
As far as getting to the mountain, that presented a little more logistical planning.
There’s only one road into Alta/Snowbird. It’s a narrow canyon road, and I’d heard enough nightmares about hopeful Alta/Snowbird visitors getting shut out by avalanches, road closures, and mandatory 4×4/Tire Chains than to have any desire risking my precious two days on the slopes. (This is one of the snowiest places on earth, after all.)
So, to ease those fears, I outsourced the driving responsibilities to one of the many shuttle companies that will happily take you and your gear up the canyon road. After checking some reviews and recommendations, I eventually settled on Alta Shuttle. Total cost? $78 round trip – far cheaper than even a weekend rental car.
At 5:15, my shuttle was ready for takeoff. To my surprise, I was the only passenger in the giant white van, which was reassuringly decked out with giant snow tires and 4×4 badges plastered on the side. To my even more surprise, the 2-6 inches that was forecasted this Friday turned into something much more.
“The snow stake is saying over 20 inches so far, man!” Shouted my cheery shuttle driver from the front seed. “The road’s still white out conditions, they might even close the road in tomorrow morning!”
We continued up the canyon road. I was shocked at the narrowness of the canyon itself – snow covered mountains shot up from either side.
As we got closer to the hotel, and after I counted my fourth crashed car on the side of the road, I gave myself a quick pat on the back for my discretion in choosing a shuttle company, rather than attempting the drive myself.
Goldminer’s Daughter – A Cozy Ski Lodge Steeped in History
50 minutes later, we arrived at my hotel.
I was staying at The Goldminer’s Daughter. Going into the trip, I knew two things about this hotel:
- According to google maps, it was about 50 feet from Collins, the chairlift which acts as the heartbeat of Alta.
- For some reason, I’d heard for years that, “Every skier should do Goldminer’s Daughter, at least just once!”
I wasn’t so sure whether that second statement was a vote of confidence or not. After all, I was staying in a 4-person dorm room, which still ran a surprisingly-not-cheap price tag of $200+ a night. For, it’s worth repeating, a shared dorm room…
I checked in and was relieved to learn they gave you not only a room key but a ski locker key, too. I hadn’t even thought of it, but keeping my work laptop in a shared dorm room was probably yet another way I could get my company’s lawyers to come knocking on my door.
Lucky, my laptop bag fit in the narrow, gym style lockers along with my skis, no problem.
I headed to the dorm room, a little nervous at what I’d find. To my relief, I met my two roommates, who were both really friendly guys, and of course, we immediately began bonding over our shared love of skiing.
One roommate was an older guy who’d been visiting Alta for nearly 20 years. We enjoyed exchanging stories about our ski travels, thoughts about the mountain, etc.
The other was a British guy, who, like me, was a first-timer stretching a work trip through the weekend. (He’d actually crashed his rental car on the way in after skidding across a downhill ice patch. I gave myself another pat on the back for choosing the shuttle…)
Our fourth bed way empty, probably due to the late spring season dates. In fact, the hotel was surprisingly quiet. I spent a few minutes checking out the common areas, without seeing much of anyone, before heading up to my 8:00 PM diner reservation. (Dinner’s included in your price at Goldminer’s Daughter)
Tonight’s menu – an all you can eat buffet featuring veggies, salad, pasta, baked salmon, and prime rib! I’d heard great things about Goldminer’s dinners, and my first experience didn’t disappoint.
I packed it up for the night and got ready for my first day (ever!) of skiing Alta.
Day 1: Skiing Spring Powder at Alta and Snowbird
The 20 inches of snow yesterday had kept falling through Friday night, and I woke up absolutely pumped for my first day of skiing, with another 3 inches of snow according to the report.
This was the Alta magic I’d heard so much about…
I stocked up on the Goldminer’s Daughter breakfast buffet (also included) and took a moment to ponder the surprise value of my $210/night price tag for the hotel.
Around 8:00, I walked the 10 feet to from the hotel to skier services, where I grabbed my two Mountain Collective Pass days at Alta. The snow was soft, and the day looked great! I noticed that even over an hour before lift opening, a few eager skiers had started lining up to score first tracks:
From there, I caught the Goldminer’s Daughter private shuttle to Snowbird around 8:15 AM. Again, I was the only skier on this shuttle, and I marveled at the convenience of the hotel I stumbled into booking.
At Snowbird, I picked up my two Mountain Collective Pass days for Snowbird, and I was ready to rock.
[Note: Picking up your Mountain Collective days this way allows you to ski in between Alta and Snowbird without paying the $30 upgraded charge for an “interconnect” ticket which they sell at the gates between the two mountains.]
I got in line for the Snowbird tram around 8:45. Even though I was a full 15 minutes before opening, there was already a lengthy line forming, no doubt due to the massive snowfall and weekend dates. No big deal, I was unbelievably excited!
I reached the top of the tram around 9:30. As a steep groomer fan, I originally planned on checking out the hype of Regulator Johnson before heading back to Alta, but after a brief chat with a mountain host, I learned the Regular Johnson area and Mineral Basin were both closed for avalanche control.
So, I was sort of trapped in the Peruvian Express area, but again, I couldn’t complain. I ended up skiing super deep snow on Primrose Path, Lower Silver Fox, and cut offs from Chip’s Run until about 10:30 AM. I really enjoyed these short, off-piste runs.
At that time, the tunnel to Mineral Basin opened, and I experienced the modern marvel that is a tunnel 200 feet underneath a mountain! Once out the other side, I skied down to the Mineral Basin Lift. The line here was terrible, but thanks to the singles line, I was able to get back up to the top of Mineral Basin in around 15 minutes.
From there, I went on over to Regulator Johnson, which was fun but already a little bumped out.
The unexpected standout? The unmarked bowl underneath the Little Cloud liftline.
Even better, I got super lucky, and as I was riding Little Cloud back up, they dropped the rope for Road to Provo. I marveled as I watched the unfolding of one of the legendary rope-drop S#!T shows that Snowbird is famous for.
Despite the chaos, I still managed 2-3 nearly untouched runs of 20+ inches around Shireen/Rasta Chutes/Gad Valley. Absolutely fantastic, and the skiing was so good I hung around here until 1:30 PM.
At that point I skied down to the Baldy lift and headed back to Alta. In an odd way, I felt quite the thrill as I skied through the gates in what resembled a South Korea/North Korea demilitarized zone connecting the two similar yet oh-so-different resorts.
A first day afternoon at Alta
I gotta say, I enjoyed the scene at Alta better. Skiing between Snowbird and Alta, the two things that immediately stuck out to me was how much quieter Alta was, and how much better the snow was preserved. Whether that’s because of Alta’s infamous ban on snowboarders, I’m not sure I’ll ever know.
With my legs fried from all the morning powder, I spent the rest of the day cruising groomers and easier bump runs off Alta’s Sugarloaf, Supreme, and Collins to finish the day. Safe to say, I was absolutely sold on Alta and couldn’t wait for Day 2.
I headed up to the Goldminer’s Daughter Saloon around 4:30 PM, grabbed a few beers, and watched the sunset until my dinner reservation.
After dinner, I packed it up for the night, legs sufficiently wrecked, but excited for the next day.
Day 2 – A Bluebird Spring Day at Alta
On day two, I woke up around 8:00, ate breakfast, packed up my bags and was in line for Collins by 9:15.
It was a clear bluebird Sunday, and the lift line wasn’t as bad as I expected. (Maybe 2-3 minutes for the singles line, a little longer for groups.) I enjoyed 3 fantastic morning groomer zoomers on Mambo/Main Street/Corkscrew, before touring around Sugarloaf and Supreme. Highlight for me was the Extrovert/Chartreuse area under Sugarloaf. Fantastic soft bumps over there that I loved.
Around 12:00 I decided I really wanted to see the views from the top of Snowbird, so I skied down to Mineral Basin and rode the lift up to the peak, where I was greeted by this:
I planned on skiing Mineral Basin for a bit, but one run on White Diamonds and I decided that the snow was too variable, and my legs were too tired, so I took Baldy Express back to Alta.
I spent the next two hours lapping Wildcat/Ballroom/Collins. For me, the highlight here was Sunspot. I absolutely loved it – perfect bumps for me and fantastic conditions. I lapped it 3-4 more times before heading down to Goldminer’s Daughter, showering up, and catching my 2:45 PM shuttle.
Conclusion – For this first timer, Alta and Snowbird lived up to the hype.
All in all, a FANTASTIC two days of skiing.
For late spring, I skied some of the best conditions I’ve experienced all year, which served as a perfect introduction to the magic that makes Alta/Snowbird so special.
I have to say, I never really “got” Alta and Snowbird until the moment I was there. And then I was completely sold.