From towering peaks to sprawling views and all that wonderful fluffy snow, ski season in Utah is a magical time. But if you want to make the most out of it, whether as a local or a visitor, you’ve gotta be prepared. And prepping for a Utah ski season is no joke — it’s a rigorous process that separates the black diamonds from the green circles. We’re talking thighs as thick as aspen trees, abs as shredded as a mogul run and calves that pop more than Shaun White at the winter games.
Just kidding, only Shaun White needs Shaun White calves. But a little prep work goes a long way, both in the muscles you work on in the gym and the equipment you buy at the store. There are plenty of things to knock off your preseason checklist before the lifts start spinning, and Utah.com has you covered with the best ways to prepare for ski season in Utah.
Buy the Right Equipment
If you’re new to skiing (or even if you’re not), the price of new ski equipment might give you sticker shock. We know, it's expensive, but not to worry. There are plenty of local ski swaps and used gear shops offering quality equipment for heavily discounted prices. There are also online classifieds sections like KSL Classifieds where fellow shredders will sell gently used equipment for next to nothing. The point is, the retail price is not your only option.
Step one is finding the right ski or snowboard for you. Well, actually, step one is deciding whether you want to ski or snowboard. If you’re brand new to snow sports and aren’t sure which one to choose, refer to this old adage: skiing is easier to learn but harder to master, while snowboarding is harder to learn but easier to master. Basically, you’ll have an easier time getting down the mountain as a complete beginner on skis, but you might progress faster as a beginner on a snowboard.
Once you’ve made your decision, the first step is to cut all ties with everyone in your life who does the other sport. Skiers have no room in their life for snowboarders, and vice versa. Just kidding — everyone’s friends on the mountain! Except people who play music out of their backpacks.
When looking for the right ski or snowboards in Utah, it’s best to defer to the experts online or at your local ski shop. They can point you to the best skis for beginners, experts and everything in between. Depending on your ability level, you might want to look for equipment that performs well in powder, since that’s what Utah is known for. If you’re not really jonesing for the deep stuff, you should look for some solid all-mountain skis or snowboards.
Skiers, look for ski poles about elbow height or just above. Snowboarders, you don’t need to worry about ski poles until you hit a flat spot. That’s when you borrow them from your skier friends.
As far as ski boots go, beginners should prioritize comfort over all else. You’re trying to convince yourself to like the sport, not tolerate it. Experts already know all about the aches and pains of ski boots, and can focus on other things like stiffness and binding compatibility. If you’ve got extra cash to spend and really hate the cold, you can even shell out for heated boots, which are beloved by skiers of all ability levels. Snowboarders have less to worry about — their boots are comfy as can be. Talk to your local ski shop experts about which ones might be the best for you.
Before we discuss the importance of helmets, Utah.com just got a message from your mother. She told us to ask “If your friends were all jumping off a bridge, would you??” You’ll see people skiing without helmets on the mountain pretty often, since they think that our ultra-soft snow won’t harm their noggin. Wanna know what’s not soft, though? Trees. Rocks. Other skiers. The list goes on.
Helmets these days have all kinds of features that make them safer and more comfortable than ever, and there’s no reason not to wear one. You don’t want a bad fall to take you out of the season early, or something worse. Helmets are a necessity, not an accessory.
“Wow, what an incredible view!” “Where? I can’t see it — my eyes have been watering for the last two hours.” That’s you if you ski without goggles.
Buy the Right Clothes
Ski clothes can be just as expensive as ski equipment — a quick look at the sea of outdoor brands at any mountain will prove that. But the good news is that there are plenty of options for all price points, and you might not need to drop too much money to keep yourself warm and dry on the mountain.
If you’ve already got a layering system that works for you, don’t be afraid to stick with it. But if you find yourself shivering through every lift ride or overheating at the end of every run, it might be time to switch it up. Here’s the textbook layering system, which you can feel free to play around with:
Baselayer: This is a close-to-skin layer that keeps you warm by trapping body heat and wicking away moisture from sweat and snow. Your baselayer (top and bottom) will usually be made with wool, polyester or a mix of both. It should never be cotton. Cotton dries slowly and doesn’t stay warm while it does so, which isn’t a fun combo on the slopes. High-end baselayers can be found at any major outdoor retailer. Inexpensive options include yoga pants or running tights for bottoms and exercise tees for tops. You can get those for the price of entry into your local Thanksgiving 5k.
Midlayer: Your midlayer compliments your baselayer, and for that reason some people combine the two by simply buying a heavy baselayer. A midlayer adds comfort, warmth and insulation to your system. There are all kinds of fancy, breathable options out there that might pay dividends for expert skiers. But for most, your favorite fleece or sweater will do the trick.
Insulating Layer: Also known as “the Puffy Layer.” Your mid- and baselayers work by trapping your own body heat, but your insulation layer uses down or synthetic insulation to create some warmth of its own. If you’re going to pick one layer to spend big on, a quality insulating layer will carry you through winter adventures and summer camping trips alike for years to come.
Outer Layer: Also known as “the Layer People Can See.” Expensive outdoor brands offer all kinds of shells (top and bottom) with world class waterproofing and breathability, and if you’re into backcountry touring or all-day powder skiing, they’re worth the price tag. But everyday skiers can get away with any hard-shell jacket that’s equipped with quality water and wind resistance. You can also save some money by buying an insulated shell, which combines your outer layer and insulating layer. You’ll just have less options to mix and match layers when the weather warms up in the spring.
Gloves or Mittens
The “skiers vs. snowboarders” feud is greatly exaggerated. But “gloves vs. mittens”? Those bitter rivals will duke it out until the end of time. Basically, mittens are warmer, but gloves offer more dexterity. For that reason, skiers often choose gloves to better grip their poles, while snowboarders are able to function just fine with mittens.
What’s this? A third option?! 3-finger mittens, also known as Lobster gloves keep your index finger separated, while the rest of your fingers stay snug in a cozy mitten. Dexterity plus warmth — the Lobster may have the power to unite us all.
As with your other clothes, gloves should have water resistant properties and insulation. Some people choose leather gloves for their natural waterproofing. However, leather gloves often have a higher price tag, and there are lots of options for inexpensive, toasty-warm ski gloves out there.
You can certainly get away with skiing in a cozy pair of everyday wool socks, but ski socks are among the least expensive ski-specific clothing to buy. If you’re out there most weekends, their extended length, cushioning and blister prevention will probably be worth the purchase.
Because sometimes it gets windy at 10,000 feet. A classically fuzzy neck gaiter, face mask or balaclava will fend off the cold winter weather excellently, but you can also buy a versatile, lightweight gaiter that serves as a sweat-wicking, sun-protecting accessory in the summer. As long as it keeps the wind off and isn’t made of cotton (looking at you, bandanas), your gaiter should serve you fine.
Choose Your Season Pass
Now that you’ve got the gear, it’s time to decide where you want to ski. It’s a big decision, but the good news is you can’t go wrong. The most important factors are probably A) where your crew is skiing, and B) which mountains match your ability level. For instance, if you’re a beginner, you won’t have a lot of fun at Snowbird, which boasts only a few green runs. And if you’re a social skier, you probably won’t have fun doing it Jason Derulo style (Ridin’ Solo).
Utah (and the rest of the skiing world) has two big players in the game of multi-resort passes — the Epic Pass and the Ikon Pass. Each pass has different levels, with access to different mountains depending on which level you purchase. In Utah, the Ikon pass has a lot more mountains to choose from, with unlimited access to Solitude, and days at Brighton, Snowbird, Deer Valley, Alta and Snowbasin (depending on which pass level you choose). The Epic Pass only has one resort — Park City — but that resort is the largest in North America, with over 7,300 skiable acres. Once again, you can’t go wrong.
Single Mountain Passes
Perfect for the loyal types. As the name implies, these passes will only give you access to one mountain. But if you’re looking for an authentic Utah ski season, there’s nothing better than getting to know the lifties and locals on your favorite ski hill. You’ll also get to know all the best powder stashes and secret spots, and that’s something you can’t put a price on. For help deciding which mountain is right for you, check out our history of some of Utah's biggest ski resorts and decide which vibe is right for you.
Get in Shape
Exercise? But those slow motion skiing videos make it all look so easy! Skiing can be tiring work, especially when bouncing through deep powder at altitude. By the end of a long season, you’ll have no problem tearing up the slopes, but if you want to get out to a strong start, a little pre-season exercise can make you a stronger skier and even help prevent injuries.
Just like Sir Mix Alot, Utah.com likes big butts and we cannot lie — at least when it comes to ski season. If you can only focus on one part of your body, make it the lower part. Whether skiing or snowboarding, your legs and glutes are the most important factor in a strong season on the slopes. Your glutes and thighs are probably the most essential area to work on, as anyone who’s experienced early-season jelly legs can attest. But your calves and lower leg are important too. Just a few daily or weekly exercises in those areas will make a big difference.
A strong core will help you stay strong and upright as you ski. This leads to better form on the mountain, which leads to more people on the lift saying “Woah, look at that guy/gal shred.” A strong core also leads to a head start on beach season, if that’s more motivating for you.
It’s important to be in good cardiovascular shape for chasing runaway skis down the mountain. Kidding, but anytime you add altitude to the equation, you’re going to want to give your lungs a leg up. Since most Utah resorts have summits between 9-10,000 feet, an unprepared skier might find themselves stopping to catch their breath more than once on the way down. There’s also plenty of tasty terrain that requires hiking or traversing to — experts and intermediates won’t want to miss out on all that powder. Walks, runs, bikes or hikes are a great way to get your cardio in.
Do a Snow Dance
Also acceptable: praying to Ullr the God of Snow, flushing an ice cube down the toilet, wearing your pajamas inside out and backwards, putting a spoon under your pillow. Anything you can think of to get that fluffy white stuff to grace our slopes as much as possible. But even if the Greatest Snow on Earth™ doesn’t fall in its usual abundance, a ski season in Utah is still one of the best ways to spend your winter. So get prepared — and excited — and go live winter to the fullest, one turn at a time.