Ask a roomful of snow sport enthusiasts to list the marquee resorts of Utah and you might have to wait a while before one mentions Snowbasin. But this below-radar mountain, nestled 17 miles up a scenic canyon from the adventure sports mecca of Ogden, serves up 3,000 vertical feet of skiing across 3,000 acres, making it bigger than many more popular Wasatch resorts. Yet, Snowbasin rarely draws crowds, often leaving powder untracked for days after a storm.
Snowbasin is part of the Sun Valley Resorts family, owned by Sinclair Oil mogul Earl Holding, who is known for putting customer service first. So there is no shortage of higher-end amenities here, including award-winning on-mountain dining, a lift system that is rated tops in the United States and state-of-the-art grooming and snowmaking. Why then is Snowbasin not more popular among destination vacationers?
Answer: A dearth of slope-side lodging, coupled with the mountain’s proximity to eight other world-class resorts, all within an hour’s drive. The closest lodging to Snowbasin is the luxury condos at Lakeside Properties, which sit on the shores of the Pineview Reservoir. Yes, there is a free shuttle to the mountain and private hot tubs and sublimely designed units and more! But, alas, no ski-in/ski-out options.
Snowbasin is one of the oldest continuously operating ski areas in the country. It opened in 1939 after the Wasatch ski pioneer/hero, a Norwegian-born mountain man named Alf Engen, hiked up the Ogden Valley and declared it ideal for a ski area. The area was prone to flash floods, so residents agreed to protect a huge swath of public land and restrict construction to preserve the integrity of the watershed – and protect inhabitants. This helps explain the lack of lodging and general quality-over-quantity infrastructure at the base.
Snowbasin’s ample terrain – mostly wide open bowls, glades and groomers, with some uber-expert options – is accessed via 11 lifts, including a 15-passenger tram, two eight-passenger high-speed gondolas and two high-speed quad chair lifts.
Skiers and boarders can roust their inner Olympians on the downhill courses used in the 2002 Winter Olympics. The men’s course drops 2,897 vertical feet over a course length of 9,895 feet, and the women’s run plummets 2,625 feet over a flat-out distance of 10,302 feet.
The Olympiad was the capstone on Snowbasin’s already colorful history: dubbed Fort Buenaventura (Fort Good Fortune) by an early settler, the area grew into one Utah’s busiest rendezvous points, drawing traders, trappers and all manner of characters from around the West.
Snowbasin is, unsurprisingly, the go-to mountain for Ogden residents, and the bars along 25th Street in town become the de-facto après-ski hangout, especially on banner powder days. And if you stay in Ogden, you'll know when such days arrive: the town has a "powder bell," which clangs whenever Snowbasin receives more than nine inches of fresh snow.
The mountain also has four terrain parks, including one for the kids (or beginners). That might be a good time for parents to slowly back out of earshot and catch the Needles Express gondola up to the coup de grace of Snowbasin on-mountain dining, the Needles Lodge.
A cathedral of wood, glass and stone at 8,710 feet, the elegant, high-ceilinged lodge serves up mostly simple-but-delectable dishes made from fresh ingredients. The floor-to-heavens windows afford expansive vistas of the Ogden Valley. Everything is big at Needles, from the fireplace and the leather chairs to the chandelier, wood-fired pizza and burgers. Stopping in is a must, even if just for a beer or hot chocolate.
As sunset paints the sky, dip into the Cinnabar in the Snowbasin base lodge, which on many nights fills with an eclectic menu of live music, from soul and reggae to rock, Americana and "dance-grass."
The fine customer service at the basin appears to know no bounds: In 2011 Snowbasin earned distinction as a finalist in a marketing promotion by the company Cintas to name the best restroom in America (really). The resort’s loos feature Italian marble, chandeliers, inlaid African Anigre wood and hand-painted walls.
Hilton Garden Inn, Ogden: A big chain name with small town attention to guests, the Hilton sits in the middle of Ogden’s burgeoning entertainment district and 20 minutes from Snowbasin. Indoor pool, whirlpool, on-site restaurant and kid friendly.
Slackwater Pub and Pizzeria dishes out fresh-made pies and a palatable suite of salads, soups, sandwiches, calzones and dozens of craft brewed beers. It’s a hip joint representative of the "new Ogden," with occasional live music and a popular brunch to boot.