Mar 28, 2011
Author: Stehanie Nitsch Photos: Stephanie Nitsch
Salt Lake City, Utah is hub to almost a dozen resorts within an hours’ drive of downtown, but it’s painfully easy to stick around locally and tear up the cluster of mountains that are conveniently located around Salt Lake and Park City. Ogden, however, is a gateway to another combination of mountains, less than an hour outside of Salt Lake.
Powder Mountain and Snowbasin are, more or less, day resorts. People come here to rip the steep and/or deep – not for the pampered, slopeside ski vacation – because that’s just what you do. Distinct terrain differences between both resorts mean there are plenty of styles to fit your mood. And with combined terrain exceeding over 11,000 acres, we’re not stretching the truth.
Resorts are often named after some cliché geographic location or weather condition, but Powder Mountain’s reputation actually lives up to its name. With more than 8,000 acres of combined in-bounds, slackcountry and snowcat serviced terrain, Powder Mountain is the largest ski area in the United States. It helps that the low-key, mom-and-pop operations keep the champagne powder fresh long after any other Utah resort has been destroyed. Don’t expect to confront any egos or charge the steeps here: neither really exists. The locals’ attitudes are reflected by the very nature of Powder Mountain’s no-frills approach to the ski culture.
Plenty of pow chasing off Powder Mountain’s Paradise Lift
Terrain: Low-angle, rolling slopes make up the bulk of Powder Mountain, which surprisingly doesn’t pose a problem even on a deep powder day. Some of the most diverse terrain is found off the long and slow Paradise Chair, offering a few cliff shots and Hollywood-style lines fun enough to lap the entire day.
Snowcat: Individual snowcat rides along Lightning Ridge are just $15 a pop and drop you off at Cobabe Peak. Strap in at the unloading zone and stick to skiers’ left or continue bootpacking up James Peak for an extra few hundred vertical feet and, most likely, no other tracks in sight.
The rules of Lightning Ridge Snowcats—no party poopers
Slackcountry: Exit through the Powder Country slackcountry gates atop Hidden Lake Express and gain access to 1,200 acres of hikeable bowls and glades. Its southern-facing slopes tend to bake in the sun during warm spells, but hit it first thing after a storm, and you’re guaranteed a few hours’ worth of untouched turns through aspen groves. Powder Country spits you onto the access road back to the resort, leaving you two options: hitch a ride with a friendly stranger or hang tight for the Powder Country school bus to make hot laps to and from the resort.
Utah's oldest watering hole
Apres: Stop by the legendary Shooting Star Saloon in Huntsville, just a few minutes down the road, for any chance of après near Powder Mountain (the mountain itself empties out pretty quickly after last chair). Utah’s oldest saloon serves up three beers on tap and a six-item food menu – including the Star Burger, a double cheeseburger topped with a polish dog.
Rideable Terrain: 8,700 acres
Vertical Drop: 2,500 ft.
Day ticket: $59 USD
Although Snowbasin is located a short 20-minute drive from Powder Mountain, the terrain claims some major differences. Snowbasin has risen to recent fame since it began hosting the Winter Dew Tour in 2010, but it won’t take much longer until the word about its freeride terrain and steep lines gets out. With some of Utah’s longest trails (including the screamin’ 2002 men’s and women’s Olympic downhill runs), you’ll rack up an impressive vertical feet total at the end of the day. And because you’ll rarely encounter a lift line longer than five minutes, your legs might not even make it to the end of the day.
The wide open bowl of Mt. Ogden
Steeps: Mt. Ogden sits few thousand vertical feet above the resort’s 22-foot Superpipe, topping out at 9,570 feet. The bootpack to Mt. Ogden is considered out-of-bounds backcountry, but the variety of technical, exposed couloirs funnel back in bounds, just beyond the John Paul chair. Hop on the Allen Peak Tram and catch the city views of the Ogden Valley before ascending the Mt. Ogden hike.
Snowbasin's technical Finger Chutes
Freeride: De Moisy Peak and Strawberry Peak also boast some impressive hike-to chutes and untouched bowls, but the area is prone to whiteout conditions. On those days, stick to Moonshine Bowl in-bounds, skiers’ right of Strawberry Express, and explore the playful hips and cattracks for 1500-or-so vertical feet before cutting left and catching the last chance back to the chair.
Ambiance: Snowbasin’s lodges were renovated just before the 2002 Winter Olympics paid a visit to the resort, and the plush amenities give Snowbasin a five-star experience – with a three-star price tag. Swanky Italian glass chandeliers and marble floor-to-ceiling bathroom thrones are considered a no-brainer by Snowbasin’s standards.
Snowbasin lift line: A two-person wait time on a 12-inch powder day
Rideable Terrain: 3,000 acres
Vertical Drop: 2,950 ft.
Day ticket: $66 USD
STAYING IN OGDEN
From Salt Lake City, drive or take the train 35 miles north to Ogden. Most ski lodging options are found in the Ogden Valley, roughly 30 minutes from either resort, unless you opt for a small, limited-amenity chalet or innaround Powder Mountain. A handful of hotels/motels are within walking distance to Ogden’s Historic 25th Street, a lively strip of dining, shopping and nightlife venues. Grab a bite to eat at Roosters Brewing Company and head across the street to Brewskis for a cocktail or an occasional live show. If you have some free time, spend it indoor skydiving or indoor surfing at the mega-adventure Salomon Center.