The mountain west state of Utah is a winter wonderland with notoriously dry snow and steep mountain terrain within striking distance of an international airport. A dozen highly rated ski resorts get most the attention when it comes to winter sports, but there are endless opportunities to ditch the lifts and enjoy winter the way mother nature intended. Whether it's backcountry touring, cross-country skiing, sledding or snowshoeing, you'll find some really unique experiences out here for all skill levels.
Donut Falls Snowshoe: For a unique and relatively easy winter activity in the Wasatch, take your snowshoes up a frozen waterfall into a small cave atop Donut Falls. The trailhead is just minutes from the neighborhoods of Salt Lake City, but you won't find too many winter hikes like it. Make sure to bring the sled for the nearby hills at the trailhead, a great area for the entire family.
Lake Blanche Snowshoe: There aren't many places in Utah that can best Lake Blanche for sheer beauty, especially when Sundial Peak is covered in a fresh blanket of snow. Hiking this trail in the snow will take some effort, but the reward is more than worth it. This trail gets crowded in the summer, so finding some solitude up there in winter is what it's all about.
Lower Bells Waterfall Snowshoe: Located on the edge of a Salt Lake City neighborhood, this easy-to-access winter hike has the kind of beauty you expect to find deep up a remote canyon. Hike around the reservoir at dusk to check out the sun setting over the city or head up to the waterfall on a weekend for a longer journey. This area is definitely popular, but it is also beautiful and so close to home.
Round Valley in Park City: The views won't take your breath away, but the freedom here is unmatched. Enjoy as much rolling terrain as your heart desires to cross-country ski, snowshoe or fat-bike while your dog runs off-leash alongside. Located on the edges of Park City, it's perfectly situated and large enough for residents from around northern Utah to enjoy.
Solitude Nordic Center: Enjoy fantastic views of the soaring peaks of Brighton and Solitude Ski Resorts while you cross-country ski over the now frozen Silver Lake. Snowshoe routes are available if cross-country is not your thing, and don't worry if you are without proper gear; a rental shop is on site. Nearby restaurants and bathrooms make for a less than rugged day that is great for the family.
Kessler Peak Backcountry Skiing: The best single spot for backcountry skiing in the Wasatch might be Kessler Peak in Big Cottonwood Canyon. The multi-aspect peak has several world-class descents with its famous Utah snow underfoot. While known for avalanches, it also is one of the most frequented peaks on the mountain, especially with dawn-patrolling locals.
Mount Raymond Backcountry Skiing: One of the hardest tours in the Wasatch, the views from atop Mount Raymond are spectacular. Separating Big Cottonwood from Millcreek Canyon, it takes a high level of stamina and skill to complete, even more so than the taller Gobblers Knob nearby. Overlooking Kessler Peak, the reward comes from the lack of people you see along the way in the ever more popular Utah backcountry.
Mount Superior Backcountry Skiing: One of the most iconic peaks in the West and located just across from Alta and Snowbird Ski Resorts in Little Cottonwood, Mount Superior is frequented by locals as well as adventurous tourists from around the world. The 3,000-foot climb will give you that rewarding feeling you only get from earning your turns, and the easy access to the trailhead is a rare treat for such rugged terrain.
Kings Peak Touring: If you are looking for a longer and more remote tour, head out to the Uinta Mountains and Utah's highest point, Kings Peak. The arduous 23-mile roundtrip journey is normally done in a multi-day trek during summer, but it can be completed in one day with skis. Winter lasts well into spring in this part of the state, so save this one for the late season when you can drive to the trailhead.
Geyser Pass Yurt and Mount Mellinthin Backcountry Skiing: Most people don't think of Moab when it comes to backcountry skiing, and maybe that is why it's such a great place to explore. The Geyser Pass Yurt allows adventurers to access some incredible and wild terrain in a more in-depth fashion than with day trips. With views of Arches National Park while you ski down, this is truly an adventure unique to Utah.
Regardless of your favorite activity, safety is rule number one when having fun outdoors in the winter, and that takes proper preparation. This starts with checking the avalanche conditions at Utah Avalanche Center and then making sure you have all the necessary skill, endurance, gear, and provisions for the conditions.