Another great thing about the Wasatch is that everything is so close, you can try new adventures without spending a lot of time getting to them. Here’s a top 10 list to use as a guide. If there’s anything on it you’ve never done—well, as the saying goes, do it now!
Snow Riding: Powder Mountain
It’s impossible to pick the best resort in Utah, as they each have something different and delightful to recommend them. But one area that gets sadly overlooked by skiers and snowboarders is Powder Mountain. It’s got 7,000 acres, vast hills of snowriding where the entire mountain is a trail. Choose your line and go; you’ll find steeps and bowls and miles of rolling hills. The two reasons Powder Mountain is not more well-known is that one, it’s a longer drive than most resorts—all the way out Interstate 15 to Ogden’s 12th Street, then miles through the city to the narrow turns of Ogden Canyon, halfway up the canyon to a turn at Pineview Reservoir, and more miles after that; and two, only one of the seven lifts is a high-speed quad. But, that lift is 6,000 feet long.
White Pine Trailhead
Go six miles up Little Cottonwood Canyon to White Pine Trailhead Park. Grab your snowshoes. Put them on at the little incline and walk across the wooden bridge. Walk over the meadow and follow the trail that hugs the hillside. Within a few hundred feet, you’ll be totally out of sight of civilization, in a beautiful wilderness that’s a gradual and easy slope to snowshoe. The coolest thing is that it takes so little time to get there, you can go for a hike on your lunch hour.
Miles and miles of paved asphalt take you from downtown Salt Lake City all the way to Sandy, past wildlife on the river, over bridges and under the freeway. Watch the ducks on the large wetland pond as the trail passes through Murray, stop and picnic at one of the many little slots that curve out over the river, bring the dog and go for a wheeled run while keeping up with your pooch. Smooth asphalt, flat trail—a treasure for skaters.
Ski Racing: Park City
Feel like an Olympian skiing with the Park City Masters, some of the best recreational skiers on the planet. But don’t worry about not being good enough—that’s what the coaches are there for. You can join for the season, sign up for six hours of hardcore coaching on the Eagle Race Arena, site of the 2002 Olympic giant slalom. The cost is a fraction of the price of a ski lesson, and after even one Masters session, your skiing will be so much better you’ll be shocked.
Adventure Biking: Rad Canyon BMX
In summer, South Jordan’s Rad Canyon offers the best BMX dirt track in the country. In winter, Rad Canyon moves indoors, alternating between the Davis County Events Center and the Salt Lake County Equestrian Center. Riders can race or just practice, some using a mountain bike instead of a BMX bike. Anyone can ride. Line up beside a five-year-old who will kick your butt, and you’ll be determined to beat that snot-nosed kid in the next moto. It’s good to ride your bike in the warm arena when the snow is piled up outside. The schedule can be found on UtahBMX.com.
Bouldering: Little Cottonwood
The rocks in this canyon seem softer, not quite as jagged as in Big Cottonwood. They are worn into roundness by the elements, which makes them great for bouldering—the sport of climbing without harness or rope—up boulders about 15 feet high. Pull over anywhere you see a bunch of cars parked; there will be people climbing over the boulders, because Little Cottonwood is considered one of the top spots in Utah for this type of ad hoc climbing.
Luxury Snowriding: Snowbasin
The ‘Basin is the gem of the Wasatch, and it offers luxury without pretension. Antiques decorate the base lodge, fat leather easy chairs and couches surround the huge fireplace that is constantly supplied with crackling wood. The cafeteria-style restaurant offers rare roast beef, home-baked breads and other tasty delights. Oh, and the terrain is gourmet, too. The 2002 Olympic Downhill run is on National Geographic’s list of “25 Things To Do Before You Die,” and the sparkling gondola at the base takes riders to an incredible array of terrain, including the longest easy blue run in Utah.
Climbing: American Fork Canyon
The road is considered one of the deadliest in America. Never mind. Park the car, get out and go climbing. This is the real thing, so bring a belay buddy or two. American Fork Canyon is famous among elite sport climbers all over the world, with routes that start at 5.11 and go harder, where long ropes are a plus. Another plus: most routes are pre-bolted. Plan a mini-vacation: A three-day pass to these celebrity cliffs costs $6.
Hiking: Mount Timpanogos
There’s a reason Timp is so popular for summer hiking; actually, more than one reason. It’s nearly 12,000 feet high, with majestic wilderness scenery to keep your eyes occupied during the seven-and-a-half mile climb up to the summit. The trail is well-maintained and surprisingly easy. Bring back photos of the mountain goats that wander the cliffs, feel the spray of the waterfalls, rest in the fields of wildflowers that color the hills in late summer. There’s even a rocky glacier that is a draw for hikers, just don’t try sliding down it because half-buried rocks can cause serious injuries. Timp is the second highest mountain in the Wasatch Range, but it’s so prominent and visible that it’s the one tourists always ask about.
Mountain Biking: Quarry Trail, Pipeline Trail
Known by these and other names, the trail that starts in back of Little Cottonwood Canyon’s electric sign is an absolutely perfect workout. A little less than four miles long, it has every technical problem a rider could want, with a 1,300-foot gain in elevation. The first mile is sandy and rutted, but at the power plant, the trail goes into a cool and sheltering forest. Small rock drop-offs complicate the single track, crossed by occasional mud-spattering streams in spring or after a big rain. Huff and puff on the way up; test your daring riding full-out on the way down.
Wina Sturgeon is an outdoor adventurer and a Salt Lake City freelance writer.