Thursday, April 6, 2017

Snowbasin - I Love You More!

Spray painting on the snow at Snowbasin Mar 4
Around 35 miles north of Salt Lake City, Snowbasin is one of a trail-worthy trio of Utah ski resorts easily accessible by car or by city busy from the City of Ogden. The others in the Ski 3 program are Powder Mountain (which I will be writing about next week) and Nordic Valley famous for night skiing over its entire acreage. For those keen to try all three, there’s an affordable $145 ticket which includes one day at each.

With high rankings in Ski magazine this season (#2 On-Mountain Food, #4 Lifts, #5 Service and #6 Grooming), Snowbasin is a topnotch Utah resort on the backside of the Wasatch Range. Ski-wise you are going to get in a lot of mileage due to the 3,000 ft vertical descent and the fact that the resort is not typically crowded. And après ski-wise you are going to experience luxury that you would normally expect from a five star hotel. Both the lodge facilities at base and those dotting the slopes are dazzling, with glittering chandeliers, marble bathrooms, sumptuous carpeting, elevators as well as stairs, iconic fireplaces and lavish wooden paneling. Part of the same group as the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City, you can see that the owners wanted to superimpose the comforts of a swanky hotel onto the ski resort infrastructure.

Courtesy of Snowbasin Resort
Our first ski day at Snowbasin was guided by local expert, Megan Collins who grew up at Alta, went to college in Colorado, worked at Crested Butte and then came back to Utah this season to work as communications manager at Snowbasin. At breakneck speed, Megan toured us around the 3,000 acres of slopes, culminating in a trip up the Allen Peak Tram just as it opened – it had taken almost two days and multi-manpower to dig it out of the record-breaking snow (390 inches so far this season). This European-looking lift accesses both the 2002 Olympic Men’s and Women’s Downhills – known respectively as the Grizzly and the Wildflower - as well as dazzling views over the Ogden valley.

Strawberry Gondola - Courtesy of Snowbasin Resort
Before lunch we skied the Strawberry area using Main Street, Elk Ride and Hohmann's to warm up. We then tackled the Main Street black run to Coyote Bowl, Dan’s run, then Pork Barrel to 1-19, and Herbert’s to Bear Hollow and School Hill. With the kind of vertical notched up that would look impressive on anyone’s app, we then took the Middle Bowl Lift, which gave me temporary vertigo due to the lack of a safety bar! Most resorts in Utah still have one or two older chairlifts without bars – so if, like me, you feel that odd compulsion to throw yourself off – make sure to check first and sit at the edge so you can hang onto the armrest. Having safely negotiated the lift all the way to the top, we skied Sweet Revenge and the Needles Run, took the Porcupine Chair to do local’s favourite, Porky Face followed by City Hill. 

John Paul Lodge at Snowbasin - Courtesy of Snowbasin Resort
The John Paul Express led to lunch at one of Snowbasin’s scenic restaurants, similarly named The John Paul Lodge. Apart from the dazzling decadent décor, it is known particularly for its chili which this season features buffalo and Andouille sausage. Snowbasin staged a pre-season chili cook off with eight local chefs competing, and the winning recipe has been on the menu the whole season. Hubby Simon had that, but my pick was the tasty tomato basil bisque and a half spinach/feta/strawberry/walnut salad. Both of my favourite lunch items at reasonable prices – $6.50 for a bowl of soup and $6 for the salad.

Even though it was Saturday, sunny and with great snowfall, it was not overly busy either on the hill or in the restaurants. Around the historical fireplace, there was a lovely chilled-out atmosphere indoors, with views of the sparkling ski-scape outside. Another feature in all the Snowbasin eateries is the top quality service – something that my ski partner and hubby, Dr Simon Hudson is researching for hiswork on customer service for HotelExecutive.com. More to follow on that subject when he publishes his findings

Olympic start at the top of the Allen Peak Tram at Snowbasin - Courtesy of Snowbasin Resort
After our leisurely lunch we spotted a hardy snowboarder who had climbed up a snowy peak to spray paint a ‘heart-felt’ message on the snow (pictured at the top of the blog).  He was in the process of painting the outline of a heart encasing the words “I love you more” – presumably one-upping a partner in devotion declarations. Another thing I noticed while skiing around the wide open, tree-free, bowls at Snowbasin was the bright yellow signage, a thoughtful addition to highlight safe routes back to lifts when there is a visibility-vanquishing white out. Wish all the resorts with above-treeline slopes would follow suit!

Although we were staying in Ogden, we discovered there were condos for rent (or purchase) just down the road from Snowbasin on the edge of a snowy lake. Richard Badenhausen, a professor at Westminster College, bought a place there in order to benefit from Snowbasin's trail tranquility: It's "totally mellow, untracked powder for days, and you know you’re going to get to the resort because the road never closes," he says. "When we are storm skiing over in the Strawberry area, we can literally ski right onto the gondola." He bought his place at Lakeside around five years ago, a foreclosure right after the real estate crash. "Lakeside is the closest lodging to Snowbasin (seven minute drive) and the condos are beautiful," he explains.

Room with a view at Snowbasin
Courtesy of Snowbasin Resort
Great news for next season is that Snowbasin has joined the Mountain Collective - although Richard hopes it won't bring too much powder-pinching traffic! And the resort will also be launching a new high speed Wildcat Chairlift. Snowbasin Resort has partnered with Doppelmayr to manufacture and install the high speed six-pack this summer and fall. The new Wildcat lift will follow the same path as the current lift with 17 towers and a rise of 1,290 vertical feet. The ride up will be just five minutes with a lift capacity of 2,400 people per hour. With this new chairlift and additional snowmaking, the Wildcat terrain will be utilized more frequently as well as earlier in the season. This terrain is a great stepping stone for the beginner/intermediate skier, graduating from the Becker area before heading to Needles Gondola. In addition, the chairlifts will be spaced nine seconds apart, allowing beginner/intermediate skiers and snowboarders a little more time to load and unload the chairlift without worry – and, Megan assures me, complete with a safety bar!

The Mountain Collective Pass gives 32 ski days at any of 16 resorts and costs $399USD if purchased in advance this spring. Early purchasers also get a bonus day at the destination of their choice, 2 bonus days at international affiliate resorts, and a kid’s pass (per adult) for just $1. “Snowbasin Resort is honored to join the Mountain Collective family,” says John Loomis, Snowbasin’s GM. “The Mountain Collective offers skiers and riders the opportunity to enjoy the finest mountain resorts in the world. Snowbasin Resort, home to the speed events in the 2002 Winter Games, is proud to add to the opportunities for passholders.”

Snowbasin Ski School - Courtesy of Snowbasin Resort
An innovative beginners’ program at Snowbasin is aiming for the coveted Conversion Cup, an award annually bestowed by the National Ski Areas Association for the best ski resort project to convert newbies to ski and snowboard addicts. In its first year, Snowbasin’s Learn and Earn program has attracted 1500 participants including a ‘mom blogger’ who is spreading the word. You can read about her tales of learning in tandem with her three kids at: https://www.snowbasin.com/blog/lesson-1-of-snownbasin-learn-and-earn-program.

The price for Learn and Earn this season (and next) was $399 (adult or child), including a season pass and season-long rentals plus the three lessons. Results are already showing an upswing in conversion. “The average ski days per season per participant in the USA are six,” says Megan. “But our program is converting beginners and reaching over the national average right away. We are seeing that these beginners are doing their three days tuition and then going on to ski an average of three to five more days on their own.”

Groomer zoomer at Snowbasin - Courtesy of Snowbasin Resort
The canny course began with equipment and boot fitting - courtesy of Rossignol – along with an orientation around the base of the resort complete with cookies. Although Snowbasin was expecting a majority of kids to enroll, it turned out that only 30 percent are children (but I am sure the adults enjoyed the cookies too!) “In an effort to increase conversion, each guest is invited to an exclusive experience session held during the fall to pick up their rental gear, familiarize themselves with the resort, and set expectations for becoming a skier or rider,” Megan told me. “The goal is for the guest to leave feeling part of our family, knowing exactly what to expect and where to go.”

Cinnabar Apres Ski Bar at Snowbasin - Courtesy of Snowbasin Resort

For graduates from the Learn and Earn sessions, there will be Learn, Earn and Return next season and they are planning a third segment to follow that. 

Over cocktails and live music in the Cinnabar, I suggested to Megan that it should be called Learn, Earn and Burn! But I think they have settled on Learn, Earn and Graduate. 





Staying in downtown Ogden adds a contrasting counterbalance to a Snowbasin ski trip. During the 50 min bus ride back to town, we went from the towering, snow-drenched mountainscape into the undulating Odgen Canyon, meandering alongside a racing river bordered by cute rickety homes and rustic lodges. Just after the magnificent Ogden Falls, we exited the Canyon near a garden centre called Rainbow Landing, featuring beautiful butterfly benches outside. As we motored on into the sleepy suburbs of Ogden and thence into the historical downtown district, I noticed the snow had given way to dry city sidewalks.

Ogden Arch - Courtesy of Visit Ogden
Egyptian Theatre Ogden - Courtesy of Visit Ogden
As I got off the bus just past the ornate Egyptian Theatre and opposite the Ben Lomond Hotel - where I was staying – I was stepping in my ski boots into a cityscape, dressed incongruously in ski gear with my skis still dripping snow over my shoulder. It was so balmy that later when I went to the Harp and Hound pub next door to the hotel I was wearing sandals!

History buffs would love the Ben Lomond Hotel, built in the Italian Renaissance Revival-style, full of old artifacts dating back to its origins in 1927 when the town was still a major passenger railway junction. It is still the biggest hotel in the city attracting lots of business traffic during the week (Salomon, Arcteryx, Rossignol and Atomic are among companies based there). Because of this it is actually cheaper to stay there at weekends, which works well for ski tourists (check Visit Ogden for packages).  

Complete with sleazy saloon bars and gambling dens, Ogden had a wild western reputation as Utah’s first European immigrants’ settlement. With its ornate lobby ceilings, old mailbox, ornate wall fountain – and creaky old elevator! - the Ben Lomond Hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places (along with over 60 others in the Weber County district). Renovations include a good restaurant for breakfast which another guest assured me was also great for dinner.
Historic 25th Street - Courtesy of Visit Ogden


Along with spacious suites, the Ben Lomond’s position on the corner of Washington and 25th makes it very convenient for today’s downtown distractions – a lot more salubrious than they were 100+ years ago! The Harp and Hound, for example, features an extensive vegan menu with very fresh ingredients alongside more typical Irish pub fare. 



Hearth on 25th Ogden - Courtesy of Visit Ogden
Rovali's Ogden - Courtesy of Visit Ogden
Hearth on 25th is an extremely ritzy restaurant and après ski bar named for its ‘live fire’ cooking using seasonal and biodynamic ingredients paired with a wide selection of local liquors and craft beers, and extensive wine and cocktail list. Menu includes Himalayan Yak, Ora King Salmon and Lamb Gnocchi and they also grow their own herbs. Just a block away, Zucca’s is an incredible Italian eatery with handmade pasta, including the best lasagna I’ve had for eons! Upscale but not extortionate. And Rovali's is a great family-friendly Italian Trattoria with live music. 

iFly Ogden - Courtesy of Visit Ogden
Nightlife:
Make sure to try the iFly, indoor skydiving, at the Hilton Garden Inn which also offers indoor surfing and rock climbing as well as bowling, movies, restaurants and retail.
Lighthouse Lunge: Live music, poetry reading and a Moscow Mule menu
City Club: Beatles-themed bar, with the best wings in town. You can get a 4-6 drinks and an app for around $30.


Restaurants:
Tona Sushi: Continually wins best of state and flies in fresh sushi daily - on Historic 25th Street.
Slackwater Pub & Pizzeria: This is the place for a great beer and a view of the Ogden River. Located on the Ogden River Parkway just a few blocks north of downtown Ogden .
Roosters Brewing Co: They brew both beer and root beer. Great family friendly restaurant that serves American cuisine on Historic 25th Street.

Vegan/Vegetarian, Gluten-free and Paleo Options:
Kaffe Mercantile: A home-turned-restaurant, with vegan breakfast sandwiches all week long, and on Saturdays vegan waffles.
Sonora Grill: Mexican restaurant with a great menu for vegan/veg. They also make all of their sauces in house and don’t add sugar, and are very accommodating to a Paleo or Whole 30 diet.
Lotus Lounge Café and A Good Life Café: Sandwiches, soups, smoothies and baked goods for the clean eater - on Historic 25th Street.
Lighthouse Lounge: Bar that serves vegan, veg options - on Historic 25th Street - 21+

New World Distillery - Courtesy of Visit Ogden
Distilleries and Breweries:
Roosters Brewing Co: Historic 25th Street - beer and root beer.
Talisman Brewing Co.: 12th Street - beers, with tours on Fridays.
New World Distillery: Ogden Valley – great distillery tour, with Gin, Agave Sprits and Vodka (gluten free).
Ogden’s Own Distillery: Vodka, a spirit similar to Jägermeister, and a cinnamon whiskey similar to fireball (gluten free).

Snowbasin Social Media Links:
Website: www.snowbasin.com  

Phone: 888 437 5488
Needles Restaurant Snowbasin - Courtesy of Snowbasin Resort

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