Stemming from a mix of cabin fever and Snowbird burnout, my two-planker friend Scott and I escaped our home for the winter in Little Cottonwood Canyon last Thursday the 11th for Snowbasin, 33 miles northwest of Salt Lake City, Utah, on a classic powder mission.
I heard from friends that word on the street was that Snowbasin is a mountain for those that want to ride expansive terrain, discover new runs and not be held up in lift lines. As someone who fancies a long, challenging with just a friend or two, I couldn’t have been more excited to see what was in store.
However, the relentless high-pressure that has defined February in the Beehive State threatened to kill any powder hopes. But like an early Christmas present we were happily greeted by steady snow and a few inches on the car as we awoke that morning. There is nothing like a powder day in any case, but unexpected ones are all the more stellar.
Arriving at the base, the facilities were impeccable (marble-floored private bathrooms!) but the mountain was socked in by a soupy fogball, starting mid-mountain. This cut off visibility for all of the upper elevations, as we pondered what might lie in the abyss. Without much of a clue of where to go and unable to see a thing, we relied on instinct and trail maps.
At times, the fog was maddening and necessitated a game of Marco Polo to stay in touch. Vertigo would set in when the fall line became a mystery. But with low crowds and roughly six inches of Utah blower, it really wasn’t that hard to find excellent runs when a window appeared.
Heading straight to the Strawberry Express Gondola where we saw a plethora of blacks and double blacks on the map, we hugged the rope line to skier’s right. Fun gullies with many natural rollers, hips and halfpipes provided for endless entertainment and cautious airs into the soft, but sometimes thin snow. Unfortunately, most of the gates that access the reportedly amazing sidecountry terrain were closed due to the storm, so we made do with the readily available terrain.
Going off a tip from a fellow gondola rider, in the afternoon we headed to the John Paul Quad, which rises an impressive 2,400 vertical feet with the option of a short tram ride at the top for another 500 feet of vertical. This was where they ran the downhill in the 2002 Olympics, explaining the mini-tram. It was here we found our calling. After a mean, high-speed-tear under the lift we made the short traverse and five-minute hike to No Name Peak, accessed by entering what I believe was the only open gate that day. There we found trees, open bowls and almost anything else you could want–clearly, the goods lay just beyond the boundaries that afternoon. The skies cleared a bit and we caught glimpses of the stunning features that stretch across the summit ridgelines: mind-blowing straightlines, enormous, shelfy cliffs, and enough terrain to challenge anybody, but that would have to wait for another day.
As we slurped down PBR and greasy chicken wings back in Salt Lake, I couldn’t help but ponder the epic potential if the gates were open, the snow fresh and the crowds low. Seeing as how we went two-for-three, I imagine batting a thousand at Snowbasin is sometimes a reality.
All the more reason to return.
Photo 1: Courtesy Snowbasin, A Sun Valley Resort
Photos 2 and 3: Scott Lommele