Commuting in Ski City’s Canyons

Think about it: you carefully plan your ski purchases, season pass, outfit, and ski days. But do you plan your ski commute as carefully? Probably not. If you’re like most people, you rise bright and early, dash through the coffee shop drive-through, and race to the canyon, seat heaters on “high,” stereo pulsing with your powder-day anthems.

Then … you run into the line of all the other cars whose people who had the same idea. Stoke can be compromised by the jostling and jockeying among canyon cars. But you can’t blame everyone for having the same ski plans as you. Rather, you can outsmart them.

There are only two goals when it comes to a savvy canyon commute: skip traffic and stay safe. Here’s how you can meet both goals—getting to the slopes faster, happier, and ready to shred.

All aboard the Ski Bus!

Ski City is home to (we think) the very finest ski bus system in the land. (We wrote a whole how-to article about it here, if you want the step-by-step.) For anyone with a season pass to any of the Cottonwood Canyons resorts, bus fare is included. You just tap that pass and step right aboard. If you don’t have a season pass, just pony up $4.50 cash and enjoy the ride.

Hop a ride on a UTA Ski Bus and get straight to skiing

There’s a bustling schedule of buses zipping up and down Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, stopping not only at the resorts’ front doors but also at major trailheads for the backcountry skiers among us. The buses are equipped with nice ski racks on the exterior, so you can stretch out in comfort inside, sip a coffee or scroll on your phone, and get dropped off right where you want to be.

There are quite a few parking areas where you can ditch your car to catch a ski bus, and if you’re an urban ski enthusiast living near the city center, you can even take a TRAX train to the ski bus and skip cars altogether. The buses are super-safe thanks to burly winter chains on their snow tires, and they let you skip the parking hassle and get straight to the fun part. You also can sidestep any parking fees—Solitude is now charging $20 for parking, with more resorts expected to follow suit.

Join the carpool movement.

A great alternative to the ski bus: carpooling with homies old or new. You can take turns or split the gas money, and it’s not only great for our local air quality, but it also helps reduce the parking-lot foray.

Solitude is rewarding carpoolers (four or more to a car) with free parking. And Snowbird is upping the ante even more: their new R.I.D.E. app rewards people for either carpooling or taking the bus. You redeem the points you accumulate and for all sorts of incentives. Just for riding with three or more people in the car, you can enjoy V.I.P. parking.

The prizes stack up from there: you earn stickers, water bottles, half-priced lift tickets, and even eligibility for special rewards like early-access ski privileges and goodies for leaderboard carpoolers. (Read all about the app and how the points work here.)

The app even connects you with people who want to carpool up to the ‘Bird on the same day as you, and you can choose to either ride only with people you already know, or open up the options to new friends who also ride at Snowbird.

Safety first, shred second.

Not only is it important to drive up safely, but when you stay in control and avoid slip-sliding around on the road, you’re helping traffic flow smoothly. (Nobody likes a logjam behind a fish-tailing sedan. Don’t be that guy.)

Knowledge is power—smart locals sign up for Canyon Alerts from the Unified Police Department and get notifications if a road is expected to close or if conditions are expected to be hazardous.

The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) also has a fantastic online hub with real-time cameras showing the canyon road conditions and traffic. The smart canyon commuter always takes a gander at this before hopping in the car. It helps you decide if you should drive or take the bus, or hop in the car with a friend who has a more storm-worthy rig.

And as a last line of communication, the Department of Transportation has flashing signs at the bottom of each canyon giving you a heads-up if chains or four-wheel drive is required to drive up the canyon that day. They take this pretty seriously and for good reason. When the sign is flashing, you’d really be remiss to try the drive in your ‘92 Miata. You’ll risk getting stuck or taking a scary slide—or backing up traffic as your car’s rear end shimmies in a sad fishtail.

The canyon sheriffs often wait at the bottom of the canyons to stop people trying the drive in a car not worthy of the voyage. So, if your UDOT notifications and cameras are giving you the heads-up that the roads are snowy, do yourself a favor and ditch the car in a Park and Ride lot, then take the bus or carpool.

Lastly, be sure to follow the practical advice your mother always gave: pee before the car ride, and pack snacks. If the journey takes a little longer than expected, you’ll be prepared—and ready to shred with joyful abandon upon your arrival.