When the Ikon Pass was first announced, I immediately started researching all the destinations available. Solitude Mountain’s off-piste terrain and quaint ambiance caught my eye. I had never been on Utah snow before and didn’t know what to expect, but I knew that would change this winter.
As an editorial and documentary photographer in Denver, I tell stories with pictures for the Ikon Pass. Because Utah is so close to Colorado, I convinced my brother and two friends to make the trek with me to ride three different destinations. “Trek” may be a strong word. “Jaunt” would be more appropriate. The road trip seemed to fly by. From Denver, we loaded up the car in the morning, drove through rolling hills in Wyoming, and pulled into Salt Lake City before the sun started to set.
Solitude’s symbolic “welcome sign” is a winding, beautiful drive up Big Cottonwood Canyon. As Ikon Pass holders, there’s the option to ride a UTA Ski Bus for free. We checked into our room and explored the village. We were greeted by the friendly glow of the buildings at twilight and kids sledding in the “town square”. We discovered great dining options, a bar, quaint coffee shop, spa, and stores with discounted prices for Ikon Pass holders (a nice perk). For dinner, we enjoyed buffet-style fine dining next to a roaring fireplace at St. Bernard’s. Then, we headed back to our Eagle Springs room to relax. We would soon realize Solitude has a unique dichotomy. The charming village is set against a backdrop of extreme terrain.
View Solitude's terrain map, here.
The next morning, we grabbed coffee at Stone Haus and met with Solitude athletes Blake Hamm, 2017 North American freeride champion, and Whitney Gardner, a USA skicross athlete. These two were kind enough to show us their favorite spots on the mountain. It’s a short walk over the Village Bridge to the first lift chair of the day.
On the way up, I recalled my initial research. I learned Solitude receives more than 500 inches of snowfall each year, there’s rarely any lift lines, and more than 50 percent of the terrain is expert. I was so excited to explore this playground. Our group is familiar to resort skiing in Colorado. Most trails are clearly marked and heavily patrolled. Typically, we take several long lifts all the way to the boundary to get a “backcountry” experience. Not here.
After the second lift, we reached the top of the mountain. Blake took us down a cruiser and when the run started to plateau, he unstrapped his bindings. But there was no lift in site. He had led us to Evergreen Peak, a short 15 minute hike along a ridge The juice was well worth the squeeze with captivating views, beautiful trees, and deep powder. The morning had just begun.
Next up, Honeycomb Canyon. This area is infamous. After entering, we traversed in the shadow of Fantasy Ridge. Above us, skiers climbed with gear on their back to access steep chutes. Below, endless routes to untracked magic. We made our way to the Boundary Chutes. The terrain was abundant with unique features; from carving through a valley or staying high on a spine. We each had an untouched line and a smile on our face.
It was time for a well-earned lunch. We grabbed food at Roundhouse and ate on the patio. Not many resorts offer Himalayan mountain food! While we relaxed, Whitney pointed across the run where the 2019 FIS World Championship course is being built. A 1,298 meter track for snowboard, freestyle, and freeski competition to be held in early February.
After spending the afternoon on the slopes, it was time for après at the Thirsty Squirrel, then a soak in the hot tub. Hard to believe we had two more days of skiing ahead of us after such a full first day.
Photos and blog by Daniel Brenner.