12. Snowbird, Utah

The poor marketing guy at Snowbird is faced with a major dilemma. After his brilliant idea of opening Mineral Basin for the millennium, the boys upstairs want to know what ingenious vision he has for this year.

Instead of smoking a fat Havana with his feet propped up on the desk in a new office, the guy is staying up all night beating his head against the wall. He’s obviously desperate. Maybe we can help. But how the hell do you improve on one of the top mountains in North America?

Start with the powder. The snow that settles in Little Cottonwood Canyon is already the lightest and driest on the planet. Dead end there. How about more snow? Snowbird receives 500-plus inches a year. An extra 100¿200 inches would be great, but only Snowbird’s owner Dick Bass can pull those kinds of strings, and he may have used up his favors with the miracle in Mineral and the impending palace on the peak. Anyway, it’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature.

How about the terrain? The terrain is insane. That’s what the Bird is famous for. The terrain is so sick even snowboarders love it. Think about all those epic chutes off the Upper Cirque; the bottomless tree shots and glades of Wilbere Bowl, Lone Pine, and Nirvana; the pow turns in the Tower and Rasta Chutes (not to mention dozens of droppable rocks and cliffs); the steeps of Gad II; the killer lines of Dalton’s, Mach Schnell, and Tiger Tail. Even the 3,200-vertical-feet of groomed corduroy from Regulator to the bottom is sweet.

Heck, Snowbird had awesome terrain even before Mineral Basin’s opening increased it by 25 percent. The Basin alone is bigger and better than some ski resorts, and the new quad chair back there sure cut down on the tram line. Tell me Powder Paradise, the Chamonix Chutes, and the Bookends aren’t outrageous on a powder day. Snowbird’s terrain is fat¿we can’t help the guy there.

What’s up with the backcountry? What’s up is heaven on Earth from any gate you choose to depart from. High Baldy is a mellow fifteen-minute bootpack that’s unreal in fresh. White Pine is a hike, but face shots in the Birthday Chutes sure beat blowing out candles. The climb straight up from Hidden Peak to the East Twins’ 11,433-foot perch is a rush, but just a walk in the park compared to dropping into Pipeline Couloir.

We know better than to bitch about the Wasatch Backcountry. Criticizing you-know-who’s lines is karma worse than that of a surfer eating shark. Don’t even go there.

What if you get bored just riding the mountain, are there any other options? If you get bored riding the Bird, try therapy, Prozac, or skydiving¿without a chute.

Snowbird’s alternative mountain options are outrageous. The Wasatch Powderbird Guides is the premier heli-service in the Lower Forty-Eight. The terrain they fly to is big-time da kine.

Snowbird also has guided-backcountry service, Camp 5 Expeditions’ basic mountaineering clinics, a sunrise First Tracks Tram program, a killer halfpipe, and to top it off, a staff of professional photographers at Powder Shots to not only capture your face shots and big drops, but show you where to find them. With the exception of a terrain park that nobody’s been able to find for two years, Snowbird’s alternative riding options are excellent.

No wonder this marketing guy is stressed; we’ve gotta do something. What about the lifts? The Tram is the ultimate lift in North America. It rises 3,000 vertical feet in eight minutes, protecting the 125 passengers from the elements on the way up. What if you made it faster? If you speed it up, you might get two or three more trams a day. Imagine, that’s an additional 6,000¿9,000 vertical feet of bottomless turns, face-shots, and steep chutes¿what a great idea!

That’s just what Snowbird did for 2000/2001. The Bird’s 2,500 acres of deep pow, steep lines, big air, and wide-open bowls just became more accessible. Snowbird improved the ultimate lift, which improved an incredible mouuntain. When you ride the Bird, make sure you’re on the first tram¿and the last. ¿Steve Shand