Secluded Snowbasin

Lifting the level of utah resort ridingf or the past decade, a few from Snowbird-some patrolmen and a tram operator-have been telling me about this secret stash called Snowbasin. Although it’sjust one hour north of Salt Lake City, no one but the Ogdenites seems to know it exists.

“Best steep terrain in Utah,” one patrol pal always reminds me after inquiring why I haven’t been there yet. “Great hiking abovethe lifts.” I thought I’d surprise him and check Snowbasin out, but I was the one who ended up surprised.Shocked might be more accurate. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to find such terrain! Looking upfrom the base, the five prominent peaks (Strawberry, DeMoisey, Needles, Mt. Ogden, and Allen) thatdominate the upper ridge line are connected by four cornice-crowned bowls-Strawberry, Middle, Porkey’s,and Ogden. The bowls are penetrated by dozens of steep rock chutes and couloirs. A quick glance at thetrail map finds the mountain currently serviced by five lifts-three triple chairs and two doubles-but even on themap, it’s obvious the real riding is above the lifts. Stretch your legs in the parking lot, because if you want toride da kine terrain at Snowbasin, you’ll be doing some hiking. Riding the Middle Bowl Triple to the top, youcan’t help but notice a curious site: the 30-foot pine right next to the chair is decorated with bras of all colorsand sizes.

After that brief distraction, focus on the cornices atop Needles Peak. Once you’ve offloaded, ashort (but vertical) half-hour hike will deliver you to the top of Needles. To the west, several untouchedbowls lead your eye toward Ogden and the Great Salt Lake. To the north loom the distant ranges of Idahoand Wyoming. The immense and sparsely populated Ogden Valley sprawls eastward, and directly below liesa cornice-lined bowl just ripe for the dropping. The cornices range from micro (eight to ten feet) to macro(25-plus feet); the landings are soft and steep, with 500 vertical feet of fresh in the bowl below. Before yourlegs go south, hike the eastern ridge of DeMoisey Peak and ride one of the northwest facing chutes to thebottom-you’ve earned the turns. Below the bowl, even the groomers are long and well-pitched, with lots ofsidewalls to play on. Lacking a lingerie tree, the ride up the Porcupine Triple might not seem as exciting, butthe terrain at the top sure is. Surveying Porkey’s Bowl, the east side is laced with steep, west-facing chutesand fingers, while the west side is a wide-open bowl. From the top of the Porcupine chair, traverse along theboundary line and hike the twenty-minute cat road to the top of Jean Paul. Here the choices becomeinteresting.

If your legs are still fresh, climb Allen Peak, where any of a half-dozen long, vertical chutes areyours for the taking. If more hiking is the last thing on your mind, the upper glade contains some of the beststeep tree shots you’ll find anywhere, so simply drop in and enjoy. Snowbasin is indeed awesome now, butit’s about to get surreal. It’s hosting Men’s Olympic Downhill Skiing during the 2002 Winter Games, and thehonor will bring change-drastic change. Right now, most of the killer terrain lies above the lift-accessed area,but by as early as this December, four new lifts-two eight-passenger gondolas, a high-speed detachablequad, and a fifteen-passenger aerial tram-should be up and running. This will immediately take Snowbasininto the big leagues, making its expert lift-accessed terrain comparable to any resort in the country, evenSnowbird and Jackson Hole.

The Olympic build-up and media coverage-not to mention the new liftsthemselves-will definitely increase crowds at Snowbasin. But on the other hand, riders will get lifted to thebest riding in the entire area, and loads of it. Only three people will win medals at Snowbasin-skiers noless!-but snowboarders will be winners, too, thanks to the incredible terrain now being made lift-accessible.And what of the hiking faithful, the ones who’ll be joined atop Snnowbasin’s peaks by all those lift riders?They’ll simply have to hike a little farther. -Steve Shand Facts and Figures: Annual snowfall: 400 inchesTotal vertical drop: 2,400 feet (going up to just under 3,000 when the new lifts open) Snowbasin SkiArea: (801) 399-1135 Getting There: Snowbasin is 54 miles northeast of Salt Lake City and seventeenmiles east of Ogden, at the end of Highway 226 in the picturesque Ogden Valley. Accommodations: As ofnow, Snowbasin offers no on-site accommodations, so you’re best bet is nearby Ogden. Call Ogden CentralReservations at 1-888-OGDEN-SKI for several options and money-saving packages.Wining And Dining: In the valley, stop by either the Shooting Star Saloon or Astronomy for refreshmentsand casual dining. Utah’s oldest watering hole, the Shooting Star was established way back in 1879 (checkyour guns at the door, please). Ogden’s historic 25th Street offers a variety of dining and several nightlifechoices, including pubs, microbreweries, night clubs, and comedy houses. Call 1-800-ALL-UTAH for moreinformation.