Firsthand Report: Snowbasin, Utah 2
Author thumbnail By Connie Lawn, DCSki Columnist

Snowbasin is the Gold Standard. It is among the finest, most luxurious, varied, surprising, and uncrowded resort I have been to, and I have probably visited over 100 in my 45 years of skiing. There are spectacular vistas, varied trails for everyone, and incredibly luxurious day lodges, with five star gourmet cuisine.

Snowbasin, near Ogden Utah, has 53 identified runs, with a summit elevation of 9,350 feet. It is designated 20% novice, 50% intermediate, and 30% expert. When they say expert, they mean it! It was the site of the men and women’s downhill courses for the 2002 Winter Olympics, and they are open to anyone who dares try them! You can take the Mt. Allen (formerly called Olympic) tram up, experience a spectacular view of Ogden and ride it back down. If you want to ski them, the Olympic downhill courses have a 74% overall grade and you take off in near free fall, accelerating immediately to 70 mph or so. And then there’s a turn and you go airborne! I’ll leave the flying to Hill Air Force Base, which you can see from the other fantastic overlook at the top of Strawberry Gondola.

The Great Salt Lake is visible on the horizon from the top of the Strawberry gondola. Photo provided by Charles Sneiderman.

We were extremely fortunate to be at Snowbasin on a perfect day on March 7, 2006. The sun was shining, and there had been ten inches of fresh snow the night before. Many of the runs were groomed, but there was abundant fresh powder everywhere. When we skied at Snowbasin in 2003, we could sense it was a magnificent area, but we were skiing in a whiteout. This time, the heavens graced us and we were awed by the magnificent vistas everywhere. In addition to the view of the other mountains, we saw the Great Salt Lake, the Hill AFB, the city of Ogden, and across into Wyoming and Nevada. If you didn’t want to ski, you could just sit for hours in the elegantly appointed mountain lodges, eat delicious Italian, Austrian, or American food, and gawk and ride down in covered gondolas. Of course, intense skiers and snowboarders kept going while many of the local residents and long-term visitors learned to take their time and savor every minute. Backcountry skiers had to be especially careful of avalanches - while we were there, we could hear some loud dynamite blasting in the distance. Underneath the small tram, ski patrol members were shoveling away remnants of the blasted snow, to keep the tram path and downhill course clear. Anyone in the back country is on their own. And, if they have to be rescued, they must pay for the services out of pocket.

“The city of Ogden would not let Snowbasin build the Olympic tram to the top of Mt. Allen because it would be visible from the Ogden skyline,” writes Charles Sneiderman. “As a result the tram is close to the snowpack and requires blasting and digging after each storm.” Photo provided by Charles Sneiderman.

Snowbasin is relatively easy to get to. At this point, there is no lodging close by, but that could change. There is abundant housing in Ogden, about 15 minutes away, and Salt Lake City, about an hour’s drive. The roads to Snowbasin are wide, relatively straight, and well maintained. You do not have the dramatic steep atmosphere of the Cottonwood Canyon drives to other areas, but you also do not have as much danger from ice, snow or rock slides. So, on a day of heavy snowfall, Snowbasin is probably a safer alternative. The resort also has package deals with hotels, which include shuttle bus service. Something to keep in mind. Some of the hotels are in Salt Lake City or Ogden. The Little America and Grand America offer van transport from the hotel to Snowbasin.

We want to thank the people who treated us royally at Snowbasin. That includes Dave Holmstrom, a retired businessman who guided us around the mountain, which he has skied for over 40 years. It is so essential to be with someone who knows the mountain in such a vast space. Dave took us up the Needles Express gondola, the Strawberry Express Gondola, the John Paul Quad Express, and down a lot of wide, sweeping trails, Many were tree-lined - all had breathtaking views. We did not do any daring jumps or difficult moguls, and the snow was soft and forgiving.

Dave was gentle with us, and knew our legs and knees were skied out after a few hours. It was time to enjoy the luxury and delicious food of the lodges. We dined at the John Paul Lodge - named after an avid skier and visionary who was killed in WWII. At the lodge, we ate gourmet Italian food and watched outside as the beautiful sunny day was engulfed by blinding snow. After a heavy meal, we decided it was best to ride the chair down, and not risk the zero visibility. I had actually gone through seven days of intense skiing without falling, and was afraid to break my record, or anything else, on a final run down.

With Ogden, Utah in the distance, Connie Lawn and Charles Sneiderman stand at the top of the Olympic downhill runs with Dave Holmstrom (left), a mountain guide.

In addition to Dave, we want to thank the Rowland family, who were so great to us. Denzil is the General Manager of Snowbasin; his wife Mary is in charge of public relations and marketing, and son Justin is an executive who does what is needed. He guided us around in the heavy snow on our first visit in 2003. Others who were great assistance to us were Kevin Stauffer and Leon Jones. There is a close-knit and devoted community of regulars who make Snowbasin happen.

Finally, I will make a feeble attempt to describe the day lodges. Once you go into them, sink into the plush sofas, and gather around the massive fireplaces, you never want to leave, no matter how great the snow is. There are four of them; The Lodge at the Base, the Grizzley Center, the Needles Lodge at 8,750 feet, and the John Paul at 8,900 feet. It looks as though the finest architects and designers from Europe were transported to Utah to construct them. The ceilings are burled wood from Italy, with crystal Italian chandeliers. The carpets are British, and the wall tapestries appear to be silk.

Each serves a different menu of gourmet foods. The attendance at Snowbasin has picked up over the years, and a movie was being made while we were there, with a series of trailers visible in the parking lot. The movie is supposed to be set in Alaska, but that was too cold and remote.

Mary Rowland tells us Snowbasin goes out of its way to be a good stewart of the environment. She also says it reaches out to all aspects of the community. In good weather, there are “grey power” events for residents of assisted living homes. Once a month there is a “full moon gondola ride” to study the stars and enjoy a dinner on the mountain. There are tours for students with special needs - such as visits by pupils of the Utah school for the deaf and the blind. There is so much to describe, and so much to savor. I must go back to Snowbasin for a longer visit, so I can really get to know this magnificent resort. And, maybe I’ll even do a little more skiing when I am there.

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About Connie Lawn

When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.

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Reader Comments

May 1, 2006
Great article, and TRUE to the last drop! We also consider Snowbasin top of the line, and will always make it a must when we go to utah.

January 31, 2008
Connie thanks for rekindling memories of 1 day at Snowbasin pre Olympics.(Feb'00)Although cloudy,flat light,and windy I too enjoyed the gondy's and the long groomers to the base,especially Strawberry.It was 2 years before the "show"and preparations were well under way.I only wish the mountaintop lodges were built and open when I visited,but the views,lifts,including Jigback were already in place.
A short story from the base of the jigback Oly tram.My bro-law and I saw 1 blue rated trail and found it roped off.We proceeded down one of the steepest ungroomed and actually held our skis under our arms and slid on our butts down the hill!Finally a polite patroler found us and guided us to easier terrain.Will never forget it!
Thanks for your reminder of one action packed day at Snowbasin,would love to see it post Olympics but 70% grade downhill,I don't think so!

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