Forlorn because winter can’t come soon enough? Well, the snow isn’t the only great thing about the four resorts in Salt Lake's backyard. These resorts transform themselves in surprising ways during the warmer months. If you've ever wondered what hides beneath the great white deep, stop fantasizing about fluff for one minute, and read on.
Locals rarely use the phrase “off-season” in reference to summer and fall—activities abound on the terrain that lies under the snow. As the "Greatest Snow on Earth" melts from the rock edifices and steep mountainsides of the Cottonwood Canyons, it reveals miles and miles of trails, far-reaching fields of wildflowers, and countless opportunities for playtime. There’s everything from mountain biking and hiking to educational outings and outdoor concerts to take advantage of before the first resorts open mid-November.
Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort
Aside from Snowbird’s natural beauty (seriously, Mt. Baldy illuminated in alpenglow is awe-inspiring), there are more than 15 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails waiting for you. You can access them from the Tram Base by heading uphill, or you can ride the aerial Tram to the top of Hidden Peak (11,000 feet above sea level). Many mountain bikers will opt for the latter to take advantage of the all-new 7.5-mile Big Mountain Trail; the intense, scenic, and twisty trail keeps the hairs on your back raised as you race down nearly 3,000 feet of vertical drop.
Snowbird is also known for its abundance of family-friendly activities (a pass is $42 for adults and children 48 inches and over; $29 for children under 48 inches). Get to gliding on the Alpine Slide, cowboy-up on Blackjack the mechanical bull, do back-flips on the Air Jumper, or go nuts on the ropes course. Kids love Wasatch Mining Company, which offers gold panning in the mining sluice. But gold isn’t the only thing that can be caught; there’s plenty of fish in Little Cottonwood Creek for anglers and casters. Another elbow-bending sport can be found during the eight-week Oktoberfest, which begins each August. And let's not forget the best musical experience in the Cottonwoods, the Cool Air Concert Series, an eight-week summer music series on the plaza deck that plays host to national and local talents.
Solitude Ski Resort
Ah, to get away from it all … and still have all the amenities you want from an alpine resort. That is the Solitude Way. In the winter, there are certainly powder stashes for days and plenty of breathing room. Likewise in the summer. On certain days, it can feel like you have the entire 18-hole disc golf course to yourself; the course is argued to be the best in the state and is one of the things that sets Solitude apart from the other resorts’ summer offerings. The mountain bike trails run the gamut from beginner to expert level, and when you’re out there you might wonder if there’s another soul riding on the 20-plus miles of wooded trails. You can get a leg up via the Sunrise triple chair Friday through Sunday. And while you’re two-wheelin’, you might get the gumption to try Solitude’s mountain scooters, a cross between a traditional mountain bike and a street scooter. The hiking trails, covering some of the most geographically diverse terrain in the region, are a great way to experience the mountain. Or you can always take it easy with a scenic chairlift ride.
The resort operates The Inn and an assortment of condominiums for rent year-round. There are numerous restaurant options, from light fare at Stone Haus Pizzeria & Creamery to the gourmet, four-course meal at the yurt to the lip-smacking weekend brunch at Honeycomb Grill. After you’ve been fully sated with the culinary arts, as well as the recreational arts, settle into evening. By night, there’s nothing like looking up at the Milky Way in juxtaposition to chairlifts suspended in the still, crisp air. No doubt, this gem of a mountain still remains the place to find peace and quiet.
Brighton Ski Resort
A home away from home for hard-core rippers during the winter, Brighton turns into an idyllic summer escape from Salt Lake’s heat. Driving to the end of Big Cottonwood Canyon, you feel like you’re in another place, with steep high-alpine terrain jutting up before you in all directions. Perhaps the most travelled of the four resorts by hikers, Brighton offers trails that traverse to crystalline mountain lakes, the most iconic being the Brighton Lakes Trail. This moderate, two-mile round trip takes you to Dog Lake and onward to Lake Mary, which is actually a large, man-made reservoir (about 1,500 by 800 feet) dammed up on one side. Lake Mary carries a radiant aqua hue and boasts plenty of granite rock edifices for perching, reading, or contemplating the area’s beauty (swimming and boating aren't permitted). You can extend the hike to more lakes and even head up and over Wolverine Pass for more dramatic views of the valley and the lakes below.
For those who want a mellower Brighton summer day, you can grab lunch and snack items at Brighton Store, located on Brighton Loop Road, and then meander along streams lined with picnic tables. Another option is to take the boardwalk around Silver Lake (at the Solitude Nordic Center, to the west of Brighton). The flat, paved, or planked Silver Lake Trail is accessible for all; it’s an easy and beautiful stroll. Whether you're at Silver Lakes or the Brighton Lakes, moose and deer spottings occur frequently, so stay on the lookout.
Alta Ski Area
Imagine yourself in your tent. It’s slowly warming soon after the sun peaks over the Wasatch, so you unzip the door to let in the fresh mountain air. And then you catch site of Devil’s Castle glowing red in the morning light. Of course you get up to watch the spectacular event, and then you notice the ground—Albion Basin is covered in wildflowers, an unexpected colorful palette. Any breath you have left after witnessing the sunrise will be taken away by Alta's flora. If only every morning could start like that.
Located below bold and beautiful Devil’s Castle, the Alta campground is surrounded on all sides by creeks and waterfalls, hiking and biking trails, and picturesque sites. The seasonal campground is the starting point to the not-so-secret Cecret Lake. This quick, moderate hike takes you right to the base of Devil’s Castle, a classic, picture-perfect vista. Much like the resort in the wintertime, the whole town of Alta seems like a throw-back in time—no frills, in just the right way. It’s woodsy and a local’s sort of place.
There are about 10 miles of trails in the Alta area. Trail maps can be picked up at the Alta Community Center/Post Office or at the information booth at the base of the summer road. Another great opportunity for the family are the interpretive trails; short, easy hikes between Alta’s two base areas, which feature interpretive signs about the Alta ski area's wildlife, geology, and history. You may be familiar with Alta's skiers-only policy—unfortunately, snowboarding is not permitted on any of the trails during the summertime, either.