This week, Utah saw cool temperatures, snow in the mountains and a winter weather advisory that dumped nearly 2 feet of snow in some high elevation areas.
For many in Utah, seeing the Wasatch Mountains blanketed in snow means one thing: ski season is just around the corner. But before hitting the slopes, here are three things to watch out for this season:
A new winter brings a new look for some resorts
Whether it’s replacing old equipment, a new parking system, or early hours of operation, most Utah resorts will have something new this season. Here are some of the most important changes as winter approaches.
- Alta will now switch to a reservation system for its car parks on weekends and public holidays. This includes the Grizzly Gulch parking lot, one of Utah’s most visited backcountry trails. Those who do not have a pass can still make a reservation, which is mandatory after 8:00 a.m.
- The Corkscrew Trail under the Collins Elevator at the bottom of the mountain has been widened and some trees have been removed.
- New lights will be added to the elevator and trails at Snake Creek, expanding the mountain’s night skiing terrain.
- Powder Mountain joins the Indy Pass, a new alternative to the more expensive Epic and Ikon passes that gives two days of skiing at 80 resorts across the country and in Japan.
- The Middle Bowl elevator will be replaced with a detachable six-person chairlift which the resort says will cut travel time in half.
- The Maples and Canyon Rim parking lots will be expanded.
- Snowbird implemented a reserved parking system last winter and for the most part will revert to parking on a first come, first served basis. However, the resort will still offer guests the option of reserving parking for a fee.
- For $ 69, customers can use the Fast Tracks system to skip the line.
- Snowbird Power Systems, a cogeneration facility that will supply 90 to 100% of the station’s electricity, 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.
- From mid-March, the whole mountain will be open until 5 p.m.
- Sundance recently announced a new high-speed chairlift to the top of the Middle Mountain, as well as three new treadmills for beginners.
- The station is also expanding its parking lot to include 160 new spaces.
Will ski resorts need COVID-19 vaccines, masks?
Last winter, most resorts required masks to be worn indoors, on ski lifts and on chairlifts. Restrictions have loosened a bit for this winter, and nearly all stations say their COVID-19 policy is likely to change – but there is still some things to know.
Some resorts, including Vail-owned Snowbird and Park City Mountain Resort, require their employees to be vaccinated, while those living in Alta employee housing will need to show proof of vaccination.
Park City Mountain Resort has said it will require proof of vaccination for all guests over the age of 12 before entering its restaurants.
You’ll likely find different mask policies depending on the resort, but expect most places to require face covers indoors, at least for the unvaccinated. Sundance and Alta require masks online and on the ski lifts, while Park City Mountain Resort, Solitude, Brighton, Powder Mountain and Deer Valley require them indoors.
âAs an industry we’re all looking to get back to a little more normal season,â said Alison Palmintere, Ski Utah communications director.
Most resorts are clear – if you’re not following COVID-19 protocols, you’ll likely be asked to leave. Patience from customers is integral to a fun and safe winter, say resort officials.
Snow in October: good in times of drought, bad off-piste
Tuesday Snowbird reported 18 inches snowfall and on Wednesday, dozens of off-piste skiers went to the mountains to experience winter.
While early season snow excites the community, it’s not always a good sign of what’s to come.
âAlmost any snow that falls in October can become a problem. There’s no way around that, âsaid Mark Staples, director of the Utah Avalanche Center.
Although temperatures could warm up in the valley, it will likely remain cold on the northern exposed slopes of the mountains, particularly above 10,000 feet. In those areas, that early-season snow is here to stay, Staples said, and will eventually become a base before winter.
If high pressure systems overtake the rest of October and November, that early season snow will essentially rot, turning into facets. Avalanche experts think of this type of snow as “ball bearings” and it can create a persistent weak layer that results in high avalanche danger for most of the onset of winter.
If it continues to snow at this rate, winter sports enthusiasts can breathe easily – that early-season snow will be buried deep in a healthy snowpack. Other factors could contribute to dangerous avalanche conditions later, but the Wasatch is less likely to experience a persistent weak layer.
âWe’re all fingers crossed that we just got a ton of snow,â Staples said. âThere’s always a chance, and we’ll hold onto that hope, that we have snow and just get a ton of it and keep coming, and that weak layer doesn’t form at the bottom of the snowpack. “