This is the time of year that everyone in and around Salt Lake starts to anticipate the first big pow day. Especially with last year’s ski season cut short, we’ve had nine months to anxiously await hitting the slopes again. But between mitigating coronavirus and canyon overuse concerns, this year is going to look very different from years past. New rules and regulations make planning ahead an absolute necessity. Here is your quick guide to skiing at Utah’s 14 resorts in 2021. With a bit of advanced planning you can avoid the crowds and enjoy your best ski year yet.
Be Prepared and Arrive Early
The first thing you need to know is that at most resorts you will need to buy or reserve your tickets ahead of time. For those resorts not offering a reservation system, you can expect a first-come, first-serve system of admittance. Each resort will take into account weather, snowpack, available terrain and the capacity of indoor facilities to determine their daily population capacity.
Even season ticket holders may be required to make advanced reservations. Epic and some Ikon resorts are requiring online reservations prior to hitting the slopes. If you have a season pass, check to see what reservation guidelines you are required to follow so you don’t get turned away!
Warning to Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon Drivers
If you are thinking of driving up Salt Lake’s Big or Little Cottonwood Canyon, be forewarned! You will be turned away once parking is at capacity unless you have a residency parking permit. That means if you are there after 8:00 a.m. on a weekend or holiday, you may wait hours to get up the canyon in your car if at all.
Resorts are relying on parking limits to help manage guest numbers. You can expect to pay parking fees at Solitude Mountain Resort. Snowbird is implementing a parking reservation system where guests must reserve a spot online before heading up the mountain.
Utah Transit Authority will continue to run buses with face-mask requirements and at reduced capacity. They expect longer wait times and recommend riders take advantage of low peak days and times. Their transit app will help you plan your trip, check bus crowds or get alerts on canyon closures, accidents or avalanches.
Never go up the canyon in the winter without a full tank of gas and some emergency food and water supplies!
Be Patient Once You Arrive
Don’t be surprised once you get to the resort to find longer than usual lift lines. Between spacing and sanitizing, there is no way getting around the wait. Riders will notice “ghost lines” and signs requiring 6’ distance between groups and masks. No mask, no service is absolute in 2021!
Plan For Group Lesson Changes
Just as with your tickets, you’ll want to reserve and purchase lessons in advance. Each resort is coming up with its own terms and conditions for group and private lessons. Group lesson options for ages 7 or 8 and above seem to be the standard, with private lessons offered for the younger set. Don’t expect full-day lessons that include childcare or lunch. Even half-day lessons may be closer to 2 hours. Adult private, semi-private and group lessons are still happening at all 14 resorts.
For older youth, there are still excellent weekend and multi-week programs available. Deer Valley continues to offer its Friday and weekend multi-week program. Brighton, is releasing its weekend multi-week lessons for youth a month at a time. Solitude and Alta are now offering weekend, multi-week youth lessons as well.
Park City/Canyons, Snowbasin and Powder Mountain have all-mountain teams and multi-week lessons available for more advanced youth skiers. A brilliant option for keeping older kids out of trouble while keeping social-distancing rules!
Don’t Get Too Comfortable on the Mountain
For your mid-day and apres-ski breaks, expect lodges and dining rooms to pare down their menus and seating availability. You’ll probably notice more grab-and-go food options and outdoor seating with patio heaters and fire pits. Some resorts will offer online food orders and many will have additional food truck options. Expect 6’ between tables and seating in every resort.
If you are looking to save some money, and time, you may just want to pack your lunch and eat it in the car. Resorts are expecting guests to spend more time in their own vehicles.
The BEST Advice Saved for Last
If you have the flexibility to ski on a weekday or non-holiday, this is the ski year for you! Resorts and transit officials are urging, nay pleading, for guests to ski and ride during off-peak times. Avoid the frustration of getting turned away, waiting in long lines, or, worst case, contracting COVID. The upside of all of this, is once you make it to the resort, you know you will have a spectacular day on the mountain with the smallest crowds you’ve seen in years and the best snow in the world.
If you’re unsure which resort is right for you, this Resort Comparison is a great place to start. Local favorites are Brighton if you have kids (10 and under ski and snowboard free, but it can get crowded on weekends and holidays). Alta is for skiers only and has some of the best powder and terrain along the Wasatch Front, but can also be hard to access on busy days. Snowbird is your place if you’re looking for steep and deep but has the same traffic and parking problems as Alta, Brighton and Solitude. Park City, Canyons and Deer Valley offer acreage, cushy resort amenities and convenient parking but don’t have the same expert terrain bragging rights as the Cottonwood Canyon resorts. We love Powder Mountain and Snowbasin for its excellent mix of bowls and groomers. While both of these northern-Utah resorts are a bit of a drive from Salt Lake, you’ll hardly ever hit traffic or crowds!