Skiing Snowbasin and Powder Mountain, and Seeing Ogden, Utah
Sunday, November 30, 2008
You don't often see ski resorts reflecting a town's dueling cultural influences, especially in Utah, which was founded almost exclusively by people of like minds and hearts.
But Mormon pioneers were not alone in settling Ogden, 35 miles north of Salt Lake City. Outsiders had an equal, and a most unwelcome, hand in the process.
Therein lies a tale of how two approaches to skiing can coexist in one area, occasionally a little uneasily but pretty much always to the benefit of every skier, from bunny-slopers to black-diamond demons and beyond.
The resorts of Snowbasin and Powder Mountain (east and northeast of Ogden, respectively) are about 30 minutes by car from each other. Both offer a rich variety of terrain: bowls, chutes, glades, groomers and more.
Apart from that, however, the two might as well be in different states, if not countries. It has much to do with Ogden's unorthodox and lurid history, traces of which are still evident. Things are far quieter these days, but local lore has it that mobster Al Capone once said Ogden was too wild for his taste.
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Call Snowbasin an exercise in splendor. I'm a fan of big, wide, empty groomers that lope, snake and dip endlessly amid sweeping vistas and then deliver you to a mostly line-free chairlift. With 113 trails chiseled into the sides of six adjoining peaks, Snowbasin had plenty of these when I was there last Presidents' Day weekend. That's right: One of the most popular ski holidays, and I never saw more than maybe a dozen people at any lift.
At 2,800 acres, the amount of skiable terrain is respectable, though not huge. (Park City Mountain Resort, in the not-too-distant Wasatch Range, has 3,300 acres.) The lack of crowds probably has more to do with the fact that Ogden just doesn't have the cachet of Park City, and I suspect Ogden's regulars hope it never does.
Snowbasin's views can be breathtaking, particularly when you pause after coming off the tram to Allen's Peak (the second highest, at 9,500 feet). Looking off the back end, you can survey Ogden laid out below; off different vectors, you can catch glimpses of Nevada, Idaho and Wyoming in the distance.
Experts and would-be racers gravitate to the top of Allen's Peak mostly for two reasons: First, that was the starting point of the 2002 Winter Olympics downhill events; second, ungroomed, deep-powder trails with nearly 3,000 feet of vertical are accessible.
Only double black diamonds, the real expert trails, run from the top of Allen's Peak, but about a quarter of the way down you can gently carve your way onto a big blue (or intermediate) cruising trail that lets you glide to the multiple intermediate trails of Mount Ogden, the next peak over. Or stay on the diamonds and dive-bomb your way down to the base of the resort. The toughest trail I like is a single black diamond, which is why, after a highly embarrassing start on the men's downhill, I set sail for Mount Ogden.
Despite its abundance of snow and trails, what distinguishes Snowbasin is the Euro-style grandeur of its amenities and the state-of-the-art efficiency of its on-mountain equipment. The latest lift system whisks you to the tops of Snowbasin's peaks, and high-powered snowmaking machinery provides amply when storms, on rare occasion, fail to. Restaurants sport polished marble and wood decor, and Earl's Lodge, at the base, boasts elegant stone fireplaces and Venetian glass chandeliers.