The secret of Powder Mountain
I was warned: “This is Powder Mountain’s busiest weekend.” So I had a choice to make: Hide in my house in Silverthorne the entire Presidents Day weekend to avoid grocery-cart jams in frozen food aisles and stay away from snowriders scraping their way down main arteries, or visit a relatively unknown ski area in Utah.”You’re a little strange,” my friend said when he called my cell phone and found out I had headed west on Interstate 70 after a windblown Friday morning at Vail Resort. “You leave Summit County when it’s dumping and go to Utah?”Meanwhile, he sat on a closed Vail Pass for hours, trying to return to Summit County. I admit that the dry roads to Utah made me wonder if I should have heeded the other warning I received from Powder Mountain locals: “It’s our worst snow year ever.”Powder Mountain is located 19 miles northeast of Ogden, Utah. It averages 500 inches of snowfall every year, so ski patrollers and employees complained about its mere 67-inch base in mid-February. Keystone had a 53-inch base that weekend. Yes, some stumps, rocks and branches popped out of the steep terrain at Powder Mountain, but I’m here to tell you that I skied off-piste for two days, had no idea where I was going, skied steeps and bowls and didn’t get one scratch on my skis. As much as I love Arapahoe Basin, I have to say that it’s a rare day when my bases don’t sustain some scar from my time on the mountain – and I know where the rocks hide there. By March 8, Powder Mountain’s mid-mountain base had jumped to 94 inches, as compared to A-Basin’s 58 inches and Keystone’s 56 inches.Since Powder Mountain doesn’t make snow, the groomers are glorious – soft corduroy that stays fresh. Outside of the groomers, the snow was a little sun-baked on south-facing slopes on Presidents Day weekend, but that’s only because it had stormed two days prior, and the ski area just doesn’t get enough people to eat up the deep stuff. The upside: The mountain is so big that the runs face every which way – so you can avoid south-facing slopes.
The snowcat driver said people can ski freshies for at least a week after a storm if the sun doesn’t bake it, while at other Utah resorts, such as Alta, fresh tracks disappear in half a day. I researched his claim (informally on chairlift rides with random Utah skiers and formally on the web), and it turns out that even the Associated Press concurs.
Locals also said the baked snow wasn’t usual for February, and I believed them, since the wind-blown crud I skied at Vail from the same storm was unusual too. By Sunday, enough people had finally skied Powder Mountain’s terrain, and the snow was soft and, to me, bountiful.
The mountain sees 400 to 500 people on a normal weekday. A busy weekend fetches 2,500 people. You’re beginning to think this must be a tiny ski area, aren’t you? Well, you couldn’t be more wrong. Powder Mountain offers 113 runs on 5,500 skiable acres – the most in the United States. (By comparison, Vail boasts 5,289 acres.)I spent all day Saturday and Sunday trying to wrap my mind around the surreal experience. I encountered locals talking about the enormous crowds, I heard ski patrollers lamenting the lack of coverage and I basically had an entire mountain to myself. The longest lift line I stood in wasted a whooping 4 minutes of my time. Lift ops hustled, quickly grouping people into quad packages to expedite the wait. I got “stuck” in another 3-minute wait, and the rest of the weekend, I skied right onto the chairs; most of the time, only five of the 10 chairs ahead of me were taken. I’d hate to ski the mountain on a normal weekday because I’d feel so incredibly lonely.
Granted, if I spent enough time there, I’d probably start making laps with previously unknown skiers and riders – much like I do on Pallavicini at A-Basin – because Powder Mountain only has four chairlifts, so it’s hard to lose people. But don’t let the four chairlift stat fool you. This is no whimpy resort. Forty percent of the mountain delivers advanced skiing, complete with narrow chutes and wide-open bowls. Intermediate groomers make up about half of the mountain. And then there’s the snowcat skiing. Eight bucks gets you a ride to more fresh powder. For jibbers, the mountain offers two parks.I kept asking anyone I could grab on the lift ride up, “Why don’t people know about this place?” Turns out the founder preferred to remain low key. But now, owners of Powder Mountain are allowing investors to spruce up the area. Currently, there’s only a handful of ski-in/ski-out homes and condos near the tiny retro ski lodge, but developers want to add restaurants, shops, high-end homes and a golf course. Last season, the owners installed the mountain’s first high-speed quad.”Stop the savage development!” you say? Well, it seems Powder Mountain may maintain most of its charm. The local ski patrollers believe Powder Mountain will remain uncrowded for years, since it’s one of the farthest ski resorts from Salt Lake City – 55 miles north of the airport. In addition, a steep four-mile road tends to discourage skiers who prefer an easier highway commute to Snowbasin.
One thing’s for sure: It will take some time before population overwhelms the huge mountain, and in the meantime, there are plenty of fresh turns to be made – all for $50 a ticket.Disclaimer: The author was so impressed with Powder Mountain, she’s looking into buying a lot there.
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