Road-Tripping and Mountain-Shredding in Utah

27 June 2016
Read Time: 3.2 mins

Torn between road-tripping the USA or a ski trip for your next holiday? Never fear, you can combine the two with a surprisingly easy ski holiday in Utah. Fly into Salt Lake City – aka Ski City – and you’re less than an hour from no fewer than four top-notch resorts with incredible snow.

In fact, there are 14 ski resorts dotted about this western US state, which is so proud of its powder that it has trademarked it The Greatest Snow on Earth (don’t bring that up in Colorado!). And with an average 1,270 centimetres of the stuff falling each year, it’s the perfect place for powder hounds.

 Salt Lake City twinkles at twilight, with snow-capped peaks in the background. So close – Salt Lake City is under an hour from the snow. Picture: Getty Images

Thrills and Chills in Ski City Resorts

The Ski City resorts include Alta, Brighton, Snowbird and Solitude Mountain Resort, and you can ski them all in a single trip. It’s possible to drive between them, and you can even get there on the public transit system.

Hit Alta Ski Area for pure, unspoiled skiing over 890 skiable hectares and more than 116 runs, with a hefty dose of nostalgia thrown in – it’s one of America’s oldest ski resorts, after all. While known for its expert powder slopes and challenging terrain, it is also good for beginners and intermediate skiers. Season is roughly November to April.

The 425-hectare Brighton Ski Resort has long been known for value skiing and snowboarding, with 66 runs, three terrain parks, a respected ski school and superb grooming. It also has a girls-only terrain park, and is known as Salt Lake’s friendliest mountain. Season is mid-November to mid-April.

A skier kicks up powder on a blue-sky day at Snowbird ski resort in Utah. The Greatest Snow on Earth? You decide at Snowbird. Picture: Getty Images

Snowbird has Utah’s longest ski season, often opening before Thanksgiving in November and not closing until after Memorial Day in May. It holds heaps of thrills for avid skiers and snowboarders, with wide-open bowls, steep chutes and long, sustained runs; as well as options for beginner and intermediate skiers among its 1,012 skiable hectares. Try the 120-passenger Aerial Tram to Hidden Peak at 3,350 metres above sea level for a jaw-dropping view.

And Solitude means what it says: solitude. The resort is known for its peaceful setting, with short lift lines and no crowds. It has plenty of skiing over 77 runs, three bowls and 485 hectares of terrain, along with a Nordic Skiing and Nordic Center, encompassing 20 kilometres of trails for classic and skating styles of Nordic skiing. Season is November to April.

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Canyons and Arches in the Big 5

When you’ve had your fill of skiing – as if that’s possible – it’s only a two or three-hour drive south and you’re in a landscape of a very different kind, red canyons yawning away before you, hoodoos and rock arches towering above. Winter is a great time to visit, as it’s not as hot and you miss the summer crowds.

Flight Centre travel expert Andrew Noble visited recently and said the contrast of going from -10C on the slopes to 15C in a T-shirt in the national parks in such a short space of time was a highlight.

Utah has a sterling set of ‘Big 5’ national parks to explore in the form of Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion. And with the US National Park Service celebrating its 100th birthday this year, now is a great time to think about visiting.

 Balanced Rock defies gravity in Arches National Park. Picture: Getty Images Balanced Rock defies gravity in Arches National Park. Picture: Getty Images

Arches National Park is one of the top national parks in the US – with 29,637 hectares of sandstone towers, balancing rocks and more than 2,000 arches. Landscape Arch, with a span of 93 metres, is the second-longest span in the world, while Delicate Arch is an icon of the area. From the main road, you can clap your eyes on Balanced Rock, which is the size of three school buses.

Canyonlands National Park, meanwhile, is full of deep canyons, formed by tributaries of the Green and Colorado rivers. Hike through the Needles district to one of the West’s most photographed landforms – Mesa Arch.

At a higher elevation – be sure to dress warm in layers – you will find the awe-inspiring geological formations and brilliant colours of Bryce Canyon National Park. Its hoodoos, fins and natural bridges form a surreal landscape that draws visitors from all over the world. You might even see a dusting of snow – Brian Head Ski Resort is just up the road.

 Bryce Canyon looks coy under a dusting of snow in Utah. Picture: Getty Images Bryce Canyon looks coy under a dusting of snow. Picture: Getty Images

At Zion National Park, tackle the strenuous but thrilling Angel’s Landing Trail – up to a peak of 1,763 metres. Or try your foot at canyon walking in The Narrows, the narrowest section of Zion Canyon where the Virgin River flows beneath walls 300 metres tall. Flight Centre travel expert Anthony Tuy recently had a go and described it thus: “Walking through the canyon, looking up to the mountains, seeing the views from inside the canyon itself was beautiful.”

And finally, Capitol Reef National Park’s rocky ridges do look a bit like marine reefs. Check out the Waterpocket Fold, a jagged seam left over from when shifting plates lifted one side of a fault line 2,100 metres. From there, it’s a three-hour drive back to Salt Lake City International Airport.

So there you go – Utah offers snow and sandstone and lots of thrills all within a short drive of one another, so you can road trip and ski trip all in the one, well, trip.

Visit your local Flight Centre store or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to the Utah.

Renae Spinks

Travel for me is about conversations and connections. There’s nothing like setting foot in a new land and meeting people a world apart. From talking to North Sea fishermen in Norway’s Lofoten Islands to breakfast chat at a B&B in my own back yard, there’s always a story to share and a tale to tell.