Little Cottonwood Canyon
The crown jewel of Utah’s memorable mountains, Little Cottonwood Canyon is home to both Alta Ski Area and Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort. Due to a lucky combination of geography, meteorology, and the phenomenon known as orographic lift, Little Cottonwood Canyon often boasts higher snow totals than neighboring canyons and Park City. If skiing or snowboarding in deep powder snow is your passion, then Little Cottonwood Canyon is Mecca. You’ll gladly sacrifice endless nightlife options and off-slope diversions in exchange for a shot at your most memorable day of all time on the slopes. When the snow melts off the mountains, Little Cottonwood provides ample opportunity for family fun, dining, events, hiking, scenic vistas, and more.
Where to Eat & Drink
If you’re skiing Alta and you need a snack, Alta Java at the Albion Base Area is the place to chow down delicious empanadas, swill hearty coffee drinks, nosh on sweets, and enjoy friendly service. Fine dining and a full-service meal is available on Level 3 of the Watson’s Shelter at the Collins Grill. At Snowbird, The Summit Restaurant provides the best views while the Mid-Gad offers convenient casual dining on the slopes. If you’re crushing powder laps, a made-to-order sandwich in the General Gritts deli is the quickest and most delicious option.
Where to Play
Well... if it’s cold outside, you know why you’ve chosen Little Cottonwood Canyon as basecamp. Alta is one of the oldest ski areas in the country, in operation since 1939. The colorful history of silver mining and charm of the area are what brings skiers (no snowboarders allowed) returning year after year. Steeps, deeps, chutes, trees, and open bowls, Alta is a powder-lover’s paradise. With the gentle terrain off the Sunnyside chairlift, Alta is also great for beginning skiers. For the quintessential skiing experience, Alta should be on every powder hound’s hit list.
Just west of Alta lies Snowbird Ski Area and it’s even possible to ski between the two resorts via the connection perched atop Mineral Basin. Renowned for its advanced terrain, iconic tramway, and incredible snow, Snowbird is a year-round destination. With a newly renovated spa, great dining options, Utah's oldest Oktoberfest, and tons of summer activities, Snowbird is the ideal spot to get away from it all and connect back to nature.
Where to Shop
If you’re shopping up Little Cottonwood Canyon, you’re most likely looking for ski or snowboard gear. The Deep Powder House (Locals call it DPH) up at Alta offers a fantastic selection of skis and gear. Christy Sports is the place to shop at Snowbird. The best tune in the canyon will be found in the unassuming basement of the Alta Peruvian Lodge. In a tiny corner, with windows obscured by snowdrifts, you’ll find a dedicated and talented crew of gentleman who take great pride in their work and can offer expert tuning and repair.
Where to Stay
What to See
Regardless of your motivation to explore Little Cottonwood, a ride on Snowbird’s Aerial Tramway is a must. A jaw-dropping excursion during any season, the 8-minute ride to the summit of Hidden Peak provides startling views of the surrounding Wasatch Mountains and a quick peep at the sprawling city below. You can catch the views (and a great meal) in the new Summit Restaurant, Utah’s highest restaurant.
In the summer months, locals flock to Little Cottonwood Canyon to cool off and enjoy the beautiful views. Popular hikes include Catherine’s Area, Cecret Lake, and, if you can hack it, a hike from Snowbird’s base area to the 11,000-foot Hidden Peak. Enjoy a free tram ride down and grab a cold beer from General Gritts to enjoy on the plaza at the Snowbird Center. Don’t forget, Little Cottonwood Canyon is a watershed area where dogs and swimming are strictly prohibited.
What the Locals Know
Know this word. In the winter, during particularly strong snow storms, Little Cottonwood Canyon may revert to a status called: Interlodge. This basically means that current weather conditions indicate high levels of avalanche danger and leaving any structure is prohibited. (Note: it is actually illegal to leave a building or take shelter in your car during interlodge). Know that interlodge is not an inconvenience. It is the precursor to the best day of powder skiing you will ever have. Keep savvy with the road closures, either beat them or book a room at one of the lodges and bring ample supplies of food, snacks, and your favorite beverage(s). Don’t succumb to powder panic, keep calm, and visualize the snow falling down. When the danger lifts, and interlodge is terminated, make a beeline to your closest chairlift. Don’t forget a snorkel. And what they say...about friends on a powder day...it’s not true.