People that live in Salt Lake City believe that Park City is just another suburb of Salt Lake. The locals that live in Park City know that’s simply not true. And so it goes, the endless debate (and rivalry) on which town/city is better to live in. Either Park City, where the mountains are at your fingertips because you live in the mountains, or Salt Lake City that sits right at the foot of the beautiful Wasatch Front Mountains. And through this series of posts, I hope to help those that are looking to move out west to Utah, on which place they will find the best outdoor adventures. Spoiler alert, no matter which place you choose, I can all but guarantee you won’t regret it! I moved out to Utah in 2018, first lived in downtown Salt Lake City, then moved up to Park City, where I have been ever since.
For the purpose of this debate, I am associating Big Cottonwood Canyon, Little Cottonwood Canyon, and Millcreek Canyon as a part of Salt Lake City (since everyone else does).
Salt Lake City
SLC undeniably has some of the most incredible ski resorts in the world. Home to Alta & Snowbird in Little Cottonwood Canyon and Brighton & Solitude in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Winter snow totals at these resorts reach amounts of over 500″ in an average winter. The terrain here is staggeringly beautiful and challenging. Steep lines, deep powder, and long descents down groomed runs. Snowbird has the iconic Fields of Glory and Mineral Basin. Alta’s High Rustler and runs off High Traverse will be sure to test the best skiers. Brighton’s Mary Chutes and runs off Great Western Express are where you can find some of the deepest snow. Last but not least by any means, Solitude has a great mix of steep terrain under Honeycomb Cliffs and Eagle Ridge. All in all, these Cottonwood Resorts have an epic amount of challenging terrain (and mellow groomers) for skiers of all abilities. But I will state that it does tend to lean towards the more proficient skiers and snowboarders if I’m being honest.
Of course, with this much good, has to have a downside. And the downside is the horrible traffic on a powder day. The Cottonwoods have been overrun almost entirely due to the IKON pass. Traffic jams going up to the resorts due to volume and plowing the roads can take anywhere from 1-4 hours. And after a long day, the traffic to leave the packed resorts can be equally as bad. The other downside of the Cottonwoods is the distance from town. Staying up at the resorts is staggeringly expensive, and there really is no nightlife at the ski resorts. Most people stay in Salt Lake City when they come to ski, which means you’ll have to fight that same traffic I previously mentioned.
Beyond just the actual skiing, of course, there is the culture and “vibe” to each of the ski resorts. Alta tends to be more a local scene with an unfortunate amount of localism taking place. Snowbird is almost exclusively tourists traveling from the east coast. Brighton is a snowboarders’ heaven, and trends more on the younger riders side. And lastly is Solitude, is where nearly everyone goes, simply because the IKON pass allows for unlimited skiing all year.
The town sits right in the valley of three world-class ski resorts sprawling across the Wasatch Back. Home to Park City Resort (broken up into Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons Resort), Deer Valley, and Woodward Park City. Park City Resort is the largest ski resort in the united states, and has amazing terrain for every single level of skier. Both the IKON and EPIC ski passes service the Park City side of the Wasatch, which tends to benefit every skier and snowboarder.
PC has so much terrain that it’ll take a full season to really ski it all, and I’ve written extensively about it here. The best lifts to access the most difficult terrain at Park City are going to be Jupiter, McConkey’s Express, and actually the Quicksilver Gondola. The best zones off Jupiter Peak from McConkey’s and Jupiter are The Chutes, Pinyon Ridge, and West Face off Jupiter Peak and the entire bowl and ridge off Jupiter are steep and challenging. Runs off Jupiter Peak will require hiking from either side. And speaking of hiking, if you want to tour/hike to get to some of the most untouched powder at the resort, hike from the mid-station of Quick Silver Gondola up Pinecone Ridge to countless steep runs.
The best lifts to access the most difficult terrain on the Canyons side are Ninety-Nine 90 Express, Peak 5, and Super Condor Express. Ninety-Nine 90 has steep, cliff runs off both sides of the ridge, but the Red Pine Chutes are the best and 94 turns is the perfect run for a deep pow day. Peak 5 has amazing steep tree runs that drain into Dutch Draw. Lastly, Super Condor Express is the best lift on a crowded day to access steep, rocky lines off the ridge like Lone Pine and Yard Sale. But the best area off this lift is the hike up to Murdock Peak for perpetually, untouched powder runs down a steep, open bowl.
Deer Valley is infamous for it’s high-end quality of 100% groomed runs each day and top of the line apres ski. The groomers here are undeniably some of the best in Utah, but steep tree runs and the Daily Chutes are also where skiers can really challenge themselves. Woodward is home to every local teenager bound for olympic glory for freestyle skiing. Admittedly, I try to stay away from terrain parks these days, but if that’s what you’re into, its a no brainer, especially for how cheap (relatively speaking) the lift tickets are.
Of course, this side of the mountain receives about half the snowfall as the Salt Lake resorts, and the mountains are not as steep, but the Park City side does not have nearly the traffic problem as the Salt Lake resorts. When you live in town, you can take a free public transit bus anywhere in town and avoid all the traffic problems entirely! Plus, it usually only takes 10-20 minutes to get on the hill to ski, from anywhere in town. Which ties in perfectly for those looking to stay in town on vacation. Anwhere you stay, you’ll have quick access to not only the mountain, but the incredible nightlife in Park City during the winter months. This is a much friendlier option for families looking to do as little driving as possible while on vacation. The culture and vibe that surrounds Park City’s resorts can be summed somewhere between, opulence and family-friendly. But it’s really too big of a resort for that to affect anything.
Winner Is: Salt Lake City
Despite the traffic, the there is no better place to be on a Pow-Day than in the Cottonwoods!
Hi there, my name is Zachary Kenney and I’m an adventure filmmaker & photographer. My passion is to tell stories that will hopefully motivate you to go live a more adventurous life. Whether that is to experience the view from the summit of a mountain, or wandering through a new town on a road trip. Currently based out of Park City, UT.