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Sleeping Giant, Part 2

Features
posted: 09/19/2000

The largely undeveloped simplicity of the Ogden Valley, home to Snowbasin, is also destined to change. The biggest¿perhaps only¿tourist attraction in the neighborhood for years has been the Shooting Star Saloon in Huntsville. The oldest continually operating saloon in Utah, it is a dive in the most honorable sense of the word¿a bar, a pool table, greasy burgers, dim lights, bathroom graffiti proclaiming sexual prowess, walls decorated with thousands of business cards, and a ceiling covered with autographed dollar bills. If you're looking for any kind of social intercourse in the Ogden Valley, the Shooting Star is pretty much the place.

There are locals who are banking on development in the valley. I saw signs of a certain hopefulness for future prosperity in the Eden General Store, on the north shore of Pineview Reservoir. The store had been dolled up in a way that seemed meant to attract tourists¿walls full of apothecary drawers, scented soaps and candles, ceiling fans, and the re-creation of an old soda fountain.

As far as I could tell, though, I was the only person at breakfast who could even remotely qualify as a tourist. Everyone else seemed to know everyone, and the main topic of conversation was about getting kids to the school bus on time. Out front, a pickup with a mud-splattered cap on the back bore on its bumper a sticker that read: SCREW THE NET. SURF THE BACKCOUNTRY.

Still, with skiers, tourism, Olympic fever, and locals trying to escape the congestion of the Salt Lake basin, I could almost smell it in the air¿maybe in those jasmine and bay-rose candles¿Eden's idyllic bubble was about to burst.

There are hundreds of lines at Snowbasin that don't even have names yet. The trail map indicates, ridiculously, that there are only 10 runs in Strawberry Bowl. But if you think that's a case of absurd minimalism, the map also indicates no named runs to the skier's left of the John Paul Express lift, where some of the best, steepest, and most complex skiing in all of Utah can be found.

That's how I ended up having one of the most satisfying runs of the year on a trail without a name, descending from a peak named¿I swear this is true¿No Name. I had come down from the summit of Allen's Peak, through Easter Bowl, which will provide a breathtaking start to the Olympic downhill, and I had traversed left through the trees. Fanning out below me was something like 1,200 vertical feet of open face skiing decorated by the occasional Engelmann spruce. I estimated the pitch to be a continuous 40 degrees. Perfect.

It was late morning, and what had been corn was beginning to warm into a pillowy mush. The experience of skiing through this kind of snow was as close to powder skiing as powder skiing itself. The dense snow would build up under my skis, and the spring-loaded pressure would eventually jettison me with a butterflylike levitation from one turn to the next.

Toward the bottom of the pitch, the trees began to thicken and close in, and I worked across a steep gully to ski a more north-facing exposure, where the snow was still light and dry and peeled away from my skis in Styrofoam sheets. Now fall lines began drifting and angling away in all directions, with the snow texture changing from winter cold to spring rot and back again across the different exposures.

Lower down, thickets of underbrush and chaparral began to complicate my progress, and the challenge became an orienteering one: Which way back to the lift? The temptation was to follow the predominant fall line, but that would have been a sucker play, ending in a deep gully without escape. This was skiing, route finding, and heavy sweating rolled together¿a physical and mental challenge totaling almost 3,000 vertical feet from the summit of the tram.

It's hard to know how long a run like this will be available at Snowbasin. As the ski area's makeover proceeds, the mountain will likely be tidied up. The underbrush will presumably be trimmed, more trail signs and boundary ropes will appear, and the lonely, uncharted frontier of Snowbasin will succumb to some degree.

"We're doing everything we can possibly do to keep that unspoiled character," Holding insists; but at the same time he's not interested in a resort that attracts fewer than 100,000 skiers a year, or one that loses money.

So, in many ways, Snowbasin's future is predictable¿it will be a slicker, more popular ski area. Just how much slicker and more popular is hard to predict, although Park City numbers aren't anywhere in the foreseeable future. There will still be thousands of acres to roam, particularly if you manage to slip beyond the boundary lines as I did in Strawberry Bowl. The huge tracts of untracked snow may begin to get chewed up by increasing skier traffic, but powder days won't be causing Bird-like frenzies anytime soon. Even as it lies on the cusp of discovery, Snowbasin is still too big and lonely for that.

Click here for Destination: Snowbasin.

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