Salt Lake City: Two Vacations in One

By Maggie Franz

A friend of mine from New York once said about Salt Lake City, "We've got Switzerland in America and nobody is talking about it!”

And while SLC and the Alps may have their subtle differences, she's not necessarily wrong. For generations, people have flocked to the best snow on earth to enjoy the powder wonderland of Salt Lake’s four world-class resorts. But there’s one detail about skiing here that gets about as much attention as locals probably want (read: not enough):

When you take a trip to Salt Lake, you’re effectively getting two vacations for the price of one.
You can be knee-deep in powder at 4 p.m. and courtside at a Utah Jazz game — showered, dinnered and in a brand new outfit — by 6 p.m.

From the airport, it’s a 40-minute Uber, car, or cab ride to some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world, and a measly 30 minutes from the ski resorts back into the heart of Ski City. Beat that, Denver.

Four resorts in two canyons about five minutes from each other. No matter how you ride, Alta, Brighton, Snowbird, and Solitude have something for you and your whole crew.

Allow us to introduce you to the first half of your Salt Lake ski vacation.

LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON

Usually the one with more snow and better powder, Little Cottonwood Canyon dishes up big mountain terrain at either of its resorts — meaning its median run is a little more difficult. But if you’ve got the chops, it’s probably more fun, too.

Alta

Locals really shouldn’t play favorites, but Alta is basically the golden child of resorts. The snow is good, the crowds are thin, and the feel is classic. The powder and terrain are world-renowned, but it still operates like your hometown resort, and the locals can’t resist. Sorry, boarders, this resort is for skiers only. It’s a love/hate situation in the community. Take note, things not to bring up in conversation with the locals: politics, religion and Alta’s no-snowboarding policy.

Snowbird

Just down the block from Alta, Snowbird has the same incredible powder, but it’s the exhibitionist younger sibling with deeper pockets (i.e., you’ll find state-of-the-art equipment and pristine lodges). And snowboarders, rejoice! Snowbird welcomes all downhill enthusiasts to shred together in kumbaya harmony.

BIG COTTONWOOD CANYON

Big Cottonwood Canyon is right next door to its little sister canyon, and the snow shares the same genetic disposition. Canyon to canyon, snowfall differs only by inches, and Big Cottonwood is still top of its class nationally. Brighton and Solitude resorts are known for some of the best trick, backcountry, and classic skiing you can find.

Brighton

Are you ready to have some fun? If heaven turns out to be a ski park, it will be a resurrected Brighton. Brighton’s celestial terrain is filled with jumps, ramps, rails and runs that will keep you entertained for eternity. Don’t let the longer lines fool you. Like Snowbird, Brighton’s pockets go deep so your rides up the mountain are wicked fast on shiny new lifts.

Solitude

Obviously the least crowded — because “Solitude.” It might just be your favorite of the four. It quietly lures you in with its unassuming beauty and charm, and treats you like one of the family. Welcome home.

So how will you choose? YOU DON’T HAVE TO. These incredible resorts set aside their differences and have come together to create one Super Pass that allows participants to ski or snowboard any of the four resorts. And if that’s not enough to set your snow pants on fire, you get 40% off your rental gear with the Super Pass. Don’t even bother figuring out the “odd-size baggage” rules with your airline. Traveling just got a lot lighter.

Once you’ve paid sufficient respect to the powder gods, it’s just a quick, 30-minute shuttle down to the city where you can shop, eat, and explore your heart out. And that brings us to the other side of heaven: The Salt Lake City urban life, where the city is as colorful as the mountains are white.

TO SEE

Natural History Museum

Salt Lake completed this architectural beauty in 2011, and its charm is more than skin-deep. The museum houses the bones of some fantastic prehistoric creatures and provides visitors with a comprehensive geological education about Utah. It’ll take your breath away if you’re 8 or 80.

Temple Square

Of course. Don’t miss this iconic Mormon site in the heart of the city. You’ll enjoy walking the well-manicured grounds any time of year. Their Christmas lights are legendary.

Kennecott Copper Mine

I took way too long to get my first look at the West’s industrial roots in the half-mile-deep Kennecott Copper Mine, which sits quietly on the left border of the Wasatch Front.

Capitol Theater

Salt Lake’s dancers, actors, and musicians put on a heck of a show, and there’s usually a Broadway show to catch at the classic (and gorgeous) Capitol Theater.

TO SHOP

Salt Lake’s downtown has all the shops you could want at City Creek Center, from Nordstrom to Tiffany’s to Brooks Brothers. In addition to dazzling storefronts, there’s a charming creek that runs through the partially outdoor mall to remind you that you’re in a city that always gives a nod to Mother Nature.

TO EAT

The Salt Lake City food scene has embraced its local roots and branched off into a burgeoning foodie scene that rivals any big city cuisine. Copper Onion is downtown and serves upscale American dishes (and the best burger I’ve had in my life). And then there’s Forage, a fine-dining experience founded by Viet Pham, a Food Network star and Food & Wine’s Best New Chef in 2011. Other downtown restaurants you should try: Avenues Proper, Current, Finca and Pallet.

AND AFTER ALL THAT

Believe it or not, Salt Lake doesn’t go to bed at 9 p.m. Our nightlife not only exists, it’s thriving. Great food and drinks at Copper Common, as well as at local brewpubs like Squatters, Red Rock and Bohemian. Salt Lake has become a regular stop for touring musicians, too, from YouTube-breakers (Taylor Swift! Aaaaaaaaaah!) to blog-only anti-stars (Moonface played The State Room and I can’t believe I missed it).

This list just scratches the surface, but it gives you a glimpse at the diversity Salt Lake City and its mountains have to offer. So whether you’re a ski bum, a daytime dweller, a creature of the night or all three, you can actually have it all, as they say, with a trip to one of the greatest cities in the world. And if you don’t believe me, you can take Phil Dunphy’s word for it.

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