Ask just about anybody who's been to Snowbird and they'll tell you that three things stand out: the snow, the terrain, and the tram. The first piles up to about 500 inches annually, ranking the ’Bird among the top five ski resorts in the U.S. for average snowfall. But it’s really the consistency of the stuff that causes patrons to breathlessly chatter about the best snow they’ve ever skied. You’ll hear them call it the “lightest” and the “purest” and it’s true. Skiing deep powder in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon is like skiing through kittens (pardon the unsavory mental image).
To get to that snow, most people flock to the tram, two boxes that together carry 200 people from the bottom of the mountain to the very top of Snowbird in eight minutes. It’s so beloved because it accesses nearly every trail on the mountain and allows skiers to spin laps so fast they can easily bust out 10 to 12 exhausting, 2,900-vertical-foot runs a day on some of the more challenging inbounds slopes in North America. That includes the 40-degree steeps on Great Scott, the bumps and rock features on Silver Fox, and the steep glades in Tiger Tail. Together, those three things—the tram, the terrain, and the snow—distract you from the fact that not much has changed at Snowbird since the mid-’80s. Until now.
It’s April, the sun is blazing, and I’m riding the tram with Dave Fields, the vice president of operations at Snowbird. Fields is telling me about the $35 million improvements Snowbird began making last year. The crown jewel is the Summit Lodge, and as we crest the final ridge on the way up the tram, it comes into view. It’s a 23,196-square-foot concrete and glass oblong that, from the outside, looks like an evil lair straight out of a James Bond movie. “We’d had this planned for years,” Fields says. “It was part of the original plan for Snowbird. Why didn’t we do it 40 years ago? It’s expensive."
But when Ian Cumming, a Wall Street tycoon and co-founder of Park City–based Powdr Corp, bought a majority share of Snowbird two years ago, he infused the resort with the cash it needed to make improvements. They’ve also included RFID tickets, increased snowmaking, and renovations to the Cliff Lodge, which was spruced up over the summer with new carpeting, leather furnishings, and marble countertops and imported tiles in the bathrooms. Most noticeable, however, is that the supremely bizarre and wonderfully tacky shower windows—full picture windows that looked out from the showers into the bedrooms, windows that inspired a thousand jokes and even more NSFW photos—are gone from all 350 rooms. “There were a lot of butt cheeks pressed against those windows,” Fields says. “Guys seem more disappointed about them being removed than women.”
Fields and I step to the tram and onto a 10,000-square-foot heated deck. We rack our skis and walk inside the Summit Lodge. The interior is open and bright with panoramic views of the Wasatch range. The lodge seats 400 people and was packed all winter. “It completes Snowbird,” says Fields. “You get to the tram and there’s someplace to be.” There’s also someplace to get really good food. The lodge’s menu consists of artisan pizzas, rotisserie meats, and draft microbrews. “We don’t serve fries up here,” says Fields. “This place is about good, high-quality food that’s prepared on-site.” Fields and I make a quick tour of the place, stopping on an upstairs deck and gazing south toward Mary Ellen Gulch. “That’s where the new gondola is going,” says Fields. That’s right, more change is coming. Last April, Snowbird was given approval to expand operations into Mary Ellen Gulch, 500 acres of open-bowl terrain that’s currently used for the resort’s cat-skiing operation. The new gondola and another new lift to the Gulch are two years off. When complete, they will increase Snowbird’s total skiable acreage to 3,000.
Phase two of development will also improve the Cliff Lodge’s Atrium restaurant, double the size of the Creekside day lodge (currently a medium-size lodge adjacent to one of Snowbird’s main parking lots), and add a conveyor belt in the Baby Thunder area. The gentle slopes there will serve as a new teaching area and are sure to relieve skier congestion in the Chickadee portion of the mountain. “These are all things we really needed,” says Fields. “I think people will really benefit.”
No doubt. But as I’m taking my last ride up the Gadzoom chairlift, the temperature drops and the sky grays. I can see the tram cruising toward the peak. I’m reminded that, while all the upgrades are nice, Snowbird will still always be known for three things. Just then, it starts to snow.
What to Know
STAY The Cliff Lodge, of course, especially with its remodel of over 350 rooms on the east side of the building. For condo digs with full kitchens, consider The
Cliff Club, with 54 comfy condo units, some of which sleep 10. Both properties have access to an outdoor heated pool, three hot tubs, a tness center, a spa, and restaurants.
EAT The Aerie, inside the Cliff Lodge, is the go-to for an upscale menu and ambi- ence at laid-back Snowbird. The cuisine is tasty without being pretentious and the 10th- oor views are worth the visit alone. Don’t miss out on a bite to eat in the new Summit Lodge. Try the brisket panini or a atbread pizza.
APRÈS The views from The Aerie Lounge give you a buzz before you even try a cocktail. On solid ground— or rather, underground at the Snowbird Center— the iconic Tram Club is furnished with a cozy re- place, big-screen TVs with the game on, and visitors and locals alike enjoying nightly après specials.
Vertical drop (feet): 3,240
Skiable acres: 2,500
Summit elevation (feet): 11,000
Year the tram (and the resort) opened: 1971
Dollar value of silver produced from the Emma Mine, in Gad Valley (million): 3.8
Annual inches of snow: 500