Powder Mountain, Utah

While Snowbird, Brighton, Solitude, Park City, and The Canyons duke it out for ultimateresort supremacy in the Wasatch, constantly developing and presumably “improving” their areas in theprocess, some of Utah’s best riding can be found 50 miles north of Salt Lake City at a little-known spotnamed Powder Mountain.

By choosing to maintain its rustic Alpine vibe rather than playing the bigger-is-better development game, Powder Mountain has created its own unique niche. The real winners are the few smart riders who revel in the uncrowded and ungroomed natural terrain that Powder Mountainoffers in abundance. Predominantly north-facing, Powder Mountain collects as much of the Wasatch’s finestfluff as the higher-profile hills nearby-500 inches annually-and leaves the majority of it unmolested by thegroomers. It’s a freerider’s paradise where the naturally occurring snowfall and terrain speak for themselves,unpropped by blitzkrieg “village” development and lift expansion-a refreshing breather in this day and age.

Powder Mountain has three lifts (and one rope tow), which service a wide range of fun terrain, from fall-linecruisers to challenging trees. Beyond the lifts is where this low-key hill comes alive, though. The area called”The Drain” features mostly mellow freeriding, a few drops, and some woods. The mountain runs a cat fromthe bottom of The Drain to pick riders up and carry them to the base lodge. Powder Mountain’s “Back Side”is completely ungroomed and has some of the best steep treeriding around. The Back Side gives you thatout-of-bounds feeling as you make your way down to the road below the resort. That’s where a vintageschool bus picks up riders and skiers and shuttles them back up the mountain. The bus runs faithfully every30 minutes or so, and is absolutely free.

There’s another 1,200 acres of hikeable in-bounds backcountry the resort calls Powder Country for the bootpack-inclined, and since there are plenty of great options at Powder Mountain without hiking, you’re all but guaranteed fresh snow here. For maximum freshness with no hiking,take advantage of Powder Mountain’s reasonably priced cat-boarding, which opens up yet another 1,200acres of glorious powder in neighboring Cobabe Canyon Friday through Monday, weather permitting.There’s definitely a lot more than initially meets the eye at Powder Mountain. It’s official ridable acreage is1,600, but if you add the Powder Country, and the Back Side area serviced by the school bus (not tomention the cat-boarding), that number goes way up. Powder Mountain’s people help to make this hillspecial, too. Everyone is incredibly helpful and hospitable, from the lifties and patrollers to the shuttle driver.

Like Powder Mountain’s brochure says, “You’re only a stranger once, then you’re part of the family.” Andthe smiles are apparently contagious-even Powder Mountain’s clientele seem friendlier. Who knows, maybeit has something to do with the great snow, varied terrain, deserted slopes, and reasonable prices. Onething’s for sure, though-while Utah’s big-name resorts fight to crowd more and more people onto their liftsand into their condos, Powder Mountain and other small, rootsy hills like it will become that much better bydoing absolutely nothing except letting the snow fall.