Over the past two years, Sundance Mountain Resort has quietly undergone a major overhaul that has smoothed the flow for skiers and riders around the 467-acre mountain.
Nestled in the southern tier of the Wasatch Mountains, this summer Sundance installed its third new chairlift in two years, and cut new trails for 40 acres of brand-new novice/intermediate terrain. Located at mid-mountain on a southern wing of the trail map, the Wildwood area has a new fixed-grip quad that delivers skiers and 'boarders in five minutes to some 10 new blue and green trails.
The new Wildwood section fits conveniently at the top of Jake's Lift that serves the bulk of the green and blue runs on the lower, front half of Sundance. From the top of the chair, skiers and riders have another way to get to the mountain's backside Flathead chair (reportedly slated to be Sundance's next new chair soon) and all its black chutes and bowls.
Since actor Robert Redford sold the resort in 2020, the new ownership has poured cash onto the mountain and into the base area. Formerly all fixed-grip chairs, Sundance now has a high-speed Outlaw that reaches to the false summit on the front side, and a short, 1,000-foot Stairway triple that simplified getting from the front to the back -- and opens up about 15 acres of modest terrain as well.
Down below, the base lodge has gotten a remodel, and a trio of carpet lifts went in for a dedicated beginner area. There's more room for parking, and a higher capacity of snowmaking -- all aimed to make Sundance a more efficient and easy-to-use mountain.
Ticket-wise, Sundance is a partner with the Power Pass and its three-day reciprocal lift tickets with the southwest Colorado-based consortium of eight resorts, including Utah's Nordic Valley.
The 16 ski and snowboard resorts in Utah now welcome millions to their slopes every winter. The vast majority of them either head up the Cottonwood canyons to Alta, Snowbird, Solitude or Brighton, or hop on I-80 in Salt Lake for the half-hour drive to Park City and Deer Valley.
In essence, the 2,150 vertical feet and 515 acres of skiing and riding at Sundance seems to slip beneath the radar of most Utahns and visitors who flock to the state for its "greatest snow on earth." Yet it's only 50-minute drive from Salt Lake to Provo and then up into the hills to Sundance.
Early-season snowfall, especially along the southern tier of the Rockies, has coupled with snowmaking temperatures to get a quartet of high-country ski and snowboard mountains to start spinning their lifts.
Utah's southernmost resort Brian Head kicked off the Beehive State's winter season the first weekend in November. For its second-earliest opening on record, the resort's upgraded Navajo Express -- more four-seat chairs on the cable -- handles the load for the first couple of weekends before daily operations begin on Nov. 18.
Snowmaking got a production upgrade this summer, as owners Mountain Capital Partners (MCP) continue to put money into its latest acquisition. Kids 12 and under ski and ride for free, all the time and at all eight MCP resorts, with the Kids Power Pass.
In southern Colorado, powder-king Wolf Creek wants its folks to move more easier around its 1,600 acres. To do so, the day-trip resort has installed RFID gates at six of its 10 lifts so that tickets can be read in the skier's parka pocket.
The Alberta chair has long been the best way to get to Wolf Creek's most prolific powder stashes, but it took a couple of lift rides to get to. This season, there's a traverse from the lower parking lot to the Alberta chair base with an RFID printer so that skiers and riders can set up for a powder day without going to the main ticket office or riding another chair.
Northward, Winter Park moved up its opening date to Oct. 31 -- its earliest opening ever. Experts and powderhounds will be happy as mountain managers have opened two areas of steeps. At the far end of the Vasquez Cirque, a section known as "Jelly Roll" for its rolly-polly terrain is now accessible. And, over on Mary Jane far side, more room for steep-and-deep as avalanche-controlled chutes on "Powder Field" will increase access between Trestle and double-diamond The Chutes.
And farther up the Continental Divide, Loveland loyalists began skiing and riding on Nov. 4, and will soon hop on an expanded Chair 6 to get more quickly into the blues, greens and terrain parks on the south flank of the 1,800-acre mountain.
After a replacement of the upper basin Supreme chair last season, the backside Albion Basin side of Alta continues to be revamped. This season, a new high-speed six-pack is expected to replace the fixed-grip Sunnyside chair at the Ikon Pass partner resort, although supply-chain slowdown may delay its opening.
The new chair will both deliver skiers and riders more quickly into the basin's network of novice green-rated trails, and provide back-door access to the chutes and bowls off Supreme and Sugarloaf lifts. Concurrently, the old Albion chair has come down.
The Corkscrew trail on Collins side has been widened, more avalanche control towers put in on the East Castle high ground, and more snowmaking has gone at Wildcat base.
In a continuing effort to reduce traffic in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Alta will require an online parking reservation for Friday-Sunday for $25.
In neighboring Big Cottonwood Canyon, Solitude turned its attention to the first terrain park on the mountain. Summer crews installed two groups of boxes, rails and other features. A beginner-level park will sit on upper Main Street, accessed off either Apex Express or Moonbeam chairs. And, a more advanced park can be had on the steeper North Star trail, served by the Sunrise chair. An Ikon Pass gives unlimited skiing and riding at Solitude.
Over at Deer Valley, a new short-line Burns Express chair has gone in to join the main base Snow Park teaching area with the greens and blues of lower Little Baldy Mountain. Linking to the Deer Hollow green trail, the new lift will also make it easier to move from the Jordanelle Gondola base to the main mountain. Deer Valley is a seven-day Ikon Pass partner.
Next door at Park City Mountain, owner Vail Resorts (Epic Pass) has paused on major projects for this summer. Instead, the Canyons base Red Tail Grill has gotten a new deck. To reduce crowding, the resort will limit day ticket sales and continue paid parking.
Cooler nighttime temperatures has led to aggressive snowmaking at Arapahoe Basin, so much so that the high-altitude Colorado mountain loaded its first skiers and snowboarders on Sunday, Oct. 23.
Eager skiers and riders get to head up on high-speed chairlift, the Black Mountain Express, and make the first turns of the season on blue-rated High Noon on the lower half of the mountain.
"The time has come," said A-Basin chief Alan Henceroth. "The snowmakers and 'cat drivers have done a tremendous job, and the forecast for the coming week looks outstanding."
Last year's early-opening winner, Wolf Creek, is expected to get a double-digit dump out of this storm. The mountain perched on the Continental Divide is on track to open as scheduled on Oct. 29.
Indeed, warm fall weather is predicted to turn dramatically in the coming weeks all over the West. Forecasting service OpenSnow saying that mountains in Utah should begin to fill up, with Alta and Snowbird with more than a foot. Southern Colorado should get significant snowfalls on the first weekend of the season, but most will wait to open until November.
In the week following, OpenSnow predicts small but steady buildup at most mountains in the West. Expect Loveland and Keystone in Colorado to begin spinning lifts for the 2022-2023 season before the end of October.
However, the ski-focused forecaster indicates that snowfall will cease toward the end of the month, so skiers and 'boarders shouldn't look for many slopes to open before announced dates.
Depending upon location, night temperatures should stay cold enough for snow guns to shoot a base onto their slopes and trails. But mountain managers note that day temperatures can't rise too much without melting some of the overnight coverage.
Taking the whole family to ski and ride in the West can be a pricey undertaking, so a number of states have "kids passport programs" that allow schoolchildren from any state to get free passes.
Each program limits the number of free days and has a one-time processing fee. All have blackout periods. They require a pre-application, and some require kids to show proof of age and school, so check websites listed here for specifics.
The digital Colorado Kids Ski Pass is accepted at 20 of the state's mountains, including all four Aspen mountains, Winter Park, Copper Mountain and Steamboat. For $59 fee and completion of online application, school kids in grades 3-6 get four days at each participating resort.
The five Colorado resorts owned by Vail Resorts (plus Park City in Utah) aren't including in this program, but they have their own Epic Schoolkids Pass. However, the deadline for application is Oct. 9.
In Utah, SkiUtah issues its passport for those in grades 4 through 6. For $49, youngsters can ski and ride three days at all 15 mountains in Utah, including Woodward Park City (lift ticket only). The passport must be purchased online, including current photo. Then, show it plus proof of name and date of birth at ticket window to get a lift ticket. (Park City has specific locations for redemption.)
Ski Idaho has gone all in for kids' passports. Seventeen of the state's mountains welcome 5th graders for three free days and 6th graders for two during this season. Online applications at $18 processing fee gets a printed or smart phone passport. With parent or guardian present, kids merely show the passport to get a free lift ticket.
And in Washington, the Fifth Grade Passport costs $20 and gets youngsters onto five of the state's mountains for three days free. Apply online and get an e-mail passport to show at the ticket window of Loup Loup, Mt. Spokane, Lookout Pass, Silver Mountain and 49 Degrees North.
Most mountains in the West give free tickets for the very young -- six years old or younger -- but a few ramp it up. A Power Kids Pass from Southwest regional Power Pass can be picked up at any of eight resorts in the Southwest (and now, Willamette Pass in Oregon) for free skiing all season.
And California's June Mountain also lets kids 12 and under ski and ride for free. Parents need to show up at the ticket window with the child.
With opening dates on the horizon, crews at many resorts in the West have been testing snow guns -- and looking longingly to the skies -- in hopes of putting down a base of snow in October.
Most ski and snowboard resorts have announced their anticipated opening days, although persistent warm weather in some regions may have something to say about that. A frequent check of resort websites is recommended.
However, hints of winter whiff the air and the high-country leaves are turning, so it's time to haul skis and snowboards out of storage and get them ready for the season.
The informal race to be the first to open in the nation falls upon the highest-elevation mountains along the spine of the Colorado Rockies. Traditionally, it's been Arapahoe Basin, Keystone and Loveland that vie for the title, but Wolf Creek surreptitiously snuck in last season by firing up its chairlifts on Oct. 16.
This year -- if official dates are to be believed -- Keystone will lead the pack by opening on Oct. 21, followed by Arapahoe Basin on Oct. 22, and Loveland and Wolf Creek on Oct. 29.
In California, 7,700-foot-high Boreal on Donner Pass is optimistic to begin on Oct. 28, while Mammoth Mountain plans to be in second place with an Nov. 11 opening. Tahoe's Heavenly has penciled in Nov. 18 for its first chairs.
Despite having middle-of-the-pack summit elevation, Lookout Pass (5,650 feet) on the border of Idaho and Montana has pushed its first day all the way up to Nov. 6 -- a full two weeks ahead of its previous earliest opening. Schweitzer, Sun Valley and Tamarack all plan to follow later in the month.
Skiers and riders in Washington will have to wait until December for Stevens Pass (Dec. 2) and 49 Degrees North (Dec. 3), while Oregonians will have to bide their time until Mt. Hood Meadows and Timberline (Dec. 11). Mt. Bachelor expects to follow close behind on Dec. 12.
In New Mexico, Sipapu has had a lock on first-to-open in recent seasons. For 2022-2023, the family resort tucked into the Sangre de Cristos has tabbed Nov. 18 to begin spinning its lifts.
After three years of study, a formal environmental review and some 14,000 public comments, the Utah DOT has selected a gondola to load in Sandy, travel 8 miles up the canyon, and make stops at each of the two resorts as the best chance to reduce ski traffic and air pollution the tight canyon in the Wasatch Front just above Salt Lake City.
Much needs to be accomplished before the first lift tower starts to go up. Most significantly is that the Utah state legislature must appropriate funds for the construction project, which is estimated to be at least $500 million. That is likely to take several legislative sessions to sort out.
In the meantime, UDOT will enhance bus transport in the canyon -- a first step in a phased approach to lingering traffic problems in the canyon. Those phases also include mobility hubs, parking improvements and tolling.
The state transportation agency said it selected the gondola option over a road-widening option for dedicated bus lanes because the gondola would be a long-term solution to ever-growing traffic congestion. Plans call for 35-seat cabins going up and down the canyon at two-minute intervals.
Anti-gondola groups have said that phasing prior to allocating millions for a gondola might convince more skiers and riders to take public transportation to the two resorts four miles up State Route 210 -- perhaps rendering the gondola moot.
Because of the volume of skiers and riders driving up the canyon, parking has been an issue for many years, because the steep canyon restricts parking capacities to the tight base areas. Both resorts strongly encourage taking free buses from Sandy, and they also give parking preferences to those who carpool.
Snowbird was the first to require reservations through a "hybrid" system. To get one of 2,800 spots, there's a preferred parking season pass, a daily paid reservation system, valet parking for a fee, free carpooling lots (at least 4 per vehicle), and free lots that mean a bit more of a hump to get to the lifts.
Alta followed with a parking reservation system online. Those choosing to drive up the canyon to Alta have had to reserve a spot before heading up.
At least a dozen ski and snowboard resorts in six states in the West have strung ziplines at or near the mountain to augment their offerings during the summer months.
In New Mexico, Angel Fire put its zipline network at the summit, with broad views of Sangre de Cristo Range. Guide-required for four-zip tour with six people max. Tours run every hour until 1 p.m, Friday-Monday.
Neighbor Red Riverloads two-seat Pioneer Flyer for backwards pull up to 600 feet elevation. A short pause for viewing, and then pairs are released for 35-mph free-ride back down. A shorter zip ride is incorporated into Hidden Treasure Aerial Park.
A couple of Colorado mountain resorts have ziplines at the mountain. Vail's on-mountain Epic Discovery Park incorporates a kids-only zipline -- about 10 feet in the air -- among its adventure package.
Utah is home to one of the world's highest and longest ziplines, at Sundance Mountain Resort. Tucked up above Provo, the Sundance Zip has four spans with side-by-side cables that total two miles in length. And, you drop 2,100 vertical feet with control of speeds up to 65 mph -- with mid-air stops, too.
Above Salt Lake City, zipliners climb a 50-foot tower at the base of Snowbirdand reach 30 mph on side-by-side cables, landing on the deck of the tramway building. The ride is 1,000 feet long on a 15% grade.
Over in Idaho, Zip Tamarackruns four tours a day for a max of eight people, which lasts four hours. Each tour hooks onto eight ziplines with two suspension bridges interspersed -- plus a total of 1.5 miles of downhill hiking between platforms.
In California, Heavenly Mountainhas several ziplines on the hill. The rock-star zip is Blue Streak, one of the longest at 3,300 feet with a 525-foot vertical drop. Speeds reach 50 mph. The nearby Heavenly Flyer also reaches 50 mph as it skims the tree tops on an 80-second ride. And, an introductory ride can be had on the Red Flyer, which goes 100 feet at 15 feet above the ground.
And at Mt. Hood SkiBowl in Oregon, the resort has set up an aerial park the in air above the base area that includes an 800-foot long zipline. It's open Thursday to Sunday.
Many other resorts in the West sit near independent zipline operations, like Ski Cooper, Palisades Tahoe and Big Bear.
The seasonal gears have shifted, and Utah's 14 winter resorts are in full-on summer mode with everything from disc golf to mountain biking to riding atop a tramway car in the offing.
Resorts' emphasis on summertime activities continues to grow in the Beehive State, as locals and visitors more and more look to the mountains for exercise and enjoyment. Most mountains keep restaurants open during the offseason. In addition, concerts, workshops, themed festivals and competitions can be found on all around the mountains. And wildflower viewing is always worth the ride into the hills.
A few resorts are open seven days a week, but most open up only for several days around the weekend during the warm offseason. Four Utah resorts won't run chairlifts this summer; instead, Brighton, Cherry Peak and Beaver Mountain highlight hiking and biking trails as mountain getaways, and Alta again focuses on environmental projects.
Snowbird caught the headlines with its rooftop tram ride this summer. One of the two cars on Utah's only tramway will have limited space on top, and floor-to-ceiling windows inside. The base area will be busy, with slides and coaster and all manner of climbing challenges.
Powder Mountain opens a new downhill MTB park served by the Hidden Express chair. To limit crowds, day tickets will cap at 250, and only 500 summer season passes will be sold.
Park City Mountain debuts a new golf course at Canyons Village. Many of the fairways run on winter ski trails, and the course elevation rises and falls throughout. Three lifts bring MTBers to mountain tracks.
A new beginner MTB track is in the works at Solitude, which now is open Thursday-Sunday. Also debuting are climbing wall, bungee trampoline and mini-disc golf.
On the southern terminus of the Wasatch, Sundance brings beginner-flow and intermediate level MTB tracks online. And, of course, the resort's renowned high and long ziplines are due to attract the adventurous crowd.
At Snowbasin, there are 26 miles of hiking and biking trails off the Needles Gondola -- dogs always welcome. And, the northern Utah resort welcomes the return of the live Brews, Blues & Barbecue summer music series.
And, classical music aficionados will once again get to listen to the Utah Symphony's concert series under the evening skies at Deer Valley.
In southern Utah, the focus is on the hardiest athletes, with Eagle Point's Crusher in the Tushars and Tushar Mountain Runs in July, and Brian Head's Women's Epic Race and Brian Shredder downhill MTB race in June.
The usual suspects will extend the 2021-2022 ski and snowboard season through May and beyond, as a flurry of late-season storms has reinforced the snowpack throughout the West.
It's going to be a busy construction season this summer at the Wasatch Range ski and snowboard resorts, as five new-replacement chairlifts go in, and the only tramway in Utah gets new cabins.
Montana's Red Lodge Mountain, popular with snowsports enthusiasts on the western side of the Heartland, has announced they are beginning an improvement plan to upgrade the ski area's lift service to the lower mountain and improve the learning area terrain.
Hawa and Ahmed Dahir spent most of their lives in Salt Lake City, their parents moved from Somalia to the U.S. in 1998, when they were both toddlers.
With prices for 2022-23 comparable to recent seasons, the two-days-each Mountain Collective ski and snowboard pass returns with a shuffled resort lineup that includes two big mountains in the West coming back to the fold.
The Southwest Rockies' multi-mountain ski and snowboard season pass is on sale, as the Power Pass focuses on its seven winter resorts -- and a year-round mountain biking destination in Texas.
From the mighty to the sublime, this road trip in northern Utah grabs a couple of Indy Pass days at Beaver Mountain and Powder Mountain that, despite their vast difference in size, both operate in quiet, unpretentious seclusion in the northern extent of the Wasatch Range.
In an effort to cut air pollution, all bus rides will be free across Utah's Wasatch Front until the end of February -- making it free to ride up to the slopes from Sundance to Snowbasin and five in between.
If standing in lift lines is getting you down, turn on your night light and go skiing and riding at half of Utah's 14 resorts.
Getting kids on skis;as early as possible can be rewarding for a lifetime of skiing. But planning a ski trip — especially with kids in tow — isn’t as easy as just picking up and going. Instead of just “following the snow,” you’ll want to pick a ski mountain that truly caters to kids — one that offers top-notch ski lessons, kid-friendly trails and many off-the-snow activities as well.