Utah Resort Roundup: What kind of vacation do I want?

With over a dozen ski resorts to choose from, Utah visitors often ask, “Where should I go?” With a straight face, locals will reply, “Where the snow is.” Yes, Utahns have a sense of humor, but we take snow sports and the outdoors seriously and have very strong opinions about where to go and when. Getting to Utah resorts is easy. Most resorts are within an hour’s drive of Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC), others are a morning jaunt from Las Vegas (LAS). (Read: Utah’s Easy Access.)

So, the big question is, “What kind of vacation do I want?”

If you’re reading this article, then you’re wondering, “What’s beyond Park City?” The eponymous resort and its next-door neighbor, Deer Valley, are Utah’s best-known and most-lauded attracting thousands of skiers annually, and while Utah locals love the turkey chili at Deer Valley and Park City’s McConkey’s Bowl, we have other favorite places, too, depending on where we are, what we’re in the mood for and who is coming with us.

You can have it all at without the crowds at Sundance Resort. Photo: Adam Clark

For world-class slopes without the crowds, Salt Lake locals make the short drive 45 minutes north to the bucolic Ogden Valley. Only in a state where there are so many great resorts could this place — with towns literally called Eden and Paradise — be hidden in plain sight. Home to the ritzy Snowbasin, venue for the 2002 Olympic alpine skiing events, family-friendly Nordic Valley, if-Austin-was-a-ski-resort Powder Mountain and the new backcountry hideaway Whisper Ridge, Ogden Valley offers some of the country’s best skiing, snowboarding, Nordic skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, ice fishing and just about any this else you can think of in the most laid-back atmosphere. This is a great choice for families and powderhounds looking for a place to connect with one another and disconnect from everything else. There are fewer restaurants than its urban or trendy cousins, and the best nightlife is viewing the cosmos at North Fork State Park, an IDA-accredited International Dark Sky Park, but Utah’s oldest bar, The Shooting Star Saloon, and one of the state’s premium distilleries, New World, are nearby allowing folks from all over to swap tales of who had the best run of the day.

Take a detour from Vegas and place your bets on Eagle Point. Photo: Adam Clark

Explore the Olympic Legacy at Snowbasin. Photo: Adam Clark

If you want a more romantic getaway complete with skiing, hiking, dining and even film screening options (honey, if you’re reading this before Valentine’s Day ... ), then Sundance Mountain Resort near Provo is a great choice. Perched on the back of Mount Timpanogos, the giant, flat-topped behemoth visible from as far away as Park City and the Cottonwoods, Sundance is an intimate resort featuring a base area surrounded by trees and ponds and cabins (and great food and wine) that absolutely define “rustic elegance.” Yes, the skiing is great, too, but Sundance is so ridiculously beautiful, you’ll be blown away just riding the lift.

For those that want the best snow in the West but are overwhelmed by … everything, then let go and live like a local. The Salt Lake City metropolitan area is the home to almost a million people who work, learn, eat, drink and play here — and not necessarily in that order. After dropping the kids at school, parents can sneak in a few runs at Snowbird, Alta, Brighton and Solitude (no, of course, no one tells the kids), enjoy a great meal at The Copper Kitchen, head to the Opera, grab drinks at Prohibition, ice skate at Gallivan Center and then crash before doing it all again (yes, this is the most ridiculous lifestyle). Located in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, these resorts are the closest to SLC airport, a Delta Air Lines hub with direct flights to everywhere. Even haters agree the Cottonwoods have the deepest snow and the longest season, and with ski-in, Airbnb and hotel options all over the metro area (time to cash in those Marriott points), lodging is plentiful and very affordable. This is the turn-key, last-minute, I-can’t-believe-I-didn’t-do-this-before vacation. This is also how many decide to move to Utah (if you’re scrunching up your nose thinking, “Really,” then you obviously haven’t been here).

Big snow fall in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Photo: Adam Clark

For those that want to ski and do a lot of other things, then look to Southern Utah, home to Brian Head and Eagle Point resorts as well as Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks. Only three hours north of Las Vegas (which often has the cheapest flights to anywhere, anytime) or four hours south of Salt Lake, these resorts make the most of the region’s otherworldly terrain (seriously, the place looks like the set for a sci-fi movie). What many visitors don’t realize is that Brian Head’s summit is over 10k feet making it one of the highest ski resorts and base areas in the state and the beneficiary of southwestern storms (read: powder). Coupled with the nearby desert oasis of St. George, Southern Utah is a popular warm-weather destination for golfers, hikers, mountain bikers and sun lovers of all ages (skiing + golfing + hiking in one day = The Utah Hat Trick). Salt Lake residents routinely head to St. George for a weekend to thaw out but can’t resist the great skiing and BBQ at Brian Head or the legitimately undiscovered slopes of Eagle Mountain on the way home. So, if you can’t decide or can’t agree on what to do for your holiday, then choose Southern Utah and make everyone happy.

The bottom line is that before settling on a destination, think about what type of experience you, your family or friends dream about. Utah has choices to fit everyone, every timeframe and every budget. If you need more inspiration and itineraries (yes, actual itineraries), check visitutah.com for ski planning tips and articles. Sorry, it doesn’t have home listings.

Paula Colman

Paula Colman is a recovering attorney and practicing parent and, because her family supports her passion to hike, mountain bike, ski and write about all of her adventures in Utah, probably qualifies as a sponsored athlete, as well. You can follow her on Instagram (@harpo_utah).

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