Duking it Out: Snowbird Has the Tram


We all know the Greatest Snow on Earth lives up Little Cottonwood Canyon outside of Salt Lake City. Little Cottonwood is home to the legendary Alta Ski Area and Snowbird Resort. Both offer the same snow, right? Both offer the same pitches right? Well, not exactly. According to many, Snowbird, with it’s high-speed lifts and the flying dumpster, rules. To others, the moniker “Alta is for Skiers” is tatooed on their very souls. For these two believers, it gets even more personal.

Let’s get it on!

Point: It’s All About the Tram

A migration is happening amongst freeskiers in Little Cottonwood Canyon and the growing trend is to head west, my friend. OK, just a little bit west. After years of playing second fiddle to its quiet neighbor to the East, Snowbird is steadily emerging as the dominant playground of the Wasatch Mountains. Skiers are finally realizing that time on the mountain means everything. With a fast tram anchoring a modern lift system- why, would you need to go anywhere else?

The devoted Alta folks would call this sacrilege. I would call it a rebirth. Sure, Alta has the classic atmosphere and the snowboarding ban. It also has stellar terrain and plenty of great lines. But what it does not have is The Tram. For years the Alta faithful have thumbed their noses towards the ‘Bird and its Tram aficionados. Now with the advent of the Snowbird-Alta connect many of the Alta faithful have become exposed to what possibilities 2,500 additional acres of superb terrain can create.

Mt. Baldy’s “other side” has a lot to brag about. Not only is it the home to the U.S. Freeskiing Nationals, but also maintains the longest, thigh-burning, powder-churning lines in Utah. With a little help from a high-speed Tram that climbs more than 2,900 vertical feet in 7.5 minutes-, you have a recipe for the freeskiing world’s “24 hours of Aspen.” In a recent Ski Magazine article, Jackson Hogen said it best, “You can do twice the mileage you can manage at Alta and the terrain takes a back seat to no one.”

Correct me if I am wrong, but the purpose of skiing is to be skiing, not riding a lift. So more time on the mountain is a good thing.

At Snowbird, not only do you get quantity, but quality. With Utah’s longest season, you can make turns from November through May. Last year’s late-season “open-boundary” policy was a huge hit with skiers. With the great snow coverage, it allowed skiers to continue to log massive vertical with minimal crowds. Chip’s Run and Silver Fox transformed into a heart-stopping “Chinese Downhill.” Skiers were in a contest to see how many continuous Red or Blue Tram laps they could make before their legs would give out.Another reason that Alta falls below Snowbird is that her runs are much shorter. Any run that manages more than 1,500 feet needs two separate lift rides and a traverse just to get back. Second helpings come much quicker at The ‘Bird. You just have to be ready to capitalize. Correct me if I am wrong, but the purpose of skiing is to be skiing, not riding a lift. So more time on the mountain is a good thing. While you are riding up “Wildcat” and “Germ” chairs at Alta, I’ll be making another 3,000 plus vertical foot swoop down a “Diagonal Chute” to “Wilbere Bowl” catching mad faceshots along the way.

Still, “Altaholics” will argue that Snowbird is too crowded, but the addition of Mineral Basin has helped to spread out the crowds. Yet, a few of them will still find fault with the ‘rush’ of Snowbird compared to Alta. Most of those people are mainly tourists complaining that they do not know where to look to find the fresh lines on a powder day. Nevertheless, just like in the NHL, you have to “step up your game” when you play the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. You never catch a local moaning about the lack of fresh lines because they exist everywhere. The mystique is that it seems crowded to the unassuming eye and you won’t find any Alta converts complaining about that once they know where to look for the fresh snow.

A subtle transformation joining the Tram posse is a burgeoning population of former Alta pass-holders now taking refuge at The ‘Bird. While a few readily admit to their recent migration, the evidence lies on the many traverse tracks. Just like at Alta- where climbing a traverse with your skis slung over your shoulder might get you a slap upside the head, many of the former boot-packs at the ‘Bird are now littered with skier-friendly traverse tracks. These Alta skiers are now becoming part of the Snowbird family and bringing a welcome tradition with them.

Then there are those at Alta that might argue that riding a Tram takes out the soul of skiing. What they do not realize is that The Tram is a big family. All the cliques and groupies seem to know each other. Skiers and snowboarders ride together and acknowledge each other’s accomplishments. It is a harmony that exists only on The Tram. The famous “Alta Attitude” is missing. People are on that Tram to do one thing: Ski and Ride. The passion and excitement exude throughout the Tram. In addition, when you need to break away, there are plenty of other high-speed lifts for you to snuggle up with and let your legs run wild. Mineral Basin packs a punch with 1750 vertical feet covered in 3 minutes.

Snowbird and Alta are like a good sibling rivalry. Everyone has a reason to prefer one or the other. For me, I can argue all day as to why Snowbird remains the superb choice, but who can argue with the new Snowbird-Alta season pass? Only Whistler can match the sheer quantity of challenging terrain between the two resorts. But nobody beats our snow. That’s the winning ticket. Join the feud.

Counterpoint: Alta is for Skiers

About Author

Tim has achieved near-legendary status snaking lines in the Pacific Northwest, Chile, Utah and now Jackson Hole. He loves to ski, so long as the mountains are steep and the snow is cold.

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