Thursday, April 13, 2017

Powder Mountain Adventures

Powder playground at Powder Mountain Utah - Photo by Ian Matteson/Powder Mountain
Before I went to Powder Mountain, Utah a couple of weeks ago, I hadn't really heard much about it until recently and had no real picture in mind of what to expect. I did a bit of research and discovered it was founded by a doctor, the son of a sheep rancher with a knack for water divining and preservation and was now owned by a group of entrepreneurs. The word 'powder' attracted me especially coupled with all the reports of a record-breaking snow season in the area. As we toured other Utah resorts I picked up a few kernels of info, but nothing very positive or descriptive. Comments like "it's not very steep, so it's no good when there's powder" and "it's a bit of an intermediate resort". So, my expectations were rather skewed, although as we approached on the UTA bus, with masses of snow having fallen overnight and still bucketing, I was naturally very excited. After all, I have never been to a ski hill that fresh fat flakes didn't enhance! Even Andorra in the early 80s!!

One of the bus-linked descents at Powder Mountain Utah - Photo by Ian Matteson/Powder Mountain
Well, obviously the people who had been making those comments either hadn't skied Powder Mountain or were selfishly trying to keep it to themselves: it was utterly phenomenal. The best two inbounds days of this season to date! 
Powder Mountain by Chris Morgan

Put it this way, we had tickets to do the snowcat ride to untouched terrain and WE DIDN'T USE THEM that first day - because we didn't NEED to. The snow was so deep and light everywhere and there were hardly any skiers, and no lift lines. In the multitude of glades and bowls where we put in first tracks, we were getting free refills as the day went on. And although I could see what the naysayers mean about the general pitch suiting intermediates, it certainly doesn't preclude advanced skiers. It was plenty steep enough to ski 18 inches of fresh everywhere in perfectly symmetrical turns and there were even steeper inclines in many of the gladed descents.

How's that for a pitch at Powder Mountain Utah? - Photo by Ian Matteson/Powder Mountain
No-one had mentioned to me before that the terrain is a whopping 8,464 skiable acres! Granted some of the side country is accessed by a combo of cat rides and free public buses as well as the nine lifts. But the lift-accessed area makes it a contender for North America's biggest resort, especially if you are allowed to count all those unorthodox - and attractively adventurous - means of transportation. It's been a while since I have had to stop at a road, unbuckle, cross the road, and then climb up a snow bank to get to the next part of the run - actually St Martin de Belleville in France, I think, 25 years ago! And I haven't hopped on a bus to get back to the lift system since my Verbier days. 

Lodge at Powder Mountain Utah - Photo by Ian Matteson/Powder Mountain
Now, apparently, there is a lot of ski industry discussion going on about the definition of skiable acres, with phrases like lift-accessed and lift-serviced being mooted. But, however you look at it, I would have to say that 'biggest resort' or even just 'big resort' coupled with 'limited amount of skiers' is undoubtedly an attractive ratio - in a project to preserve their pow, Powder Mountain is only allowing 3000 season pass sales for winter 17/18 and only 1500 day tickets per day. Get yours early!

Roscoe Wilks with by Dr Simon Hudson in the Timberline Lodge
We were guided around that delightful downpour day in zero visibility by ski host, Roscoe Wilks, the first African-American ski guide I have met (although as you know I skied with many African Americans during my National Brotherhood of Skiers Aspen Snowmass trip a few years back). Living in New Orleans in summer, Roscoe lives 15 mins away from Powder Mountain during the winter. Having become an expert skier during multiple Utah visits, he retired from general dentistry at 54 and bought a condo at the mini mountain town of Eden in order to indulge his passion for powder. “The first time I skied this powder I thought to myself if this mountain was a woman I would have to marry her – this was love!” he told us while guiding us expertly around his beloved backyard. Throughout this season he has been taking courses to become qualified as a professional ski guide ready for next winter. "At present, Pow Mow has received 478" of snow," he told us. "This is substantially more than what we received in the past few years. This was the best season I have experienced since my arrival in 2012." Whatever the season's quantity, though, he says the quality of the snow is always consistent: "Because of the extreme dryness of our snow, you don't plow through it: You glide through it."

Unspoilt scenery at Powder Mountain Utah - Photo by Ian Matteson/Powder Mountain
Although an advanced skier himself, Roscoe has picks for all level of skiing: "For the novice skier, there are long green groomed runs like 3 Mile. It is three miles long and allows you to explore the beauty of the Hidden Lake chairlift area. Whitepine and Dr. C offer exceptional vertical for the intermediate skier. The Paradise chairlift, and its' 1300 acres, is one of the resort's beautiful gems. It simulates backcountry skiing in an inbound area. For the really advanced skiers, a single ride snowcat run off Lightening Ridge will definitely elevate your heart rate." The resort isn't recommended, however, for mogul skiing: "The probability of you finding moguls is slim. At approximately 2 acres per skier, mogul formation is unlikely," Roscoe cautions.

The ski-scape he showed us was utterly enchanting. From the tops of the chairlifts we looked out over intersecting hummocky hills, splattered with trees (neatly brush-cleared), stretching into infinity with hardly a habitation in sight - the resort actually owns 15,000 acres of this winter wonderland. With a smattering of properties clustered around the Timberline area, Pow Mow has recently started building a cluster of mountain homes high on the slopes - unusually starting at only 500 square feet! The one I saw almost finished looked gorgeous in a minimalist mountain modern motif, and it will be joined soon by six more ranging in size up to 4500 sq ft - all part of a longterm community plan (details below). I want the small one!

Me at the UTA bus stop in Ogden - by Dr Simon Hudson
Earlier that day we had come by bus from Ogden (where incidentally the Osmonds were born and raised). The #674 gets you to Powder Mountain at 8:30 am, in time for a brief breakfast in the ramshackle lodge. The ride itself is fun, especially if you are the chatty type as it gradually fills up with locals, holidaymakers and seasonal workers, everyone in the same mood of powder anticipation. A great way to start absorbing the Pow Mow culture as you wind through the stunning scenery of the Ogden Canyon and the mountains beyond. Unusually, the bus stops mid-mountain at Timberline Lodge from where you ski down to the lift and trail system. I could see why locals advise against taking your own car on a snow day! Later on, the 3:30pm return bus was bursting at the seams with every seat taken and not an inch of standing room in the aisle. We'd been forewarned to get there early so we'd managed to snag a seat at 3:15. As Roscoe, who takes the bus regularly, says: "The lightheartedness and jovial atmosphere has forged many new and lasting friendships. It is very common for new guests to meet on the morning bus and spend the remainder of their vacation together."                                                                                                                                                                                           
Ski bus at Powder Mountain Utah - Photo by Ian Matteson/Powder Mountain
That first fresh-tracks day we skied all morning with Roscoe, learning the lie of the land in the Powder Chambers and, after lunch, not daring to venture any further in the whiteout, we retraced his routes which had been neatly filled in by continuing snow. It was so euphoric, we literally never stopped smiling and laughing all day! 

Me with JP just about to board the Lighting Ridge cat
by Dr Simon Hudson
Next day we skied with JP Goulet, PR director for the resort, who is a sensational snowboarder with 15 years experience in the vast Pow Mow domain. Needless to say, when the sun came out that day, we did eventually use our cat ride tickets to access the side country of Lightning Ridge. Price tag only $25 for a 20 minute ride into more untouched territory with even more vertical. Regulars buy them in packs of 10 and get the 11th ride free. Later on (recommended by Roscoe who we had seen on the bus), we skied Cobabe Canyon in hero powder prompting JP to comment "That was probably the best run of the season!"

Lunch at the Powder Keg on the ground floor of Timberline Lodge was fun and cosy: an authentic ski bar atmosphere, open kitchen from where names are shouted out as food is deftly delivered, roaring fire heating the whole room, and surprisingly fine fodder – lots of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options including curries, miso, ramen, and upscale salads. Upstairs is a bit bigger with bench seating and a more typical self-service restaurant. 

Powder Keg Restaurant at Powder Mountain Utah, also a great apres ski spot with regular live bands 
Photo by Ian Matteson/Powder Mountain
The really reasonable $79 day ticket (purchased online) covers 167 named runs - 25 % beginner, 40 % intermediate and 35 % advanced - and Powder Mountain is open 9 am - 9 pm. A bit like 'twilight golf' night skiing starts early at 3pm every day at Sundown Lift: 100 acres including a terrain park and ski school learning area, serviced by a lodge featuring Lucky Slice Pizza, a local Ogden company. “It’s fun to get powder when it’s dark,” says JP. “At only $27, I’m pretty sure it is the cheapest night skiing in the state.”

The essence of our Pow Mow adventure was summed up by a mural in the lodge which read: "This is Powder Mountain. Once you have tasted of its magic you will want to return again and again and become part of it – Alvin Cobabe MD".

Powder Mountain Utah - Photo by Ian Matteson/Powder Mountain
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Illustration of Summit Village at Powder Mountain (Courtesy of SPM)
Powder Mountain's Community Plan:
Here's a bit of background as well as forward plans abridged from a Powder Mountain press release:

In 2011, Chairman Greg Mauro, then a local season pass holder, approached Summit (an innovative event company) with the idea to save Powder Mountain from overdevelopment and overcrowding and build a next-generation Alpine town. The Summit organization strives to catalyze entrepreneurship, support creative achievement, and drive positive global change. After a crowdsourcing campaign, Powder Mountain was purchased in 2013 by Summit Powder Mountain - the youngest ownership group in the ski industry. Since the resort is not owned by a large corporation or private equity firm, it has the ability to reject the usual corporate resort formula of mega-homes, luxury outlets, and crowds.

Two new lift expansions this season (Mary's and Village), along with six miles of new roads, connect the existing resort to the new town location, which rests on a saddle intersecting the top of three bowls at an elevation of 8600 feet. This new town location features topographic features and views unlike any location in the US, including sprawling meadows and views of the Great Salt Lake. Ultimately, the proposed town, which will be modeled after the Swiss town of Wengen, will be similar in size to the historical parts of Aspen and Telluride. The town will feature a main street with pop-up stores, micro-apartments, farm-to-table restaurants, yoga boot-camps, public art, media labs and educational outlets offering training in everything from transcendental meditation, software development and athletic performance. It will embody a next-generation urbanism that nourishes social entrepreneurship, connection and collaboration, and responsible living.

Powder Mountain Utah catskiing yurt - Photo by Ian Matteson/Powder Mountain
Powder Mountain offers a unique opportunity for skiers and riders of all levels to experience their personal adventure within our expansive boundaries. Novice powder skiers and riders can easily dip into any of the powder stashes off our impeccably groomed trails with the knowledge they can return to the corduroy any time they want. Intermediates and advanced powder fans can access true side country adventure via single-ride cat on Lightning Ridge, Rain Tree and the newly added Lefty’s cat serviced terrain. Those seeking a bit more adventure can opt for a full day snowcat expedition to Davenport, an area known for steep canyon descents and deep, untracked powder. If you are seeking the ultimate guided adventure, check out the experts only Wolf Creek and DMI (Don't Mention It) Tours that provide skiers and riders access to over 1,500 acres and over 3,300 feet of vertical drop. Lifts, snowcats and shuttles deliver easy access to these areas, so you can focus on the extreme pitch and the pure joy of ripping your powder paradise. Also new this year, we are offering all day and single ride heli skiing adventures. Diamond Peak’s skilled guides can customize an experience that will make your wildest powder dreams come true.

Powder Mountain Utah - Photo by Ian Matteson/Powder Mountain

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