Utah this week saw chilly temperatures, snow in the mountains and a winter weather advisory that dumped almost 2 feet of snow in some high elevation areas.
For many in Utah, seeing the Wasatch Mountains dusted in snow means one thing — ski season is right around the corner. But before you hit the slopes, here are three things to look out for this season:
New winter brings a new look for some resorts
Whether it’s replacing old equipment, a new parking system or early opening times, most resorts in Utah will have something new this season. Here are some of the biggest changes heading into winter.
- Alta will now move to a reservation system for its parking lots during weekends and holidays. This includes the Grizzly Gulch parking lot, one of the most frequently visited backcountry trailheads in Utah. Those without a pass can still make a reservation, which is required after 8 a.m.
- The Corkscrew Trail under the Collins lift at the bottom of the mountain has been widened and some trees have been removed.
- New lights will be added to the Snake Creek lift and trails, expanding the mountain’s night skiing terrain.
- Powder Mountain is joining the Indy Pass, a new alternative to the more expensive Epic and Ikon passes that gives two days of skiing to 80 resorts around the country and in Japan.
- The Middle Bowl lift will be replaced with a detachable six person chairlift that the resort says will cut ride time in half.
- Both the Maples and Canyon Rim parking areas will be expanded.
- Snowbird implemented a reserved parking system last winter, and for the most part will be going back to first-come, first-served parking. However, the resort will still give the option for customers to reserve parking for a fee.
- For $69, customers can use the Fast Tracks system to skip the lift line.
- Snowbird Power Systems, a cogeneration facility that will supply 90% to 100% of the resort’s power, was completed in July.
- Three chairlifts — Moonbeam Express, Apex Express and Link — will open an hour earlier, at 8 a.m., on weekends and holidays.
- Starting in mid-March, the entire mountain will be open until 5 p.m.
- Sundance recently announced a new high-speed lift to the mid-mountain summit, as well as three new magic carpet lifts for beginner terrain.
- The resort is also expanding its parking lot to include 160 new spaces.
Will ski resorts require COVID-19 vaccinations, masks?
Last winter, most resorts required masks to be worn inside, in lift lines and on chairlifts. The restrictions have loosened a bit for this winter, and almost every resort says its COVID-19 policy is subject to change — but there are still some things to know.
Some resorts, including Snowbird and Park City Mountain Resort, owned by Vail, are requiring their employees to be vaccinated, while those who live in Alta’s employee housing will need to show proof of vaccination.
Park City Mountain Resort says it will require proof of vaccination for all guests over 12 before entering its dining facilities.
You will likely find different mask policies depending on the resort, but expect most places to require face coverings in indoor settings, at least for the unvaccinated. Sundance is requiring masks in line, and on the lifts, while Alta, Park City Mountain Resort, Solitude, Brighton, Powder Mountain and Deer Valley require them indoors.
“We’re all collectively as an industry looking to get back to a bit more normal season,” said Alison Palmintere, director of communications for Ski Utah.
Most resorts are clear — if you don’t comply with COVID-19 protocols, you will likely be asked to leave. Integral to having a fun and safe winter is patience on the part of guests, resort representatives say.
Snow in October: good in a drought, bad in the backcountry
On Tuesday Snowbird reported 18 inches of snow and on Wednesday, dozens of backcountry skiers took to the mountains to get their first taste of winter.
While early season snow excites the community, it’s not always a good sign of what’s to come.
“Pretty much any snow that falls in October can become a problem. There’s no way around it,” said Mark Staples, director of the Utah Avalanche Center.
Even though temperatures could get warmer in the valley, it will likely stay cold on north-facing slopes in the mountains, especially above 10,000 feet. In those areas, this early season snow is here to stay, Staples said, and will ultimately become a foundation heading into winter.
If high pressure systems overtake the rest of October and November, that early season snow will essentially rot, turning into facets. Avalanche experts equate this type of snow to “ball bearings,” and it can create a persistent weak layer that results in high avalanche danger for most of early winter.
If it keeps snowing at this rate, winter sports enthusiasts can breathe easy — that early season snow will get buried deep down in a healthy snowpack. Other factors could contribute to dangerous avalanche conditions later on, but it’s less likely the Wasatch will see a persistent weak layer.
“We all have our fingers crossed that we just get a ton of snow,” said Staples. “There’s always a chance, and we’ll cling to that hope, that we get snow and we just get a ton and just keeps coming, and that weak layer doesn't form at the bottom of the snowpack.”
Correction: A previous version referenced outdated information posted on Alta Ski Area’s website about masks in the lift line. The website has been updated and the story has been adjusted to reflect that update.