Firsthand Report
Firsthand Report: Snowbasin, Utah 3
Author thumbnail By John Sherwood, DCSki Columnist

For this season, I would only get one opportunity to ski out west, so I knew I had to make the trip count. Snowbasin not only lived up to my expectations but exceeded them. When I arrived on February 28, 2023, the area was experiencing its best season in 20 years and the snow kept coming. As of March 21, the resort had received 430 inches and touted a 169-inch base. We received between 5 and 12 inches of snow on three of our five days there. The trip stands out as one of my best ski trips in over 50 years of skiing.

Since my first visit in 2012, I have made six subsequent trips from the Washington, D.C. area to Snowbasin. Why do I keep returning? The short answer is the combination of snow, terrain, lift-served vertical, and great views. When the snow is good in Utah, no other ski region in the world compares.

Admittedly, we did not receive top-grade blower powder on this trip but the snow quality far exceeded what we usually get in the East. With ample snow and a deep base, all of Snowbasin’s 3,000 acres of skiable terrain opens up, creating endless possibilities for big mountain descents. And the terrain does not just consist of straight down the fall-line trails but incredibly diverse and whimsical lines. One moment you can be skiing a giant bowl and in another, playing in a natural half-pipe. If you like trees, Snowbasin has them. If you like couloirs and cliffs, check. If you enjoy blue cruisers, there are numerous options.

Wildcat Bowl. Photo by John Sherwood.

The only terrain the resort lacks in significant acreage is true beginner terrain and flats. In short, it’s paradise for strong intermediates, advanced skiers, and experts. It also boasts huge lift-served vertical. Three lifts cover over 2,000 feet of vertical rise and another four, over 1,100. Most are high-speed detachable chairs or gondolas. When the sun comes out, there are unforgettable views of the Wasatch Range, Mount Ogden, and the Needles Cirque.

The other reason I gravitate to Snowbasin is its proximity to Salt Lake City Airport (just 50 minutes away) and the numerous direct flights to SLC from Washington. Few other destinations in the west are more accessible to DC. On this trip, I decided not to rent a car. Instead, we took the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) 675 bus every day from Ogden to Snowbasin (approximately 50 minutes each way) and back. The bus spared us from renting an expensive all-wheel drive vehicle and was a huge relief to ride when the roads were white. It lets you off near the main plaza, obviating the need to walk long distances from parking lots or take a parking shuttle. To get to the airport, we took a convenient Front Runner train from Ogden to Salt Lake followed by a short light rail transfer on the TRAX Green Line.

Front Runner train pulling into Ogden Station. Photo by John Sherwood.

While UTA is arguably one of the best transit systems in the Rocky Mountain States, it was not perfect. The ski bus was often standing room only and there were two occasions when it reached capacity and people were turned away. The crowds surprised us — especially since we were riding midweek during a non-holiday period. On our last trip in 2020, there were usually empty seats on the bus. The ski buses also did not always run on schedule, and Front Runner did not run Sunday, compelling us to take a more expensive cab to Ogden on our arrival day.

These quibbles aside, I would not go back to driving. I appreciated the kindness of the drivers and their tendency not to charge us when the bus was late. As I told my wife, “a late bus equals a free après beer.” It also was fun talking to other visitors and Snowbasin employees or just crashing out. Not driving gave me extra energy for the slopes.

To avoid the hassle of schlepping skis, we rented demo equipment at Snowbasin. In the past, the rental shop had a large variety of skis from many different companies, but on this trip, the selection was more limited. I steered clear of Rossignols, which are often too noodly for my taste, and opted instead for a pair of Fischer 94 FRs. This ski held a good edge on groomers but was also playful in fresh snow and handled tracked out snow and bumps like a champ. It was a great all-mountain ski, even for the deep snow conditions we experienced.

They got a good test on our first day. Thinking we would ski the relatively low-angle Ogden Road for our first run after a 12-inch dump, we skipped the gondola line and took a quick trip up on the John Paul quad. Ogden Road is the only blue run down from John Paul so we were a bit dismayed when a Ski Patroller informed us that it was closed for avalanche work. Not wanting to miss out on fresh snow, we skied a series of black runs down, including portions of the men’s and women’s downhill Olympic runs! Waist deep in powder, we had a grand time hurling ourselves down the mountain.

Since the two of us have skied nearly every marked run at the resort (except for a few double blacks), low visibility and a bit of a traverse did not phase us. The best powder days are skied on familiar mountains. We spent the rest of the day alternating between Porky Face, the Wildcat Bowl, and the Middle Bowl.

Riding Porky triple. Photo by John Sherwood.

I was so impressed with how well the Fischers performed that at the end of the day I told the rental shop employee I would keep the skis for the remainder of the trip.

“You either take them home or pay $5 to check the skis overnight,” he said.

“But these are Snowbasin’s skis,” I responded. “Why should I have to pay to store your skis overnight?”

He said it was “Snowbasin policy.” I have rented demos on nearly every ski trip to Snowbasin (and at many other resorts) and have never once had to pay to leave rental skis overnight at the shop. I was not pleased, but I paid the fee to avoid the risk of not being able to rent the same skis the next day.

If Snowbasin wants to encourage patrons to take public transportation, they need to make life easier for riders. A free ski check for bus riders would be a step in the right direction. Another suggestion would be to move the UTA bus stop, which now sits downslope from the Yurt, back to Moose passage near Earl’s Lodge. That closer, upslope stop is now used for parking lot shuttles and as drop off parking for automobiles. Why is Snowbasin favoring drivers over transit riders?

Allow me to rant a bit more. Snowbasin is becoming a victim of its own success. Gone are the days of empty midweek skiing. “Fridays are the new Saturdays and Mondays, the new Sundays,” was a common refrain heard on lifts. Indeed, with each passing year, this snowy gem keeps getting more crowded.

“I keep reading that skiing is in sharp decline,” my wife remarked, “but every place we go is more crowded than ever.”

Because of our knowledge of the resort, we know how to avoid crowds at Snowbasin. With 3,000 acres of terrain, there are many empty spots even on the busiest days. There’s also a huge drop off in skier numbers after lunch since many passholders only ski a few hours in the morning. Skiing hidden powder stashes late in the day on the Porky Face was one of the highlights of the trip.

Along these same lines, if one wants a seat at a table at one of the resort’s three five-star lodges, don’t eat between 12 and 1 p.m. The situation at Earl’s is so bad that staff members walk around asking people who are not eating to leave.

Food quality has also declined. Snowbasin’s signature nachos used to have real melted cheddar. Now they are covered in gloppy cheese sauce laced with jalapeno flavor. Their chicken schnitzel sandwich was cold, dry, and overcooked. Many lodges ran out of salads while we were there — perhaps due to supply chain issues related to the California snowstorms. First world problems for sure, but a bit annoying given the cost of the food, lift tickets, and rentals. I would not dare ski the mountain on a Saturday given the crowds we experienced midweek on this trip.

Porky Face groomed. Photo by John Sherwood.

Besides the growing hordes of skiers, there are two other issues worth raising. The lack of beginner terrain can be a problem for some families. On the bus, a group from Pennsylvania complained that some of its skiers had trouble skiing even the green terrain on powder days and opted instead to take subsequent powder days off. Snowbasin’s expansion plans calls for a new lift-served, beginner hill in addition to condominiums and other base development. This new development will eliminate the closest parking lot to Earl’s lodge, but open up a learning area separate from the main mountain. Note: Snowbasin recently announced that a planned Club Med hotel project at its base has been cancelled, but provided no details about the status of the other planned base development.

Others complained about the Strawberry gondola often being shuttered due to high winds. We only managed to ski Strawberry on two days this trip due to either lift closures or low visibility. Strawberry is a European-style bowl mostly devoid of trees on the upper third of the mountain. Nearly all Snowbasin regulars, including myself, have experienced vertigo on the so-called “Trail of Tears” that runs from the Gondola to Dan’s Run and is marked by black circles with florescent lines through the middle. The new DeMoisy Express 6-pack, scheduled to open in December, 2023, will allow access to approximately 2/3 of the Strawberry terrain. It will dump skiers into a more tree-lined and protected part of the mountain above Dan’s, and will be huge game changer during gondola closure periods or low visibility days.

Another welcome addition already in place on the mountain is the new Middle Bowl Express. This lift services the expansive bowl under the Needles Lodge, which is filled with tall pines and numerous descents. It’s a great lift to lap while waiting for Strawberry to open. Nearly all lines down (including ones off trail) are accessible to strong intermediates. On powder days, it offers lower angle powder than the steeper terrain in the Wildcat Bowl, Porky Face, John Paul, or Strawberry areas. It’s a huge advance over the slow triple it replaced. It also has a restraining bar — something the older chair lacked, much to the dismay of anyone even remotely afraid of heights.

View of new Middle Bowl top station as seen from Needles Lodge. Photo by John Sherwood.

On Tuesday, there was a group from Ski Talk on the mountain. We did not join them because we were skiing that day with a snowboarder friend from Arlington, Virginia now living in Salt Lake City. Skiing with an expert snowboarder is something every skier should experience at least once. They can do things we can’t and vice versa.

“Nearly every day this season has been a powder day for me,” she told us. “I basically don’t go unless there is fresh snow.”

“Must be nice,” I said. “For us this year, we don’t go unless there is enough ice and machine made, hard-pack to get around the dirt patches.”

So will I return to Snowbasin? Unquestionably. The snow was fantastic, we never experienced serious lift lines, and we always found uncrowded terrain to ski!

Was the resort the same as when I first skied it in 2012? No. As forum members on Ski Talk point out, the place has become much more crowded and a number of services, including food, have declined.

Backside of Snowbasin as seen from downtown Ogden. Photo by John Sherwood.

I can’t comment about grooming because constant snowfall made it difficult for the resort to groom more than a few trails when we were there. The new DeMoisy Lift should solve the Strawberry conundrum but parking, transit, and lodge capacity issues will remain. In my opinion, improving transit options by paying UTA to add more buses to the Ogden route would be a step in the right direction. This could easily be done by charging for parking at some of the closer lots. Other ideas suggested by Ski Talk forum members include raising the prices of season passes, and perhaps ending the resort’s relationship with the Icon Pass, which has brought far more skiers to Snowbasin than the Epic Pass.

Author in front of Snowbasin’s iconic moose statue. Photo provided by John Sherwood.
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About John Sherwood

John Sherwood is a columnist for DCSki. When he's not hiking, biking, or skiing, he works as an author of books on military history.

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Reader Comments

oldensign - DCSki Columnist
March 27, 2023 (edited March 27, 2023)
Member since 02/27/2007 🔗
499 posts

Snowbasin is awesome! just there last weekend. We got in over 30K. Loved the Allen Peak Tram!~  Amazing!  

It is the real locals hill in SLC! (if you ignore the grumpy old men over at Alta) 

:)

Denis - DCSki Supporter 
March 27, 2023
Member since 07/12/2004 🔗
2,342 posts
Thanks for that story John; got my blood pumping.  I love Utah and had a pass at Alta for about 5 years.  I was eventually chased away by the steady growth of crowds.  If you want an alternative, check out the northern Rockies and the interior ranges of BC.  The powder and terrain are just as good and the crowds are far smaller.  Places like, Lost Trail, Montana snow Bowl,  Discovery, Whitefish, Red Mountain, Fernie, Panorama,  Whitewater.  Just to name a few I’ve skied.  There are lots more.  My physical capacity was in decline by the time Kicking Horse and Revelstoke came on the scene.  
johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
March 30, 2023
Member since 07/18/2001 🔗
1,990 posts
Thanks for the kind words Denis. For people living on the East Coast, the mountains near SLC and Denver have the advantage of being easy to get to due to the plethora of direct flights. For me, having to take two flights to get to a place is a turn-off. With that said, I hope to ski some more in Idaho (Schweitzer, Tamarack, and Brundage) as well as Southern Colorado and New Mexico. Next year’s El Nino may hold promise for the latter resorts. We’ll see.

Ski and Tell

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