On the first day, there was wind. Wind that made getting off Snowbasin’s Wildcat Express an exercise in math. First, how high is my DIN setting and will my skis blow off? Second, how good are my chairlift mates at getting off a lift? Good enough, it turns out, but we all have to pole and skate our way out of that mess. But the wind is a blessing in disguise—it’s chased nearly everyone else off the mountain. I’m with Megan Collins, a Snowbasin yellow jacket who knows where the good stuff is. We find ourselves looking at a tree shot nobody has yet dared. Poof. Poof. Poof. Five lovely turns in that inestimable Utah powder. From there, an empty groomer in a wide chute below that angry wind where my skis find easy purchase and my face finds a wide grin.
On the second day, the wind that vexed Snowbasin’s guests the day before has brought in a textbook Utah storm and left behind a gift in the night—a deep blanket of powder, manna in a layer thick enough to cover the wind-crust below a blue sky. From chaos, order or, as we find in Genesis, “And the second day, the Lord said: ‘May the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place.’”
That place in Utah is Snowbasin Resort, a 3,000-acre openly kept secret above Ogden, a city of more than 80,000 people with a reputation for being very un-Utah. Ogden’s proximity to three ski areas—Snowbasin, Powder Mountain, and Nordic Valley—rivals Salt Lake City’s access to Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons. And, with powder-day canyon clogs in the Cottonwoods becoming more of a norm, there’s even a contingent of Salt Laker’s choosing to buy a pass at Snowbasin or the others rather than blow a “sick” day to look at brake lights after a heavy snowfall. This setup, and closeness to the Salt Lake Airport, makes Ogden a fresh alternative for a ski trip.
Ogden is an old rail town with a hip, convivial downtown. Over its history, Ogden has often been the yin to Salt Lake’s clean-cut yang. During Prohibition, its main drag, 25th Street, was famously known as Two-Bit Street—a place where a feller could get anything he wanted for 25 cents (or, where his life wasn’t worth a quarter, depending on which version of the legend you hear). Ogden-ites pride themselves on their town’s outsider status. Redneck rebels, tattooed, bearded hipsters, and hard-drinking old timers all mingle on 25th Street. A new wave of transplants fleeing the coasts for the mountain lifestyle and aff ordable housing has embraced Ogden’s scruff y rep and wears it proudly on its sleeve. On any given night, bars like Yes, Hell, Alleged, and the hidden speakeasy called The Underground are bumping with live music, DJs, and craft cocktails. The center of it all is walkable 25th Street. The popular First Friday Art Stroll shows off Ogden’s DIY artisan culture with a nerdy undertone. And, of course, there is pour-over coffee and vegan fare. Brooklyn, it seems, is everywhere.
After a night out in Ogden, I was shaking it off with Collins back at Snowbasin atop the 2002 Winter Games Men’s Downhill Run, which was covered in about a foot of powder. Collins’ tips hover over the drop.
“You go first,” she says. And I can’t possibly. I blame 25th Street, but also last season in the Rockies was dicey at best. I’ve not had a lot (read: any) hero days so far. Storms came late, and today, finally, is one of those days we all live for. Yesterday, Collins took the lead and uncovered some of the deepest powder and most sheltered spots on the mountain, despite the storm. Now it’s my turn.
“After you, my dear,” I insist. Chivalry, it turns out, is not dead, but it is a great excuse. I watch her disappear into the first jump turn and then straighten up into a form that inspires and intimidates.
The Men’s Downhill Run is one of Snowbasin’s sternest. Created for the 2002 Winter Games, it is accessed by a short beer can gondola, just outside of the John Paul Lodge. Its pinnacle affords views down canyon into Ogden, and during big snow years, an out-of-bounds run into the city itself. In the early 2000s there was talk of putting a gondola from downtown Ogden to this point, which still seems like a just-so-crazy-it-could-work idea.
Read More: Five Olympic Runs You Can Ski
I watch Collins’ florid turns, take a deep breath, and plummet down. On a groomer day, this run is terrifying—all about edges, quads, and wishing I was Bode Miller. Today it is pure forgiveness. Barely leaning into turns, this powder is heaven on Earth. This is why we ski.
Trip Planning - Snowbasin and Ogden, Utah
A stately hotel from Ogden’s heyday as a railroad hub, The Bigelow is central to the city. The Hampton Inn and Suites might be a chain, but it occupies a restored historic building with spectacular views of the mountains and city.
In Ogden, head to Slackwater Pizza for creative wood-fired flatbread pies and a massive beer selection. Do not try the ghost pepper hot sauce. If you do, consider yourself warned. Nearby, The Angry Goat Pub & Kitchen has a great menu and more than 200 beers on tap. The Angry Goat Balls—yummy fried risotto—are an excellent après snack.
Alleged, now a multi-floor bar and club, refers to the building’s past as a brothel. Downstairs it’s a DJ dance club; upstairs is a rooftop jazz bar. Yes, Hell is a hot spot for live music, good food, and a friendly crowd of Ogden locals who like to get down and boogie.
Social Axe Throwing gives you a chance to take out your aggression by throwing axes at a target in a friendly competition with your ski chums.
Salt Lake City–based freelance writer Jeremy Pugh plans to ski Snowbasin often this winter, and vows to sample the menus at all of the resort’s day lodges.
Originally Published in the November 2018 print edition of SKI Magazine.