"A major benefit to Heber Valley is that we’re centrally located," says Michael Weber, owner of New Heights Rentals. “There’s at least 10 different trailheads within a 20-minute drive from Heber, so you can be on a groomed trail with access to a hundred miles of trails right away.”
No wonder they call it Utah’s "Little Switzerland"—Heber Valley is a winter wonderland. With half a dozen world-class ski areas within an hour’s drive, not to mention cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and countless other less traditional activities, it can be hard to know where to begin. Fortunately, Heber Valley locals have you covered. Check out these insider tips to make the most of your wintertime visit.
Pick an Activity
Whether you’re committed to human-powered activity, or you’re a total motorhead (or anywhere in between), there’s plenty to do in Heber Valley in winter. Your options are really only limited by your interests.
Family-friendly activities in Heber Valley range from ice skating in Midway and snow tubing at Soldier Hollow to heading out on guided snowmobile trips in the Wasatch. Wasatch Excursions is the only company with a permit to guide the terrain in Wasatch Mountain State Park; for families with little ones or folks who aren’t able to spend a full day in the cold, their snowcoach trailers and heated UTV tours—"We’re the only ones on the mountain offering those," says Matt Irvin, Wasatch Excursions’ Marketing Director—are a great option.
Those looking for a human-powered experience would do well to start at Wasatch Mountain State Park, where you’ll find groomed cross-country ski trails and endless snowshoeing opportunities. The park rents equipment by the day and overnight on-site.
You’ll be amazed what a variety of other activities are available in Heber Valley, regardless of the season. For example, lots of folks think of fishing as a pastime for the warmer months, but the fly-fishing in this neck of the woods is excellent year-round.
"Winter is one of my favorite times to fish," says Paxton Jardine, a fly-fishing and horseback riding guide for Rocky Mountain Outfitters. “Some days, you’ll have the entire river to yourself.” Rocky Mountain Outfitters continues to offer half- and full-day fly-fishing trips throughout the winter.
There are plenty of other activities beyond skiing and snowmobiling, too. Rocky Mountain Outfitters’ guided horseback riding trips are available in the winter, along with horse-drawn sleigh rides to see Santa up until Christmas and to the Midway Ice Castles beginning in January.
Mark Your Calendar
There’s plenty of snow in Heber Valley all winter long, with the bulk of it falling between December and February. Of course, the busiest times of the winter season are right around the holidays, so that’s when you’re least likely to have the trails to yourself. Most outfitters are prepared for the onslaught of visitors, so with advance reservations, you should be able to take on any guided activities or rentals you like.
For a quieter experience, though, Irvin recommends planning your visit to Heber Valley sometime after mid-January, when the holiday crowds have gone home. "We have great snow up until the end of March, even the beginning of April," he says, so even a late winter/early spring visit will likely have good conditions for your chosen activity.
As for the best times to head out the door once you’re in town, Jardine says weekdays are key: You’ll have an easier time getting reservations and run into fewer folks on the trails. And with any activity you’re planning, he notes, "the earlier you head out in the day, the less crowded it’s going to be."
Dress for the Part
"There’s no such thing as bad snow," Irvin says. “But there is such a thing as poor clothing choices.” Temperatures in Heber Valley can get seriously chilly (it’s often in the teens from December to February), so you’ll need to dress warmly, regardless of whether you’re headed out on a snowmobile or swishing along on cross-country skis.
Most important for whatever activity you’re planning, says Jardine: "Hats, gloves, jacket!" Choose materials that will keep you warm even if they get wet, like wool and polyester (avoid cotton at all costs). Once you’ve got those basics down, you’ll tailor the rest of your outfit based on the activity: For snowmobiling, you’ll want ski pants since you’ll be moving quickly and the wind chill is a factor. Cross-country skiers and snowshoers will want layers they can move in (think a fleece mid-layer, but a puffy jacket will likely be too warm while you’re moving). For horseback riding, regular pants with thermals underneath should do the trick.
Get Avy Savvy
Anytime you’re in terrain that’s fun to ski, snowshoe, or snowmobile, it’s possible that you’re in avalanche terrain. Avalanches aren’t random; they require a certain set of conditions to occur. If you’re new to the backcountry, consider taking an avalanche awareness course from any number of local providers. You can also check the local avalanche forecast online daily.
Before you head out on the trails, consult a map or a local outfitter about the potential for avalanche danger on your intended route. Weber goes over a recommended route on a map with renters before they hit the trail, so if you stick to the terrain he recommends—trails in the eastern valley aren’t as hilly and therefore tend to have lower avalanche danger—you’re far less likely to encounter an avalanche.
Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated Media in partnership with Utah Office of Tourism.