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where:mountain in USA
- other names:the Wasatch Range also known as just the Wasatch
- opening hours:Varies by resort. Snowbird has the longest season.
- website:Most reliable road conditions: http://www.alta.com/pages/report.php
- public transport & parking:Park City has a free bus system. Public ski buses run from Salt Lake City to Park City and the Cottonwoods. Parking lots are available at the base of the Cottonwood Canyons and ski buses go regularly. All Ski areas also have their own parking lots. Almost all of the resort parking is free.
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Skiing Utah: Making Sense of the CanyonsSkiing in Northern Utah means a plethora of resorts to choose from. Flying into Salt Lake City puts skiers about 40 minutes away from the slopes. The main ski areas are located in three canyons: Big cottonwood, Little Cottonwood and Parley’s. Despite what you might see on maps there is NOT a road that is passable in winter that connects these canyons. To get from one ski canyon to another visitors must drive back down to Salt Lake City and then back up again.Parley’s which leads to Park City is completely separate from Big and Little Cottonwood canyons. Big and Little Cottonwood are accessed off the same main road to the south of the city. There is a large parking lot at the base with shuttles that run up into the ski canyons for people without 4X4. Rental 4X4 are very expensive and this is a viable alternative if you don’t want to go into debt renting a Toyota Tundra.Parley’s and Park City are accessed from Interstate 80. 80 is usually clear and the roads into Park City are well maintained making a 4X4 optional is this canyon. Here is a list of the resorts you will find in each canyon:Parley’s: Park City, Canyons and Deer Valley Little Cottonwood: Alta and Snowbird called “Bird” by the locals Big Cottonwood: Brighton and SolitudeAlta and Deer Valley do not allow Snowboarders. Brighton is basically built for Snowboarders and Solitude has a substantial cross-country ski area in addition to downhill skiing. In and around Park City there are also many cross-country trails.The geography of the each canyon is remarkably different. Big Cottonwood is the most beautiful. Filled with a protected forest, streams and rocky outcroppings, it is breathtaking. Little Cottonwood is also filled with a protected forest but it is much smaller and darker. Parley’s has not been protected so there are far fewer trees and more houses. In addition, Parley’s has the most open geography of the three canyons and this is where the historic town of Park City is located. The geography of the canyons is important because it dramatically influences snowfall, access and the skiing experience.Little and Big Cottonwood are notorious for tons of light fluffy powder snow. This type of snow is a product of the storm clouds as they come across the Great Salt Lake. Little Cottonwood is usually hit first, then Big Cottonwood and finally Parley’s. The result is that the Little Cottonwood resorts will often have twice the snow as the resorts in Parley’s. This is the good news. The bad news is that the Cottonwoods are accessed by small older roads (remember the protected part of this equation). These roads commonly close until 10 am after a big snow for avalanche blasting. Sometimes they stay closed. Parley’s on the other hand rarely closes. The Interstate is a plow priority and the avalanche threat is minimal. Anyone planning to ski the Cottonwoods needs to keep a close eye on road conditions. Moreover, if getting in and out on a particular day is imperative Parley’s may be a better choice.All the resorts have a different feel and cater to different types of skiers. Their websites do not do a good job of capturing these differences. Read my further posts if hitting the slopes in Utah is on your agenda.