Skiers have been singing the praises of Little Cottonwood Canyon since 1938, when the Alta Lifts Company pieced together a ski lift using parts from an old mine tram to become the Alta Ski Resort, the second ski resort in North America. With its 500 inches per year of dry, light snow and unparalleled terrain, this canyon is legendary among diehard snow enthusiasts. A mile down the canyon from Alta, Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort, which opened in 1971, shares the same mythical snow and terrain quality. Since 2001 Alta and Snowbird have been connected via the Mineral Basin area. You can purchase an Alta Snowbird One Pass that allows you on the lifts at both areas, making this a huge skiing complex.
But skiing isn't all there is to do here. Many mountain-biking and hiking trails access the higher reaches of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest, and the trails over Catherine Pass will put you at the head of Big Cottonwood Canyon at the Brighton Ski Area. The hike to Catherine Pass is relatively easy and quite scenic. Formed by the tireless path of an ancient glacier, Little Cottonwood Canyon cuts a swath through the Wasatch-Cache National Forest. Canyon walls are composed mostly of striated granite, and traditional climbing routes of varied difficulty abound. Down the canyon from Alta and Snowbird is the trailhead for the Red Pine Lake and White Pine Lake trails. Some 3½ miles and 5 miles in, respectively, these mountain lakes make for great day hikes.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," could be the motto at Alta Ski Resort. There's an old-world charm here that many regulars call magic. Most of the lodges have been here since the ’40s or ’50s, and the emphasis is on efficiency and quality rather than the latest fads.
At Snowbird's base area, modern structures house guest rooms, restaurants, and nightclubs. The largest of these buildings, the Cliff Lodge, is an entire ski village under one roof. The resort mounts a variety of entertainment throughout the year, including live jazz shows, rock, blues, folk, and bluegrass concerts, and an Oktoberfest in fall. You can enjoy a drink at any of several base-area lounges.
All year long, Snowbird's tram takes sightseers to the top, and in summer hikers can ride up to hike atop Hidden Peak. Mountain bikers are discovering that the slopes make for some excellent, if strenuous, riding. The resort also has a competition-class outdoor climbing wall.