How to Get to Snowbird (Pros and Cons)

Located just 30 miles from downtown Salt Lake City, Snowbird is one of the most conveniently located ski resorts in the United States.

Or is it?

Getting to Snowbird might not be as straightforward as it seems.

As someone who’s traveled to Snowbird more than nearly any of the other 22+ mountains I’ve visited, over the years I’ve picked up all the inside tips and tricks for getting to the world-class ski resort.

This post is my insider’s guide for how to get to Snowbird.

Where is Snowbird?

Snowbird Ski Resort is located in Snowbird, Utah, a ski town in the heart of the Wasatch Mountain’s Little Cottonwood Canyon.

The ski resort sits exactly 27 miles from downtown Salt Lake City, or around a 35-40 minute drive in good weather. (But as we’ll get to later, that’s a big “if”!)

If not staying at the base of the mountain, the nearest major suburbs with lodging options are Cottonwood Heights, UT, and Sandy, UT.

What is the nearest airport to snowbird?

No surprise, the nearest airport to Snowbird is Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC).

SLC has direct flights from all over the country, so finding a flight should be no problem.

The airport is 32 miles from the ski resort, or less than 40 minutes in good conditions.

Speaking of which…

Why getting to Snowbird is harder than it looks

how to get to snowbird

A lot of tourists get lulled into a false sense of security for traveling to The Bird, but here’s why that might be a mistake.

Snowbird is located in the Little Cottonwood Canyon, and the name of that geographic feature is fitting, for more reasons than one.

First, you’ll immediately notice you’re in a canyon when you look out your window and see towering mountain cliffs on both sides of your vehicle. And while the mountains are huge, the canyon itself is most certainly “little.”

Little Cottonwood Canyon is what’s known as a box canyon, meaning there’s only one way in and one way out. And the narrowness of the canyon means the road is small, winding, twisting, and just two lanes.

Did I mention it also happens to be the most avalanche prone roads in the entire country?

Remember, this canyon is legitimately one of the snowiest places on earth. And while the steep terrain is great for giving Snowbird its best ski runs, it turns out steepness and snow are also two critical ingredients for avalanches slides.

The result is that vehicular travel can be touch and go.

The road frequently closes for hours at a time while UDOT crews perform avalanche mitigation work, or otherwise clean up the not-so-uncommon accidents resulting from slippery winter conditions.

For this reason, it’s also not uncommon for the road to require either 4×4 or tire chains on all vehicles entering the canyon. And yes, they frequently station traffic officers who double check, and even issue tickets for anyone trying to sneak by.

4 Options for Getting to Snowbird

Realistically, you have four different choices for how to get to Snowbird.

Here’s my honest thoughts on each, along with pros and cons.

1. Rent a car

For the brave and adventurous, you can rent a car from the SLC airport and drive the canyon road yourself.

I’ve done this before, but only in nice, dry, bluebird conditions.

This becomes another challenge altogether when it’s snowing, which happens more often at Snowbird than just about anywhere in the world. In those situations, you’ll usually have to make sure your rental car has 4×4 or AWD (by law), and most rental car companies aren’t willing to make this guarantee.

Not to mention the added challenge of a winter drive – on my first trip up the canyon, my roommate crashed his rental car because of the snow. Not the best way to start a ski trip!

Note that once you get to Snowbird, you really don’t need a rental car and might actually find it a nuisance. The whole village area is nice and walkable. And even if you plan on visiting Alta, you can just ski between the two!

2. Rideshare App (Uber / Lyft)

Technically, Uber and Lyft can pick up from SLC and can drop off at Snowbird.

Honestly though, this option sketches me out. As we discussed earlier, the road to Snowbird is some of the toughest winter driving conditions anywhere. Is it really the best idea to trust that your random rideshare has the proper winter tires, 4×4 vehicle, and/or winter driving experience to make it up the canyon road safely?

3. My favorite option: Take a shuttle

If you’re staying on the mountain, Snowbird has companies that specialize in shuttling people up the challenging canyon road.

The two most popular are Canyon Transportation and Alta Shuttle. For less than $100 round trip, their shared vans will take you from the airport to Snowbird.

I’ve done this option a few times, and you can’t beat the convenience. The shuttles are usually waiting for you curbside at the airport, and then they drop off right at your hotel’s front door.

I especially love that their vans are all 4×4. And since their drivers literally drive up and down the canyon road all day every day, I feel safe knowing they’ve got the winter driving skills needed.

Protip: If you’re staying at any of Snowbird’s lodges, they’ll offer a shuttle package add-on (outsourced to these companies) for a discounted rate.

4. The best budget option: Take the Utah Ski Bus

For those on a budget or who are staying in Salt Lake City, I recommend grabbing the Utah Ski Bus.

This bus is operated by the Utah Transit Authority (UTA). The bus route has several different pickup locations around the city, all of which will drop you off at Snowbird’s Aerial Tram. And for $5, you can’t beat the price!

You can check out the details on the UTA Ski Service website.

If you decide on the ski shuttle, I have two tips for you:

  1. The buses can fill up during busy times. So, on weekend days or powder days, I recommend starting your ride at one of the earlier stops along the route. (You can see all the stops by looking at the Route 953 and Route 994 schedule viewer.)
  2. Remember that if coming from the airport, you could always Uber/Lyft/Taxi to one of the bus stops and then take the bus up the canyon. This is a few bucks cheaper than the shuttle options and also avoids the winter concerns for rideshares.

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