A fun day at the Canyons, near Park City, Utah. Photo: © Justin Olsen Since 1962, it has been trademarked as The Greatest Snow on Earth®: and is highly regarded around the skiing world. But what really makes the snow in Utah so special, and its resorts a place of pilgrimage for hounds? These are two great reasons for beginners.
1. There are many
The average snowfall for ski resorts east of Salt Lake City is impressive. Canyons, near Park City, gets 9.01m of snow each winter. Solitude, a valley to its south, in Big Cottonwood Canyon, is 12.70m high, and Alta, a step further south, in Little Cottonwood Canyon, reports a whopping 14.22m. This is not the highest average snowfall in the ski world. Mount Baker in Washington State topped that list, with 16.3m (it also hit the record for the most snowfall ever: a whopping 29m in the winter of 1998-9). But they are close together. To do that, Val d’Isere in the French Alps has an average of around 5.2ma seasons, while little Warth-Schroecken in Austria is the snowiest resort in the Alps, with an average of just over 10 million a year. To give you an idea of how the snow in Utah can stack up, check out this catchy and delicious youtube clip of Snowbird, back in April 2010. Most ski movies are just plain simple. tame shows you what a dough day would be like. This gives you the feeling that the combination of flat commitment and eye-opening surprise also feels like… Why is it snowing so much? The fact that most of Utah’s storm systems come from the world’s largest ocean certainly helps. But local geography also has an impact. The Great Salt Lake, northwest of the city, warms the approaching air and aids humidity. The warm air rises, cools, and begins to snow – a phenomenon known as the Lake Effect Snow. Then the air hits the north-south wall of the Wasatch Mountains, rises and cools again – and bingo. It really snows. Recent research also shows that in Utah, the Lake Effect is further enhanced by the terrain along its approach: the mountains it crosses on its way to the Great Salt Lake create a flow of air over the water. and enhance the process.
2. It’s lighter and drier when dropped
Much of the snow in Utah comes from storms in the Pacific – and it has long been said that the reason the snow in Utah is so light and fluffy is because the air dries up as it makes its way towards Salt Lake City, across the deserts of the Great Basin. But equally important is that once these storms make landfall in Utah, temperatures often plummet while it snows. Local meteorologists James Steenburgh and Trevor Alcott highlight this point in their paper, The Secret to “The Biggest Snow on Earth”. Snow that falls when it’s cold will be lighter and drier when it’s milder. So ski resorts in Utah often have a fairly thick layer of wet snow at the start of a storm, followed by a much lighter layer of powder during its middle and late stages. This is called “from the right” snow. The higher density at the bottom provides good coverage of old snow, fallen trees and rocks. The light dough on top provides buoyancy and fun. How light is this powder? This light… It’s so light, in fact, that it also tends to hit you right in the face, creating those famous ‘face shots’ of skiing in Utah. Here are fifteen of them, shot in Canyons, near Park City. Obviously, you can’t see a thing when taking a picture of a face. But no one seems to care. After all, being outside on a day like this is a wonderful feeling: as if you were skiing in the air, not the snow.
This is a warning
There is an important “but” to all of these. Because even in Utah, it doesn’t always snow: especially if a large high-pressure area forms over the eastern Pacific Ocean near California and blocks the movement of weather fronts from the ocean positive. When that happens, it can dry out for weeks. Very few skiers – other than locals – can drop everything at the last minute to catch a storm, so if you’re planning a trip, consider building a little insurance in the event of a lack of snow into your journey. That means I have to make sure you have access to a wide variety of trail/trail based skiing without needing new powder to be fun. That way, you can still have a blast if the storms don’t materialize.
So consider splitting your time between two locations, such as the canyon, at the edge of Park City, Snowbird and Alta at Little Cottonwood Canyon – or rent a car so you can drive between them. Little Cottonwood Gorge typically receives the heaviest snowfall due to the Wasatch blizzard. Meanwhile, the Canyons offer a skiing experience that relies less on heavy snow: courtesy of 182 trails as well as natural half-pipes and terrain parks. From 2015, it will be connected to the neighboring Park City Resort, offering 7,000 acres of interconnected ski land. Both areas are a short drive from the Salt Lake City airport. (UK skiers can book tailor-made flight and accommodation packages to Utah with Independent Ski.)
Tear on the Canyons slide. Photo: © Welove2ski.com Yes, this is the infographic I talked about earlier…
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