SnowbasinSo we all know the 2002 Olympic speed events were held here, but have you heard of it since?  Have you been there?  Likely not.  Since it’s a god-awful full hour’s drive north of SLC, instead of just 30 minutes like the Park City and Little Cottonwood areas, nobody seems to go.  Big mistake for them.  But hey, for now let’s just encourage their expeditious ways.

strawberryMy last visit to Snowbasin was in the early 80s, long before the Olympics when it was just a tiny little mom & pop ski area.   To say the place has changed a bit would be the ultimate understatement.  The absolute size of this place feels somewhere in the neighborhood of Jackson Hole or Snowmass.  The Strawberry area actually has the feel of Jackson’s Hobacks.  And much like the Hobacks, there’s nobody there and it is probably bigger in acreage than many western resorts.  And even more conveniently than Jackson’s famed tram, all this terrain is served by one nearly 2500’ vertical gondola.

trail mapWhere am I going with this? Well, having just skied at Jackson Hole in January, I found this place to have many parallels.  Both are east facing ridges and the terrain opens up as you go from the north to south.  Snowbasin actually has more skiable acreage at about 3000, but comes up about thousand feet short on the vertical, which still leaves an impressive 3000′.  I would guess that if you took Jackson and just tilted it down a notch you would come up with something much like Snowbasin and the runs would be about the same length.

Needles GondolaOur day unfolded with bluebird skies looking at late spring conditions in early February. 2015 has not been a kind year so far.  We started, like most, by loading onto the 2400’ Needles Express Gondola.  Conditions dictated that this would be a day to chase the sun, so we headed south.  From the top we took Strawberry Traverse to Main Street, which yielded a couple miles of very nice sustained blue corduroy.  As a side note, on runs like this, you can’t help but notice the very extensive snow making capability around the entire resort.

10923103_10203802385809379_2099886305_oFrom here it was up the Strawberry Express where you unload to some fantastic views south to the Wasatch and Salt Lake City area.  We chose to take a quick hike up the ridge approaching Strawberry Peak.  Dropping into Sisters’ Bowl 10967373_10203802543133312_626350690_oand down to Moonshine Bowl yielded untracked lines everywhere, even days after the last meager snowfall.  Not another skier was to be seen the entire way down.  

Back up the gondola and this time we headed north on the top for 10964953_10203802711777528_34590620_oanother short hike to the back side of DeMoisey Peak where a quick traverse brings you to the top of Middle Bowl Cirque.  Some wide open turns take you down to the midsection of the mountain, and the only area that I vaguely remember from many years earlier. 

10969259_10203802977544172_1833573195_oWe end up on the Porcupine Lift where a slightly longer hike north from the top brings you to the south shoulder of Mt. Ogden.  Creamy turns and some mellow small cliff bands make it all worth it.  This whole area between the Needles gondola and the John Paul lift is also very wide open, so a little exploration may yield some nice little gems.

10970193_10203803068426444_2124239806_oAt the bottom we took the John Paul Express Quad up to the the John Paul Lodge for a lunch break.  But not just any lunch break, the views are breathtaking and the food will rival anything you’ll find down the road at Deer Valley.

tramNow it’s time to head up on the Allen Peak Tram.  This eclectic bit of lift engineering is affectionately referred to as the “beer can” or “keg”, I can’t remember which, but you’ll totally get it.  Once again, the views at the top will cause you to forget if you’re in a hurry.  Also you’ll get a bit of an appreciation of the urban legends regarding how fast speeds were immediately attained in the Men’s Downhill event. 

10964825_10203803217870180_1308184027_oAfter a few photos, we end up taking a curiously creative route out and then back into bounds to head over to No Name Peak which is the resort’s northern boundary.  Another easy hike on hard pack snow brings us to the top of NNP.  10969431_10203803282231789_1429925524_oThe No Name run (almost a bowl) screams out at you, but my astute local guide warns of the dreaded “gully” and in these austere conditions steers us instead down Shooting Star with an egress under the lift to avoid the gulley.

This area and that around the Becker and Wildcat lifts are the only ones that 10967161_10203802587734427_869196618_oremind me of my Colorado areas where there are actually runs cut through the trees.  Much like its neighbor resort Powder Mountain, the terrain at these northern Wasatch resorts seems much more open and most of this gigantic mountain is just wide open skiing that invites you to point your skis like your’e playing a game of “spin the bottle”.

Add to this, local daily lift ticket deals as low as $80, free paved parking just spitting distance from the lifts, and some of the friendliest employees you’ll ever meet, and I’d suggest the next time you’re skiing SLC, you might think about heading north instead of east.  I guarantee you won’t regret it.

I’d like to thank my new friend and local skier Tony Owens for doing a most excellent job of guiding me around the mountain and really taking the time to thoroughly cover all the nuances that make the experience so special.  

IM Demo 1And finally a big thank you to the sales crew at Ski Pro Ride Shops of Phoenix for inviting me to join them for the Intermountain Retailer’s Demo Days where we got to see and try out all the latest gear for next season.