Utah is known to skiers for its awesome powder snow. It’s light. It’s fluffy. And there is usually lots of it. It’s something most skiers want to experience at least once in a lifetime. Although I am a skier from Colorado, where the snow is just as awesome, I still wanted to schuss downhill through Utah’s powder.
But skiing powder in Utah this past January was nothing more than a wish that didn’t come true. Sure, my husband, Mike, and I skied and we had a wonderful time exploring several fine resorts east of Ogden, but Utah powder eluded us. The good news is that it snowed the day after we left town, so if you visit now you may well enjoy Utah’s fine powder.
We spent a week at Lakeside Resort Properties, where we stayed in a condo overlooking Pineview Reservoir. During the day we skied at the nearby resorts at Snowbasin and Powder Mountain, and in the late afternoon I would cook dinner and we’d sit, eat and watch outdoor enthusiasts ice fishing, cross-country skiing, and kite skiing on the lake. It was a wonderful time to be up in the mountains instead of down in the valley where an inversion was stuck in place for weeks and the air was polluted.
We spent our first day skiing at Snowbasin Resort, 17 miles east of Ogden. Home to stunning views, rocky outcrops and the take-your-breath-away Needles Spires, Snowbasin hosted six events in the 2002 Winter Olympics, including the men’s and women’s downhill, Super G and combined races. The resort has elegant lodges with gorgeous bathrooms and top-rated food. In fact, Snowbasin is internationally recognized as one of the best on-mountain dining experiences. Each lodge has a one-of-a-kind menu prepared by professionally trained chefs.
Snow was thin on the mountain when we were there so part of it was closed, but the closed sections were mostly black diamond runs that we wouldn’t have skied unless there was lots of fluffy powder. The snow was packed and slick, and despite the conditions, folks seemed to be having fun. Snowbasin makes snow, and make snow they did during the days we visited. Many of the easy and intermediate runs were covered with snow. In an average year, Snowbasin gets 400 inches of natural snow, but this year, as one local skier put it, “We really need the manmade snow!” Installed in 1999, Snowbasin’s snowmaking system is the most advanced system in the world and covers over 600 acres of skiable terrain.
Despite the dismal conditions, I could see that Snowbasin would be an awesome place to ski with a bit more snow. There are 2,830 acres of varying terrain and a vertical drop of 2,959 feet. The resort base rests at 6,450 feet while the highest point is Mt. Ogden stretching 9,570 feet into the heavens. Best of all, seniors 75 years and older ski all of this for free!
We skied many of the area’s 113 runs. Ten lifts, including two gondolas, two high-speed quads, four triples, one tram (that leads to double black diamond terrain), and one handle tow, provide access. Beginner runs cover 20 percent of the resort, while intermediate runs make up 50 percent and expert runs span 30 percent.
If you like skiing or boarding the terrain parks, check out Krazy Kat Terrain Park located off Littlecat Express Quad. For more of a challenge, check out Apex Terrain Park located off the Porcupine Chair. Coyote Park is located in Coyote Bowl and Snowbasin has its own super pipe too. In addition to terrain parks, the ski resort also offers freestyle terrain parks with jumps, rails and pipes.
If you get tired of downhill skiing and want to do something different, check out Snowbasin’s Nordic Trails. The resort provides 24 kilometers of groomed trails for beginners to experts. In addition to classic skiing, folks can enjoy skate skiing and snowshoeing on the trails. Maps, Nordic gear and snowshoes are available for rental in the Grizzly Center. On weekends there’s also a tubing hill, but you must rent tubes from Snowbasin.
Powder Mountain Resort
We were anxious to ski Powder Mountain because the name just plain and simply sounds inviting. Surely it promises powder and lots of it. Of course, they were lacking powder the days we skied there. In fact, the folks at Powder Mountain Ski Resort kept stressing the fact that what we were skiing was not typical for them. One host claimed, “This isn’t anything like what we usually have!” Another host said, “You’ll have to come back! Please don’t think that this is the kind of skiing we usually offer! This is just not the norm!”
When we visited the conditions were deemed early conditions, yet it was mid-January. A stubborn high-pressure front was sending storm after storm to the north. It seemed all the ski areas in the West were hurting for snow. Friends in Oregon said the mountains needed snow. Friends back in Colorado said the same. Lack of snow was definitely a problem for Utah ski resorts.
Still, we had some fun skiing at Powder Mountain, which is 19 miles northeast of Ogden. While we stuck to mostly groomed runs and watched for rocks, we found the skiing fun and enjoyable. Most of all, we could see that with normal snowfall, the place would be a huge amount of fun. (The resort has an average annual snowfall of 500 inches and has no snowmaking equipment because they usually don’t need it.)
Powder Mountain is an enormous place. With more than 7,000 acres of skiable terrain, the resort stretches across glades, bowls and much more. Lifts serve 2,800 acres. Included in the price of the lift pass is access to Powder Country. Closed when we were there, 1,200 acres of powder are accessed via the Sundown, Hidden Lake and Timberline lifts. Powder Country Shuttle provides rides back to the Sundown and Timberline lodge areas; private shuttling is not permitted.
More options are available. Access 700 acres of powder via the Lightning Ridge Snowcat Ride for a cost of $15 with a lift pass. Also, Snowcat Powder Safari takes guests to over 2,500 acres of exclusive bowls, gladed trees and chutes.
Powder Mountain offers 135 runs, a 2,205-foot vertical drop (2,500 feet-plus for in-bounds vertical) and two terrain parks. Beginner runs encompass 25 percent of the runs; intermediates make up 40 percent and advanced runs equal 35 percent. There are seven lifts: one high-speed quad, one quad, one triple, one double, one platter tow and two surface tows.
As I mentioned, Powder Mountain is enormous! The best way to get your bearings is to take a free tour of the mountain. Hosts offer the tours at 10 a.m. each day. The tours last one to two hours. A tour is definitely the very best way to find out how to get from one lift-served area to the next.
Two parking areas—at Sundown Lodge and Timberline Lodge—are available with a free shuttle providing access between the two. Beginners can head to the Sundown Lodge and purchase a lift ticket at a reduced price only good for that area. (Cost is $33 instead of $58 for an adult lift ticket.) There’s a ski school at Sundown as well as restrooms, rentals and a grill. There are three easy runs, four intermediate runs and one expert run for all abilities to enjoy.
The main resort parking area is at Timberline. In addition to a sports shop and adventure center, there is access to private lessons, rentals, and food from the biggest menu on the mountain. Unlike most resorts, if you ski from Timberline you’ll have to click into your skis and point them down to the lift. Yes, you’ll have to ski downhill to access the lift instead of riding the lift in order to access runs. A fun, easy warm-up run stretches from the lodge past the Timberline Lift and travels via Rendezvous Run all the way to the Paradise Lift. Ride the Paradise Lift and you’ll see all of the black diamond runs that slip off the ridge below. Everywhere you look there are possibilities.
While you’re riding, don’t fret about having to get off the lift and ski black diamond runs to get back to the lodge or an easier run. There’s always an easy way off each lift so you needn’t worry about getting down if you are learning to ski or you just want to take it easy.
When you ride the Hidden Lake Express Lift be sure to stop at the lodge on top. You’ll find wonderful views and good food. And while you’re at the resort be sure to take the surface lift, which provides access to Cobabe Canyon. Runs in the canyon are rated easy, intermediate and expert. Cat ski loading is available from the Cobabe Canyon Trail, and the long trail eventually ends at the Paradise Lift.
You can save gas money by taking a free shuttle from the town of Eden to the ski area. Check the Powder Mountain website for more information. You can save on lift money ($9 per ticket) as well by heading to the Valley Market (located near the shuttle stop in Eden), where they sell discount tickets for Powder Mountain. And if you’re 80 years old, you’ll save the entire cost of a lift ticket because you get to ski for free!
Wolf Creek Utah Ski Resort
We live a mere 20 miles from the Wolf Creek Ski Area in Colorado. And while it is bigger than Utah’s Wolf Creek, and we get more snow, we were intent on visiting Utah’s version of Wolf Creek as well. We just had to try out the small resort that’s all about family fun.
Wolf Creek Utah Ski Resort has been a community treasure for 40 years. With affordable prices (ski for $26 midweek and if you’re a military veteran ski for even less) it’s a wonderful place for families to learn to ski. There are three lifts, two for beginners and one, Howling Wolf Chair, for those accessing the top. The ski area offers 1,000 vertical feet and 20 acres of fun terrain parks, too. The park is groomed nightly from top-to-bottom to ensure that each feature has a smooth takeoff and a better landing. In addition, all features are hand-raked daily to add the finishing touch. Most of the mountain offers runs for beginners and intermediates, but there are still some expert runs.
We found the ski area a fun place to ski. The day we were there the New Mexico Ski Team was training so it was extra exciting to watch the experts race down the slalom run. And while we didn’t’ stay to ski at night, the mountain does offer night skiing, with the entire mountain being lit up until 9 p.m.
Despite the lack of snow, Mike and I will always have fond memories of our time skiing east of Ogden. We’ll just have to go back to discover Utah’s famous powder!
Donna Ikenberry is a writer and photographer who lives in South Fork, Colorado.
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