Reviewed by Mark Lesh
Nov 06, 2008
Tucked in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon on the road to Alta, Snowbird is known for hanging bowls, 50-foot cliffs, and over-the-head powder.
Even on the biggest dump days the place is peaceful: Lift lines barely push four minutes, and locals take leisurely dips into untracked shots all day.
With 3,700 acres spread across eight distinct peaks, The Canyons is Utah’s largest individual resort. (Only Snowbird/Alta is bigger.)
Until recently, Snowbasin was an obscure, bare-bones ski hill whose 15 minutes of fame coincided with hosting the 2002 Olympics. Now, with two top-to-bottom gondolas (Strawberry and Needles Express), an automated snowmaking system that can belch 3,000 gallons of frozen water per minute, and three fancy lodges, the 68-year-old resort’s a full-fledged celebrity. Kind of. Truth be told, when you’ve got some of Utah’s tightest chutes and driest powder, no on-slope lodging, and few crowds, the upgrades only mean you’re the same as you ever were—just better.
Powder Day: During Snowbasin’s consistent dumps, take shelter in the trees beneath the John Paul Express. Follow 30-degree Snow King to the north-facing Douglas fir glades on Deane’s; then catch half-mile-long FTS back to the chair.
Three Days Later: Skate the ridge from the top of the Mount Allen Tram past Easter Bowl and hike five minutes to the top of No Name. Drop into either Shooting Star or Wheeler’s, northeast-facing, 30-degree bowls that funnel into ravines where windblown pow piles up.
Park and Pipe: Join the six-year-olds in the Krazy Kat Terrain Park as you work up to the big hits in the Apex Terrain Park off the Porcupine chair. Or session the superpipe’s 17-foot walls at the base of the women’s downhill—it has its own handle tow.
Backcountry Access: Practice your rescue skills at the Beacon Training Park; then grab a partner and head to one of the four backcountry-access points into Hell’s Canyon for more than 2,500 feet of tight trees and chutes. Avalanches rip frequently—last season a skier died in a slide. Check conditions at avalanche.org/~uac.
Weather: Storms tracking out of the west-southwest favor Snowbasin over other Utah resorts. If California is getting hammered, book a flight to Salt Lake and head north. Hit it in February or March for Utah’s fabled late-season goods.
Après: BYOB—chug a Pabst Blue Ribbon in the parking lot. Or trundle 10 miles down to Huntsville to the Shooting Star Saloon, Utah’s oldest bar. Raid your coin jar for jukebox quarters, and don’t knock over the Harleys on your way in.
Fuel: Three pimped-out on-mountain lodges with monster fireplaces and glass chandeliers also have good food. Choose the $10 Tuscan tortellini salad at the John Paul Lodge and wrap it up with the best tiramisu this side of…Denver.
Up All Night: Seriously, forget about it. There’s no nightlife at Snowbasin, and though Ogden is 17 miles away, you’d be lucky to find much more than a bingo party. If you absolutely must get your late-night swerve on, head 60 miles south to Park City.
Digs: The closest lodging is 10 minutes away in Huntsville, where a Lakeside condo starts at $175 a night (lakesidevillage.com). Or try the $85-a-night, Euro-style Atomic Chalet (atomicchalet.com).