Resort Profile: Snowbird

By adamrowden, 13 Dec '12 at 10:39

Snowbird, home of “steep and deep” and boasting "the greatest snow on earth", is set in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, where you can expect face shots aplenty in over 500 inches of seasonal champagne powder.

Linked directly to neighbouring Alta, which almost doubles the skiing area, this is all 40 minutes drive from a major airport.

”The Bird” was one of the first resorts in North America to blast a 600 ft tunnel through the top of a mountain to ensure easier access to more intermediate terrain and the hallowed back bowl of Mineral Basin. The combination of the tunnel and a new high speed quad, Peruvian Express, was a welcome addition for when the The Tram was unable to operate on stormy days.

On the Slopes

Although Snowbird has the steepest green run in North America, it’s more about the deep than going fast. There is a race course, however it’s not too long and you’ll mainly see it in use by the race teams.

If fast is what you’re after then hit Chips Run and race the tram. It’s a solid blue run with not too many kinks or turns. Regulator Johnson, a single black diamond run is short and sweet and doesn’t get too moguled out during the day.Recent re-working of the lower end of the run has added another blue section to speed things up a little more.

Snowbird isn’t really a park orientated resort – the whole place is a big natural park so there’s little emphasis on rails or boxes. Usually you’ll see the halfpipe appearing on middle Emma with the odd set of beginner jumps and equipment.

If it’s Park you’re after head to Brighton in the next canyon over or make the drive to Park City

Off piste

Where isn’t off piste at The Bird? Grooming isn’t something you’ll see a lot of here so practically everywhere is pow pow nirvana. Upper and Lower Tigertail are the best runs to hit off the Gad 2 lift, if ski patrol deem them safe. Off Hidden Peak and the Tram there’s the Cirque, a large bowl with more than enough vertical to see you happy for the day. Over the back in Mineral Basin you have a healthy traverse to the Bookends and Junior’s Powder Paradise – even on busy days you’ll still find some excellent untracked glory. When Road To Provo is open you can hike “The Twins”, standing at over 3350m of vertical and angles that you didn’t cover in GCSE Maths. The Baldy Traverse to High Baldy is usually where they hold the Big Mountain comp…nuff said.

Out of boundary, White Pine is a hiker’s heaven – although always check in with Ski Patrol if you’re heading out of resort boundaries and always, always take a partner, transceiver, probe and shovel! No ifs or buts!

Living in Resort

Virtually no non-essential employees stay on resort. Instead, you need to get a crew and find an apartment on Fort Union Boulevard or close to the ski-bus routes. Salt Lake isn’t impossible to get around but it’s vast so if you can afford a car for the odd trip it helps.

Most places will take a hefty bond if they know seasonnaires are coming, but if you’re good and don’t annoy anyone then expect all of it back. Most apartment complexes will do a lease for six or seven months, or if you can find a private house where someone’s renting a converted basement then leases are usually negotiable.

Snowbird knows it can be difficult to find housing so they have a roommate/housing finder on the website where people can list themselves or property. If you’ve got a crew who you’re good with from previous seasons then pick someone to do the monkey work and get a place. There are a few popular apartment complexes so get in early!

Employee season passes get you on the ski buses for free so it’s usually just a case of finding somewhere to live that’s close a ski stop, or getting to one of the numerous park & rides.
Unless it’s a house, all apartments come unfurnished so it’s a trip to Wal-Mart to get cheap equipment or the thrift store to get beds and sofas. Ikea recently opened in Draper, about 20 minutes from Fort Union – like all Ikeas, dead simple, dead cheap and reasonably high quality.

Bars and Clubs
Snowbird isn’t that hot for nightlife – very few employees stay in resort unless you’re essential lifties or Ski Patrol.

Quirky laws in Utah mean you have to be a member in order to drink at any of the bars – for guests they have to pay a fee but as employees you just show your pass and you get a membership card for free. You must prove you’re over 21, and it’s not recommended to use a fake ID with Snowbird owned bars. Once they complete your membership and check it against HR records there’s a good chance you could be fired if the dates don’t match up.

The Tram Club is the haunt of virtually every employee where you can pick up a beer ‘n a shot for $5. The beer is only 3.2% and the shots not a full UK measure. That said you’re already at 8, 500 feet so it goes quickly to your head.

The Wildflower restaurant - hot wings cost 2 cents two nights a week. Small and informal where you can relax at the end of a day.

Downtown Salt Lake
Most of the partying happens in down-town Salt Lake where you have the infamous Area 51 that hosts “80s night” every Thursday. Guaranteed you’ll see a crowd of Snowbird employees there. The bonus is that the club allows under 21s in the premises, albeit in an alcohol free area. Over 21 get full access to the bars.

The Hogswallow is tucked down a side road at the top of Fort Union Boulevard – good beer, good pool and good live music. Never too crowded but always a fun atmosphere.

Canyon Inn – “Party like you’re not in Utah” and this is true – big redneck and international gathering and always guaranteed to be an interesting night. Not too far from the Hogswallow.
The Bayou – Over 204 bottled beers from around the world with 31 on draft. Amazing food, definitely worth a visit.

Eating Out
Too much to write about. Because you’re not living on resort but in suburbia you’re spoilt for choice but a few favourites are;

Bohemian – run by a mad Czech bloke who brews his own beer you can get it served at full strength and in measures the State Liqour Department shouldn’t know about. Buy a “Growler” keep the jug and get it refilled for later. Food is a mix of American and European fare, but tasty no matter what you pick.

Mikado Sushi - The Mikados chain have Happy Hour on Tuesdays where sushi is half-price whilst still getting a good selection.

Porcupine Grill – Large building and always popular. The selection of food is top-class but won’t drain your wallet.

Noodles & Company – a chain of pasta restaurants. Good sized portions and various combos from Europe, Asia and America. Very tasty if you don’t fancy cooking.

Mountain Restaurants
There’s casual dining, fast food, Mexican and Sushi – Snowbird has a good selection. Most places serve your usual burgers and salads with General Gritts offering custom-made sandwiches to give you three days worth of food. Most of the other places lose their appeal after a while but 40 per cent employee discount can always keep you coming back for one more bite.

The season unofficially kicks off with the Oktoberfest – the most Deustche outside of the Bundeslande that you can handle, with beer, wurst and lederhosen.

Throughout the season you can expect the US Freeskiing nationals (Big Mountain Comp), North American Gelande Championships, WFA (USSA) slope style, a whole host of competitions and live music and numerous showings of TGR and Warren Miller movies. As the season closes down Snowbird hosts the “Dummy Downhill’ which sees different departments run various and glorious sleds of doom down a huge ramp to crash into a snowbank at the end. Destruction derby on ice, plus there’s literally a tonne of free pizza. If you’re smart, you take a few boxes home for dinner.

Away Days
If you fancy something a little easier you can hit up the neighbouring Big Cottonwood Canyon with Solitude or Brighton. Just use your ski pass to jump on the ski buses heading up. Big Cottonwoods Canyon doesn’t succumb to avalanche problems as much during heavy dumps, so the road is more likely to remain open – Solitude is renowned locally for very few visitors and the back-side is guaranteed to give you freshies for a few days.

If you have transport take a trip on the freeway to Park City where you’ve got a nice town tucked away in the hills. More skiing, more bars and a day to just wander around. The Sundance film festival is held here every year so you can go celeb spotting if you haven’t seen any on the hill. There’s also a shopping outlet village – more cheap gear than you can shake a credit card at.
Down-town Salt Lake is okay for a day – but don’t linger too long.

Get a crew together and road trip to Las Vegas, it’s only six hours south on I-15 and you get to see some of Utah’s amazing scenery on the way. If you can it’s better to try and arrive into Vegas at night because it’s a sight to behold.

If you want even more skiing, get an automobile and head to Jackson Hole in Wyoming. Just over the north-eastern border you can go and play in the Tetons. On the way you could stop at Snowbasin in Ogden, home of the Mens and Womens downhill in the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Transfer Day
Everyone flies into Salt Lake International. It’s a 40 minute drive to all major ski areas and people usually take one of the numerous shuttle services up to the resort or drive themselves. Guests arrive and leave all the time so you never really notice a huge influx of people. If there’s traffic on the canyon road down at the end of the day it’s due to the locals and weekend warriors. Public holidays to note are Thanksgiving in November, President’s week in February and Spring Break in March. These weekly hits of folks from out of town will definitely snarl up any fresh lines you thought of having on a pow day.

Après Options
This isn’t a huge thing in the US. Guests tend to take time out in the hot tubs, spa or bars, chat about the epic lines they did, then hit the hay. There’s the odd bit of live music but nothing to go crazy about. A beer on the Plaza Deck usually suffices for most employees until they get home and head out. From the Fort Union area a taxi will cost you about $30 (£13) one-way to downtown Salt Lake, but split it with four other mates and it's bearable.

Thanks to Matt Evans for putting this guide together.

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