I just got back from my third trip to SLC area in 3 years, so Hopefully I can offer you some help. I've ridden Snowbird, SnoBasin, The Canyons, Brighton, and Powder. I've also listed them, in-order, according to my personal preferance. Each mountain has a different feel, so I wouldn't suggest riding any of the mountains for more than two days! (No more than one day would be needed at Powder, Brighton, or Canyons....IMHO).
For the first time we won't be renting a car for this trip. It's always been a waste of money for us and with the shuttle systems in resort towns we only seem to use it to get to/from the airport. I know that there are shuttle services to the resorts in the Cottonwood canyons so that's why we we're thinking along those lines.
I would suggest reconsidering this. I understand the wonders of having shuttle transpo, but it soooo limits where you can go and when. We were in SLC last weekend, had a car, and were able to (landing at 11:00PM Thursday Night and Departing 5PM Monday Afternoon) ride Brighton, the Canyons, SnoBasin, and Snowbird. There is no feasible way we could have pulled that off without a car. And, as I said, the best two spots were the farther-away places. If we didn't have the car we wouldn't have been able to drive to Snowbird and get the only Fresh pow of the weekend (4-5 inches) until 2 and then drive to the airport to catch our flight. Utah car prices aren't nearly as expensive as Denver prices......we paid 91$ for our 4-day rental. Check sidestep.com for good prices on simple cars. Ask for chains.
I'll definitely get more info on Snowbasin and Powder Mountain, thanks for the tips.
Unless they get killer snow, I'd balk on Powder. They have slow lifts, are way out-of-the-way, and 1/2 of their boasted terrain is snow-cat accessed (added fee) or, as stated before, require avy gear. Snobasin is on the way towards Powder and offers one HELL of a varied terrain!
How do the Utah resorts stack up against Lake Tahoe (Squaw Valley, Heavenly, Kirkwood) and Colorado (Steamboat, Beaver Creek, Breck) in the terms of difficulty level?
I can relate to Kirkwood and Breck. Brighton/Solitude are small versions of Breck. Some Steeps, some trees, some groomers, some Aspens.
Snowbird is a Kirkwood-esque mountain, only BIGGER. Most snow in the area. Kill yourself chutes, wide-open bowls, decent lift system, and just ooohhh sooo yummy! It is hard to explain the Bird, you just have to experience it and search-around a bit. This place is much better when more snow has fallen, so the rock terrain can be covered. With the elevation (11000ft) it is the one that gets the few inches of freshies when the other resorts are still offering corn or mashed taters.
Snobasin has some huge steeps from rock chutes to Pine glades with all sorts of slope to them. There are some fun middle runs. Then, again, as stated, the Strawberry area is AWESOME!!!! Imagine dropping off the top of the IMperial Express at Breck off the back (Whale's Tale) and then into the aspen area of Vail's Back Bowls, then having a gondola take you back up to do it again. A gondola ride, by the way, that may be the most beautiful/picturesque lift ride you ever experience! The resort buildings, themselves, are beautiful, too. Very pleasant staff....hell, even the lifties are trained to ask for your skis or board to load them onto the gondola for you. I know this is a little over-the-top, but for a vacationer...though I denied their offer, its cool to have that offer made.
Canyons. Well, I pledged to never go back. I would never go back, not because they are all that awful, but because the other two places are that much more enjoyable. We managed to bring a girl with us to Snowbasin, on Sunday, who hadn't left the Canyons/Park City because she had been going there since she was a kid. (Her folks have a place in PC). She refered to Snobasin as Gorgeous, Beautiful, Amazing, and the most fun she has had riding in a long time.......granted, some of that was due to the company she was in.
So, this is a post that is both a short recap of my trip and a response to your questions. After mediocre riding, at best, at Brighton and the Canyons, the vacation was saved by a sunny day at Snobasin on sunday and a snowy day on Monday at Snowbird.