How to Prepare for Your Utah Ski Vacation
As someone who makes a living forecasting snowfall in Utah and spends close to one hundred days on the slopes each winter, I can tell you that the state’s tagline — The Greatest Snow on Earth® — is not just an advertising slogan, it’s a meteorological fact. We have an unrivaled combination of quantity, quality and frequency of snowfall, as well as epic terrain. That doesn’t mean we don’t have our challenges during ski season. We do. But there are ways we can avoid those challenges, and even help to mitigate them, all while making the most of our Utah ski and snowboard experience. Before you travel, review our Ski Travel Checklist and keep these five tips in mind:
1. Avoid the Crowds
The secret is out, Utah’s skiing and snowboarding is unparalleled. That means that often our resorts feel the strain of crowds as both visitors and locals alike flock to the slopes. Holidays and weekends are typically when Utah sees its largest influx of visitors and snow enthusiasts. If you’re looking for fewer people, you may want to consider avoiding Christmas through New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, as well as President’s Day. While non-holiday weekends can also see lift lines and full parking lots, weekdays rarely see either. If you are planning to take a ski trip to Utah, or are a resident, consider planning your on-mountain ski days for weekdays rather than weekends. If weekdays are not an option, another tip is to plan for the afternoons rather than the mornings. My friends and I have a saying, “last chair, best chair.” Crowds typically thin around 1 p.m. after lunch, front row parking spots appear, and competition for fresh tracks wanes dramatically.
2. Stay Safe on the Roads
Utah’s mountains receive frequent, heavy snowfall. While this is great for our winter recreation opportunities, it also presents winter driving safety challenges. If you are planning to access Utah resorts by vehicle on days in which snow is in the forecast, it is critical that the vehicle is four-wheel drive and/or is equipped with chains or snow tires. Our roads frequently have traction laws during storms that will prevent you from accessing the resorts without a properly equipped vehicle. When driving on snowy roads, please remember to take it slow and leave much more space between you and surrounding vehicles. It is also important to remember that some of our roads intersect natural avalanche paths, so always respect road closures during or after storms while avalanche mitigation is in progress.
3. Mind the Traffic
With easy access to Utah’s resorts, it’s not a surprise that you won’t be the only one taking advantage of great snow conditions. Heavy vehicle traffic accessing resorts is not uncommon, especially in the morning hours between 8–10 a.m.. The easiest way to avoid traffic is staying at one of the many superb on-mountain lodging accommodations if you’re visiting Utah. However, if you’re a resident, it’s not in your budget, or the draw of Ogden or Salt Lake City’s amenities are just too appealing, there are other options to explore. The vast majority of mountain traffic occurs in the morning hours, particularly on powder days. Arriving early (before 8 a.m.), skiing afternoons, or avoiding days immediately following a storm are all effective ways to avoid traffic. Another option is to take the UTA Ski Bus. Utah's winter public transportation network is extensive and there’s a good chance you can find bus routes that will take you directly to the base of the mountain. The more we ride buses, the fewer vehicles we have on the road, and the better traffic will be for everyone. Another reason to ride public transit or carpool? Some resorts charge a parking fee or require a parking reservation, see parking information by resort.
4. Breathe Fresh Air
The same topography in Utah that leads to stunning mountain vistas over sweeping valleys can also present another winter challenge. During times of high pressure, cold air sinks into valleys and basins, leaving warmer air in the mountains. This is called an inversion. Until the next storm moves in to mix out the atmosphere, the cold air is “stuck” in the valley. This also means that any pollutants in the air are also stuck, leading to poor air quality. Luckily, inversions typically only occur a few times per winter, and only impact the lower elevation areas in the valley. The mountains remain clear and are actually a great way to escape poor air quality. However, it is important to be cognizant that during times of inversion, unnecessary vehicle travel through the valleys has a negative impact on the air quality of local communities. If you’re looking to ski during an inversion, do what you can to reduce vehicle emissions.
5. Demonstrate Respect for the Mountain
Always remember that skiing and snowboarding are sports with inherent risk. Skiing and riding within your limits is crucial to keeping yourself and others safe. Respecting staff and ski patrol who work tirelessly to keep guests safe is critical — this includes respecting closed terrain and exercising patience while patrollers work to open additional terrain after storms. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is a fantastic way to improve as a skier/snowboarder as well as explore new terrain, however, it should not come at the expense of the safety of yourself or others. If you feel the urge to push your boundaries, consider adult ski school or hiring a backcountry guide.
If you’ve heard the mantra, “leave only footprints,” we can easily adapt this during ski season to be, “leave only ski tracks.” We are guests in the Wasatch Mountains and have a responsibility to maintain their natural beauty. This includes understanding these areas are home to thousands of species of wildlife. When the snow melts and the skiers leave in the spring, the animals remain. To protect this environment, it is imperative that you are conscientious of what you bring and what you leave behind. Every year, resorts spend hundreds of hours clearing the mountain of trash dropped by skiers and snowboarders during the winter.
While skiing in Utah, you’ll join a community who is passionate about Utah’s unparalleled snow, as well as the boundless outdoor winter recreation opportunities that come with it. Everybody deserves to enjoy these incredible mountains — both now and in future generations. By following these simple tips, we can ensure that we are fully prepared to take full advantage of The Greatest Snow on Earth®, not just today, but for years to come. (Read more on how to travel responsibly, a shared ethic called Forever Mighty.)