An expert skier mom reviews what's what for families with all-age skiers at Utah's Alta, Snowbird, Solitude and Brighton mountain resorts.
My family has enjoyed skiing Utah’s mountain resorts ever since we realized that it’s easier to fly to Utah than to drive from our home in the San Francisco Bay Area to the ski resorts in Lake Tahoe. Once we land in Salt Lake City, it’s a 30-minute drive until we’re stepping into our skis and snowboards on the slopes of any of seven different ski resorts. All have something to offer families, and they feature that famous light and fluffy Utah snow, no matter what the weather.
Longing for some of that champagne powder, we headed to Salt Lake City one late January for a long weekend. We expected the three terrific family-oriented resorts around Park City – Deer Valley, The Canyons, and Park City Mountain Resort – to be bustling due to the Sundance Film Festival, so we decided to sample some of the quieter resorts nearby.
Alta Ski Area
First stop was Alta, a sleepy throwback to the ski scene of the 50s and 60s, with old-fashioned lodges and nightlife that harken back to the days of playing games around the great room fireplace. Even the lift ticket price is from an earlier era: At $64/adult per day, it’s one of the best large-ski-resort values in the West. Accommodations are in five homey, slopeside lodges that offer breakfast and dinner as part of their package since there are limited dining opportunities outside of the lunch spots on the mountain. Because snowboards are not allowed, Alta is the perfect stop for a family of skiers who want to avoid the super-adrenaline teen snowboard scene at other resorts. Plus, Alta limits the number of skiers on the mountain so you’re always guaranteed a quality experience without any traffic jams on the slopes or in lift lines.
We’d been to Alta seven years earlier when our kids sampled the Alf Engen Ski School (which has daycare-only, half-day, and full-day programs) and my husband and I attempted some of the resort’s famous steeps, bumps, and chutes. But now that our kids have turned into the very souped-up teenagers that we used to studiously avoid, they’ve traded in their skis for snowboards and won’t even consider changing back.
Skiable acres: 2,200
Vertical drop: 2,020
2008-2009 All-Day Lift Tickets: Adults $64, Kids 12 and under $32
Daycare facility for 3 months to 12 years: $85-90
Full-Day Ski School ages four and up $108-118
Lodging: Alta Lodge rates include full breakfast and dinner. Adults start at $107 daily double occupancy; kids 4-12 $48-76; under 4 free, extra person $97. Complimentary kids’ program for ages 4-12 includes transportation from the lodge to lessons or daycare plus afternoon and evening activities and special kids’ dinner.
The kids planned to head next door to Snowbird; an expansive resort with phenomenal views above the treeline skiing that has a new Interconnect Trail between the two neighboring resorts. I decided to get the kids situated at Snowbird and ski over to Alta to meet up with the rest of our group for lunch. Alta and Snowbird sit in glacier-cut Little Cottonwood Canyon and get some of the most – and the driest – powder snow in North America. Both resorts offer plenty of vertical and terrain to suit all abilities. As it turned out, near white-out conditions kept me close to the kids at Snowbird for most of the day. I was disappointed to miss the new interconnect run, but happy to have a serious coating of powder on top of the snowpack.
The Alta Lodge was our choice for accommodations because it’s the comfortable kind of place families return to for generations. There are aprÃ¨s-ski activities for kids, a special early children’s dinner, and after dinner movies. With the kids happily amused, parents can linger over a delicious four-course meal featuring dishes such as seared ahi, filet mignon, and tiramisu. Alta Lodge, along with all the other lodges, is connected to the main ski area base by a long rope tow that acts like a people mover and shuttles skiers along the flat valley floor to the bottom of the lifts. Children in the resort’s daycare program or beginners in ski school are ferried over to the resort base in the lodge van.
Skiable acres: 2,500
Vertical drop: 3,240 feet
2007-2008 All-Day Lift Ticket: adults chairlift only $54, tram and chair $64, kids 7-12 $10, kids under 6 free. Full-Day Ski School ages 3-15: $150-195 (with lift ticket)
Daycare: ages 6 weeks and up $60 per day.
Solitude Mountain Resort
Next we sampled Solitude, which we found to be one of the quietest full-service ski resorts in the country, even on weekends. My guess is that it will remain happily underused for at least a couple more years, making it an excellent choice if you want to avoid chairlift lines and crowded slopes (and who doesn’t!)
We stayed at the base in a small and attractive village. It looks a bit like a miniature version of Canada’s Whistler or Mont Tremblant since it was also developed by Intrawest, the giant corporation that specializes in purpose-built ski villages. An outdoor ice skating rink sits in the center of the village surrounded by gabled buildings filled with hotel rooms, condos, and a few shops and restaurants. We purchased a “make your own s’mores” kit at the tiny grocery store and toasted a few at the roaring bonfire near the ice skating rink our first night.
Saturday dawned bright and clear, and we headed up the mountain to try out Solitude’s impeccably groomed bowls and boulevards. Since my children claim to know everything about snowboarding (and anything else for that matter), they didn’t “need” a lesson, but if they had, children’s ski and snowboard school is available for full or half days. And, despite the ennui that can afflict the teen years, the kids were awestruck and enthusiastic when they heard that Solitude hosted the film crew for “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” and the Grinch’s runaway sled raced down one of the mountain’s steeper faces.
We found ourselves riding the chairlift past the famous “Grinch” mountainside again and again so the kids could be sure to recognize it when we next saw the movie, which turned out to be that very night. Not once did we stand in line for more than a minute. That, plus the gorgeous weather, powdery snow, and lack of people on the mountainside made for a exhilarating day of fast runs with plenty of elbow room.
Solitude’s price structure makes it an especially good choice for parents who want to just ski a few runs each day. You can buy an all-day lift ticket that entitles you to ski that day from opening to closing, or use the same ticket to take 10 rides spread out on any days, consecutive or not. The resort has all kinds of other ticket price deals and reductions: check their website to see what works best for you. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are available at their Nordic Center, which is about a mile away from the downhill base.
Skiable acres: 1,200
Vertical drop: 2,047 feet
2008-2009 All-Day Lift Tickets: Adults $61, Junior (7-13) $39, Child 6 and under free
Full-Day Ski school ages 5-12; Snowboard school ages 7-12: $125 full day with rental, $110 without rental
Daycare/Babysitting: $15/hr, $90 full day
All-Day Nordic Trail Pass: $15
The Inn at Solitude: Rooms start at $269 per night, one-bedroom condos at $424.
Our final stop was Brighton, the smallest of the resorts we sampled. Situated a few minutes down the road from Solitude in Big Cottonwood Canyon, Brighton has very little base lodging so we used it as a day resort. It tends to draw mostly locals along with a few out-of-towners who, like us, are road testing various Salt Lake City ski resorts. It’s known for its snowboard -friendly attitude along with a great mountain for skiing or riding. They have the requisite full-on terrain park and half-pipe, but because snowboard elements are so smoothly interwoven onto regular runs, skiers and boarders and families with both can enjoy a winter sports day together.
Brighton made the kids’ A-list in the celebrity film set sweepstakes too, since it is one of the most popular locations for all kinds of extreme snowboarding flicks. We made a mental note to memorize its most dramatic and death-defying chutes and jumps and try to seek out snowboard films when we got home.
We left the slopes around 3:30 to head to the airport and found ourselves in California in time to take the dog for a walk before easing our burning legs into bed. But no matter where you live, Utah is worth the trip. Its easy accessibility from airport to slopes, thousands of acres to ski between seven Salt Lake area resorts, and a multitude of family amenities put it on a par with the premiere destination resorts in other parts of the Rockies and North America.
And, if you sneak off to some of these quieter resorts, you just might have the place to yourselves.
Skiable acres: 850
Vertical drop: 1745 feet
2008-2009 All-Day Lift Tickets: Adults $58, kids 7-12: $25, 6 and under are free. Full-Day Ski and Snowboard School (ages 4-12): $100.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.