So you’re keeping a close eye on the snow forecasts, and it looks like a major multi-day storm is heading right into Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. You pack up your gear, get someone to look in on the pets and head for the hills.
Where to? Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, of course. Few spots in North America signify the glories of the steep-and-deep more than the resorts in these two canyons: Alta, Snowbird, Brighton and Solitude. They all have loads of powder stashes within their boundaries, and they are as close as can be: You can move from Alta to Snowbird and back without a hike; the same for Solitude and Brighton. A moderate hike over a ridge connects all four. A public bus runs between the two canyons.
But to fully experience Utah powder in the Wasatch Mountains, the powder hound must carve them up one at a time. Therefore, OnTheSnow presents a four-day, four-mountain guide for getting the most out of the famous Cottonwood Four. Days one and two at Brighton and Solitude are below. After that we feel the epic burn of days three and four at Snowbird and Alta in Part Two.
Day One: Brighton Resort
Snatch a coffee and muffin at the 7-Eleven at the base of Big Cottonwood Canyon. For a relaxing ride, check out the UTA bus. First bus leaves the park-n-ride at 8:13 a.m. and gets you to Brighton before the lifts open. Cost: $4 one-way. For complete schedules, click here.
Brighton’s powder runs may be shorter than some, but they certainly are sweet. Warm up with a skate over to the high-speed Great Western Express. Ride to the top of Clayton Peak (10,750 feet), where double-diamonds Rein’s Run, Clark’s Roost and True Grit drain side-by-side off to the right, interrupted by sparse groves of pines. Or turn left down Elk Park Ridge, where the black-diamond trails narrow and the glades thicken. For a classic combo, head for the trees between Golden Needle and Rockin’ R, then break out into the open for a smooth ride back to Great Western or over to the base area.
A bluebird powder day in Brighton. Photo Courtesy of Brighton Resort.
Brighton’s other powder trove is Milly’s, accessed by a quick ride up Majestic and down Milly Access, or a short skate/hike from the main base. Milly’s Express dumps you into the near-backcountry below 10,452-foot Mt. Millicent (the hike to Alta heads out from there). Traverse left and infinite lines await down the bowl. The farther you traverse, the hairier it gets. Everything funnels onto greenie Canyon for a gentle schuss back to the Milly base. Next trip, go right off the lift and feast on a smorgasbord of steeps that roll off the long black-diamond Evergreen. The Spaghetti chutes will challenge the best; know, however, that you can get cliffed-out pretty quickly there.
At mid-day, no-frills eateries Millicent Chalet or Alpine Rose will warm you up and refuel your tanks. At day’s end, old-style A-frame Molly Green’s is where powder hounds gather to swap stories and quaff a few brews.
Take the last chair for a final run down Sol/Bright off Milly’s that puts you in the Village at Solitude for a night’s rest… right where you want to be for the next day.
Day Two: Solitude Mountain Resort
Get up early, and grab a coffee and doughnut at Village Convenience Store or a hot breakfast at the Stone Haus Pizzeria before heading up Apex Express. Make a few groomer turns to warm up on the way to Powderhorn II. A couple of cycles here get the powder legs in shape on wide-open Concord, Vertigo and Paradise Lost.
Solitude rooster tails anyone? Photo Courtesy of Andrew Strain.
From there, the siren song of Solitude’s most challenging powder terrain will surely beckon. From the top of Powderhorn II, drop off Diamond Lane into the double-diamond glades of Parachute and Milk Run. From there, take the old-school double chair Summit lift to the 10,050-foot summit, and the best that Solitude has to offer is spread out to either side.
Go left and you bounce down Headwall Forest, some of the finest gladed terrain around. Traverse farther around and the cliffs and chutes of Evergreen await, all served by the Summit lift.
Powder to the right. Powder to the left. Stuck in the white room at Solitude. Photo Courtesy of Lee Cohen.
Go right and you drop into long Honeycomb Canyon. A high traverse brings the Honeycomb chutes into play; they get gnarlier the more you resist dropping in. There are plenty of trees but the open steeps make Honeycomb famous. Everything drains into Woodlawn. Near the canyon bottom, the Honeycomb Return lift brings you back to Eagle Ridge, where you can dive into the trees of Black Forest or repeat the Powderhorn-Summit cycle. For sheer beauty and quietude, shun the return lift and cruise Woodlawn all the way to the bottom of Eagle Express.
Cap off the day with a beer at Argenta Pub below Moonbeam. In the village area, gourmet dinners can be had at St. Bernard’s Restaurant in the Inn at Solitude, where you also can soak in the hot tub or get a massage.
Are your thighs burning just reading about four days at the legendary Cottonwood Four? Now it's time to get up to those canyons and really feel the burn. Read Part Two here.