Hitting the Slopes of Snowbasin and Powder Mountain
By William C. Triplett
In early February last year, when headlines were only recently starting to mention some weird new disease in China, I found myself on an airliner to Salt Lake City. Even though I’m pretty much a news junkie, my biggest concern at the time was for the snowstorm we were in as the pilots were trying to find a runway to land on. After all, the grand total of known coronavirus cases in the U.S. then was a whopping eight. (Those were the days, huh?) When we touched down, my mind zeroed in on the only thing that really mattered then: hitting the slopes of Snowbasin and Powder Mountain, two ski resorts just up the interstate to the north, outside Ogden.
Little did I know it would be my only chance to ski the entire season. But, living in the land of East Coast blue ice, when I go out West I tend to ski every time like it might be my only outing. This time would be no different, and no less gratifying.
While there’s some limited on-mountain lodging at Powder Mountain, there’s none at all at Snowbasin. I was with a group, and we stayed in a rental condo area – Powder Mountain Getaways – in the town of Eden, which is maybe a 30-minute drive to Snowbasin, less to Powder Mountain. Ogden is also about a half-hour to the southeast. On the day you arrive, you can fly in, check-in, and ski in maybe two hours at either resort. Eden is ideally located in that respect, though there’s more to do in Ogden (details in a minute).
One thing I love about Snowbasin and Powder Mountain is how they’re such a study in contrasts. I’ve called Snowbasin an exercise in Euro-style grandeur – in particular, Earl’s Lodge at the base, where polished marble, Venetian glass chandeliers, stone fireplaces, and stately wood paneling reign supreme. Snowbasin also sports high-powered snowmaking machinery that provides amply when storms, on rare occasions, fail to.
A look at the Snowbasin trail map shows a lot of black lines, with a fair amount of blues, but not much green. It’s probably no surprise that Snowbasin hosted the downhill events during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, and if you take a ride up the Allen Peak Tram, you can see where the starting gate was and the steep pitch that racers launched themselves down. I stayed mostly on blues with an occasional run down a mogul-free black and enjoyed myself immensely. How could I not? Beautiful clear skies, no lift lines, and a vast array of varied terrain.
Powder Mountain is, in a lot of ways, everything that Snowbasin isn’t. It’s not particularly well-known; its lift system is, by comparison, average; there’s no snowmaking equipment; the lodges are small, and the amenities are several leagues behind Snowbasin’s. Therein lie advantages and disadvantages, depending on your point of view.
Me, I love Pow Mow, as the locals call it, for its down-home feel, it’s far more expansive skiable terrain (8,400 acres to 2,900), its limit of 1,500 lift ticket buyers on any given day, and the fact that it’s still not well-known, though it has been gaining more attention in recent years – doubtlessly to the chagrin of locals. Oh, and there’s no snowmaking equipment because Mother Nature provides more than 500 inches every winter. Pow Mow is old school in all the best senses of the term.
The weather wasn’t great. It started out overcast and then the snow – the light fluffy stuff for which this place is so aptly named – started falling. Still, there was fun to be had even if I had to go slower because of the flat light and melting flakes on my goggles. Pow Mow is so spread out – every time I got off a lift, it seemed like there was yet another bowl or area I didn’t know existed – and as I rode one of the lifts that offered a wide view of mountains and spaghetti-like trails amid trees, I remembered that same feeling I had when I first skied here – as if I’m skiing the wilderness. Corny, I know, but there’s a wonderful sensation of remoteness at Powder Mountain that I’ve not felt at many other resorts.
There’s not much nightlife in Eden, and while downtown Ogden isn’t exactly swinging, there’s plenty to do after a full day of skiing. Ogden’s even worth a visit for a day off from the slopes. My favorite part is the old section of town known as Historic 25th Street. The frontier-style architecture of the old days still presides as mountains rise dramatically in the distance, adding to the Old West atmosphere, while the hip boutiques and bars let you know you’re in the 21st century.
One afternoon we checked out the Salomon Center, a mega-sports-entertainment-plex for families. Want to surf in winter? You can at the center’s indoor facility. You can also find out what it’s like to experience anti-gravity, courtesy of iFly Utah. This is a powerful, vertical wind tunnel in which skydiving teams, as well as the skydiving-curious, can float and, if desired, do somersaults. You can do undesired somersaults if you’re not careful, hence the professional flyers who control you if you decide to give it a whirl – literally. Several of us did; I watched. We all enjoyed it.
One night we were in the mood for sushi and thought we’d explore the possibilities. Turned out there were quite a few – ten different places, by my quick survey. We settled on Tona in the historic district, and we had a diverse, innovative sampling of fresh, tasty delights, starting with garlic edamame. Two of my favorite rolls were the Escolar-Cilantro (spicy tuna, snow crab, cucumber, topped with escolar, cilantro, lime, miso-mustard sauce, and sriracha) and the Green Monster (tempura asparagus, ahi, topped with wasabi tobiko). With a cold Kirin or two, dinner was a complete hit.
I considered that a Snowbasin-style dinner (very upscale, cosmopolitan). Another night we hit what to my mind was a Powder Mountain-style chow-down – the Shooting Star Saloon, a holdover from Ogden’s past. Built in 1879, it’s said to be the area’s oldest joint, and it looks it: scarred, stained wood paneling, stuffed elk and moose and even a St. Bernard on the walls, and dollar-bills tacked to the ceiling. I don’t eat meat, but I was told the burgers (delivered to your table in a red plastic tub) were good. The veggie burger I had wasn’t much to brag about, but, to be honest, I was surprised it was even on the menu. The service was terrific, the experience unique. Nice collection of brews, too. Definitely worth a visit.
Ski trips are always way too short. As of this writing, there are 22 million people (and counting) in this country with Covid, and more than 373,000 have died. So, I suspect it’s not certain how much skiing any of us will get in this season. But both these resorts are open with varying safety limitations and restrictions. For the latest details, check the respective websites of Snowbasin and Powder Mountain. If at all possible, ski them if you haven’t yet. They’re two distinctive experiences, but together they add up to one hell of a good time.
William C. Triplett is the former DC bureau chief for Variety. Triplett has written about various destinations, from Scotland’s Inverness and Paris’s Pere Lachaise Cemetery to Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon and the Beatles’ old haunts in Hamburg. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, The Baltimore Sun, and Capital Style.