I am looking for:
2. off-piste skiing
what's my better bet -
Snowbasin or powder mountain?
If you have time, why not both? Each are very distinctly different from one another.
But, if you must choose just one, then Snowbasin might be your better bet. Powder Mountain has everything you wanted but #3, Snowbasin has arguably all on your list.
If you want steep powder stay in lcc and bcc. If you get bored there then venture out to Snowbasin or Powder mt.
I only go to Snowbasin to please the less aggressive skiers in my group.
The unique thing about Snowbasin is that it has long (uncrowded) smoothly flowing blue cruisers. (from the top or near the top to the base in one unbroken line) This type of run is in short supply at many Utah areas.
This is spot-on. There is nothing at Snowbasin other than smoothly flowing blue cruisers for less-aggressive skiers. Please keep reinforcing this image. It keeps the lift lines down.
The drive up took bout 1 ½ hour drive from SLC
The drive up was awesome. We took I-80 to I-84, then around the loop at Pineview Resevoir. The mountains in those parts are absolutely huge and scenic.
It was no short drive. We didn’t leave Park City until 9:10; so by the time we got to Eden at 10:20, we were certainly ready to ski. It was still another steep, 20-minute chug up Powder Mountain Road to reach the resort.
On the far side of Eden, we began to worry that we had missed a turn, as we seemed to be passing through a residential area. We however continued climbing, slowly at first, then the road gradually steepened and the mountains drew closer to each shoulder. Rounding bend #437, we began to notice ski tracks dropping off the ridges through the trees on both sides of the road. The sheer quantum of apparent backcountry further piqued our interest. Still climbing, we eventually ground into a small parking lot with one chairlift traveling up the western ridge. After a brief tour of the parking lot, we decided to continue on in the hope that the main lodge was still to come.
“upside down” mountain in that much of the resort is actually located below the main lodge. In fact, if you really want to, you can drive even further up the road to the parking lot of Hidden Lake Lodge, the resort’s highest structure.
Perhaps the best way to describe the layout of Powder Mountain - and folks, this is a spectacularly insufficient description - is to picture a bunch of bananas thrown on a table stem side down, with the stem pointing south to the Hidden Lake Lodge. The bananas themselves form the ridges, and the intervening valleys are represented by the spaces between the bananas. Below Hidden Lake Lodge lies the main Powder Mountain Lodge. However, if you wish to reach the former from the latter, you must first ski down to and ride up the Timberline Triple, or as we said, drive. We choose the lift on the advice of a friendly employee who suggested that we use the opportunity to get a look around. His advice that “You can see the whole resort from the top of the lift" proved to be the wildest overstatement of the week - it’s that vast.
The staff and locals are the nicest folks around. The guy running the ski shop talked my friend out of buying something he didn't need, then gave him a discount on something he needed. Try finding that in Park City. The atmosphere at Powder is totally laid back and the longest lift line was about 6 people long (and that's on President's day).
The area is full of these quirks that most areas masterplanned out years ago. For starters, there are two base areas, which sit about a half-mile from each other, with a trail running from the upper base to the lower and a shuttle running from the lower up to the upper. The lower base has rentals, bathrooms, a restaurant, a ski school meeting place, and a double chair and poma lift. Most of the action is at the upper base, which sits at 8,250 feet above sea level. Here, you get a handful of restaurants, a condo or two, and rentals and lift ticket sales. But there are no lifts here. The upper-mountain base is actually mid-mountain, and at the base you strap in and ski a few hundred vertical feet to the three-seater.
The quad is the central lift in the system. It rises more than 1600 feet up the crest of a ridge and serves predominantly black diamond terrain, most of which has never seen a grooming machine. For a mix of green, blue, and black groomed trails ride the Timberline Triple, in the same neighborhood, or the Sundown Double above the main "base" area.
The lift accessed terrain was average, but the hikable stuff (lighting ridge and cobabe canyon) are where it's at.
But come on, the place gets over 500 inches annually. no joke, 2 weeks after a storm, you can still find plenty of fresh.
We rounded the point at the bottom to NOT stand in line for the Paradise lift.
In addition, in 1999, Powder Mountain added the Paradise quad to service 1,200 acres previously accessed by sno-cat only. It is also whispered that the aptly named Powder Mountain gets more snow than any ski resort in Utah. Now there is also access to Lightning Ridge via sno-cat for an additional 700 skiable acres.
Two minutes into the ride, we discussed how this lift was aptly named. The entire ridge beneath the lift was one gigantic whale spine of a natural terrain park. The red rock boulders and cliffs just kept coming, topped with massive tufts of the 114-inch base. Any size drop you’re man enough for lies beneath the Paradise lift. Andy and I wanted to jump off sooo bad.
Directly north along the high ridgeline, we could make out the top of the Paradise lift, the resort’s newest chair. A fixed-grip quad, Paradise accesses acre upon acre of blue and black trails, glades, and open faces along both sides of the ridge. This is the “in-bounds” advanced/expert section of Powder Mountain. Here you'll also find the longest true lift-served runs on the mountain – 1,600 vertical feet of sustained drop. The Timberline Lift itself tops out somewhat above the Paradise lift, with trails almost connecting to it via the ridgeline, but due to a topographical dip you can't ski directly from the top of Timberline to the top of Paradise.
To skier's right of the Timberline Lift lies another east-trending line, Sunrise Ridge, served by the Hidden Lake chair - perhaps the world’s slowest operational double still in existence. About 1,300 vertical feet of mainly blue-rated runs spill northward off of the entire length of the ridge. The mellow terrain is markedly sweetened by a profusion of wide-open aspen and evergreen glades. Much of this portion of the mountain consists of short, often somewhat steepish pitches, followed by fairly long and undulating flatter sections. While you can link together a few steep sections in one run, none are sustained. You’ll in the process discover about 500 acres of absolutely primo family and intermediate terrain.
All of the aspen and evergreen glades off the Hidden Lake chair had become eminently skiable - no underbrush, no fallen logs, just line after line of fresh snow. All of the trees were sublime, possessing that perfect pitch that allows your skis to just run. Spacing between trees was tight enough to give that feeling of isolation, but open enough to provide plenty of options.
At the eastern terminus of Sunrise Ridge, a short poma lift transports skiers to the ridge’s summit. From there, seemingly endless opportunities abound. If one chooses to drop off to the extreme skier's right of the ridge, you reach the quasi-backcountry terrain of Cobabe Canyon, where black diamond options spill off both the east- and west-facing sides. The entire Sunrise Ridge area and Cobabe Canyon dump out at the base of the Paradise Lift after a short runout.
The Hidden Lake Double, the area's longest lift at 6000 feet, also serves a fine mix of groomed trails for all abilities. From the top of this lift scoot down to the Sunrise platter for the ride to the top of Sunrise Ridge and access to Cobabe Canyon. The green and groomed Sunrise Ridge trail leads to Catwalk and Cobabe Canyon for an easy and scenic ride all the way to the base of Paradise; the upper part of this trail also access ungroomed black diamond paths. A moderate hike will get you to the other side of the canyon where blue and black powder lines await.
Another advantage is that Powder Mountain essentially offers a shuttle service for backcountry skiing. You can ski off-piste down to the road and catch a bus back to the resort.
Alternatively, one can drop north off the backside of the Hidden Lake Lodge into the vast expanse known as "Powder Country,” containing some of the resort’s signature terrain and its best secret stashes. These are known as the “bus runs.” From the top terminals of any of the Hidden Lake, Timberline, or Sundown chairs, one can ski black diamond-rated glades and chutes of nearly 2,000 vertical feet all the way back down to the access road. Once there, a shuttle bus cycles back and forth transporting emerging skiers and boarders back to the main lodge. Virtually limitless untracked lines exist in the nearly 800 acres of terrain here. And, the price is right - it's included in your lift ticket
Powder Country is a patrolled area adjacent the lifts accessible by a short traverse. The long and steep gladded terrain runs down to the resort’s road where a bus shuttles riders back to the lifts every fifteen minutes.
Jerry next took us over into "Powder Country" to do a bus run. These west-facing slopes were by now heating up a bit and starting to stick in the afternoon sun. The pitch, the terrain and the trees, however, remained almost perfect. Filing onto the funky blue bus at the bottom of a 2,000-vertical-foot private stash for the ride back to the resort proper is a positively cool in-bounds experience. I feel sorry for the pants-in-the-boot tourists back at The Canyons.
Woody, pictured above, drives the bus that picks up skiers who ski off the backside of the mountain and end up beside the entrance road where there are no lifts.
Lightning Ridge. You can either thigh power the ridge or cough up 7 bucks for a snow-kitty ride. We opted for thigh power with Dave Flemming leading the charge on the right.
If busses aren’t your style, you can pay seven dollars for a snowcat tow from the bottom of Powder’s Sundown lift up Lightening Ridge for 2,100 vertical feet of powder.
At 10:45, we were on the Sundown lift. No lines, no people. From the top, an unbuckled slide to the right brought us to the Lightning Ridge waiting area. Here, a cat was supposed to drag us up to the top. Instead, a young, hotdog (named Mark) came blasting down on a utility snowmobile. I laughed thinking about the ‘bile speed limit at Park City Mountain.
Mark pulled us up to the top of the ridge with the throttle at full. Insurance nightmare. I was imaging being pulled by the cat. Once at the top, Mark directed us down the ridge to “ski down, then traverse, ski down, traverse…” Once he whipped around and sped off, we side-slipped over the wind-scoured crust to a hidden spot out of the wind. As they say, out of sight, out of mind.
Further down the ridge, we looked back up to see massive rock cliffs and boulders. There were chutes of all varieties and just the kind of insanity we were looking for.
Continuing onward and upward, one can bootpack it north from Lightning Ridge a further 400 or so vertical feet up to James Peak, the geographical high point of the resort. James Peak offers a further 600 or so acres of legitimate double-black chutes and steeps, again funneling directly back to the base of the Paradise quad.
Even though the “cats” had operated for most of the morning, fresh snow was in abundance within a one hundred-foot traverse from the drop-off point. Jerry skidded to a stop above the first series of chutes and offered us a choice of descents. Realizing that there were eight of us, Eric traversed another twenty feet to the second chute, yelling back that the first one was better. Out of the corner my eye, I observed Jerry and Eric jump into the second chute, which admittedly did hold better snow. There really are no friends on a powder day.
resort sells a book of five rides (an afternoon's worth) for $30. Add that to a full or half day ticket for as little as $30, and you have yourself a combination cat/lift day for about $60 - an unreal price in this day and age for continuous 2,000-vertical-foot laps of steep, untracked terrain!
Better still, give yourself over to the resort's laid-back atmosphere and you may be lucky enough to hitch an easy ride up to the out-of-bounds region by grabbing onto a snowmobile-hoisted tow rope. Purists may claim you need to earn your turns by skinning or trekking to the sweet spots...but after a few days in Utah's backcountry, cheating becomes a relative term, especially when you still have to concentrate on hitting the next two-dozen turns while dodging the snow that's spitting at you from under the snowmobile treads.
Powder Mountain also has a partnership with Diamond Peaks Heli Ski Adventures. Get one helicopter lift and a full-day pass at the mountain for $150, or $650 to heli ski all day.
If all of this isn’t enough, you can even arrange to charter a heliskiing trip from the base lodge. Powder Mountain has partnered with Diamond Peaks Heliskiing, with the birds lifting off from a pad in reasonable proximity to the Hidden Lake Ridge.
Finally, you can retain the modestly priced services of a Powder Mountain guide and ski west off the backside of Lightning Ridge into the Wolf Canyon area. This is the most extreme terrain accessible from the resort proper, offering up true adventure skiing for those so inclined. A guide is required, at least officially, as are avalanche transceivers, shovels and probes. Be forewarned, however, that the avalanche danger out there is real. Wolf Canyon offers the longest continuous vertical at the resort, offering up nearly 4,000 vertical feet of astounding views and technical skiing. The runs dump out into a very long but scenic runout existing far, far down the access road beyond the bus pickup points. In short, absent the desire for a long hike to the lower terminus of the bus runs, transportation back to the lifts is your own responsibility.
Wolf Canyon offers the steepest, longest descents at Pow Mow, legitimately deserving of their double diamond rating. Located a short five-minute hike west of the Sundown lift, the tour traverses some avalanche prone terrain en route to the real goods, necessitating either the services of a guide or a good knowledge of backcountry technique and equipment. We eventually exited on a cornice-capped sub-peak overlooking about 5,000 acres of canyon, vaguely reminiscent of something out that based Jeep advertisement filmed in the Tetons. The first thousand or so vertical feet entailed some tricky turns through the funky crust, but we eventually reached the refuge of some steep evergreens. Most of these virtually limitless lines culminate with a very picturesque two-mile runout along the canyon's edge down to the access road. Michael advised that moose are often found standing along this runout.
The total Wolf Canyon journey encompasses about 4,000 vertical feet, eight miles, and 11⁄2 hours. One of our guides, a s&^%-eating grin plastered across his face, spoke glowingly later that "Alta has the terrain, but Powder Mountain has the snow." Frankly, sitting on the blue bus with our group of newfound friends, I had to wholeheartedly agree.
Powder Keg Bar
Once at the top, the Hidden Lake Lodge looked amazingly like a government building. Brick, stark and without style. The menu was short and pretty pathetic—nothing remotely healthy.
Afterward, we hung out in the Powder Keg bar and talked a long time with the employees. That was as fun as anything else.
the locals and staff are super friendly, any of us would be happy to show you around the mountain. plus theres back country served by helicopter, snowcat, and shuttle bus. Powder Mountain is definitely Utah's best kept secret
We have 5,500 skiable acres, the most in the US. Of that, 2,800 is serviced by lifts—that’s the size of an average ski resort in Utah,” said Powder Mountain’s Group Sales Coordinator, Carolyn Daniels.