Notorious crime boss Al Capone was a pretty nasty guy. But according to local legend, he once said that Ogden was too wild even for him. During the Transcontinental Railroad boom, this small frontier outpost in Utah became an important stopover junction connecting east and west, north and south. Historic 25th Street, leading from Grand Union Station, was packed with businesses — some were respectable, many were not. The city quickly became known for its saloons, brothels, and gambling halls. Underground were tunnels for bootleggers and opium dens. The alleyways were havens for shootouts, robberies, rapes, and narcotic sales. The dangers of seedy 25th Street were infamous. There was a time not so long ago that high school students would dare each other to run from one end of the street to the other.
Fast forward: This historic, laid-back town, an hour north of Salt Lake City, is undergoing a slow revival, attracting young families, emerging artists, outdoor adventurers, and skiers in the know. Set in the western foothills of the Wasatch Mountains, it’s surrounded by stunning natural scenery, 170,000 acres of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest, 13,000 acres of lakes and rivers, and more than 200 miles of single track trails. It’s also close to two of the West’s finest ski mountains: Snowbasin and Powder Mountain. While the crowds head to Alta, Snowbird, Park City, and Deer Valley, savvy skiers head to the other side of the Wasatch Range for two utterly unique on-mountain experiences.
Our plan was to ski two days at Snowbasin and another two days at Powder Mountain. Ogden was the perfect base. The once rowdy and rough town hasn’t yet lost its soul to big development bucks and rapid gentrification; it’s still blissfully laid-back and unpretentious, a little funky, and a lot of fun. Historic 25th Street, stretching a mere three blocks, is lined with turn-of-the-century brick buildings, housing one-of-a-kind shops, bars, and restaurants. On our first night in town, we grabbed seats at Roosters Brewing, a popular, come-as-you-are brewery and restaurant, with a full menu of elevated pub grub and craft beer choices. The next day, we loaded up our ski gear and headed to Snowbasin (801-620-1000; www.snowbasin.com), about a half-hour’s drive away.
Snowbasin was the site for the men’s and women’s downhill and super G races during the 2002 Winter Games. This is not your typical bag lunch ski resort. It’s very elegant and upscale (eat your heart out Deer Valley). The opulent, over-the-top day lodges, built in time for the world stage during the Olympics, are decked out with marble counters, giant stone fireplaces, intricate woodwork, and Murano glass chandeliers. Dining and service are top-notch. It’s fancy!
The mountain is even more grandiose, with some 3,000 skiable acres and 3,000 vertical feet. There are gondolas and high-speed chairs to whisk you to wide bowls, cat-scratched groomers, steep chutes and virgin powder stashes. In all, 106 trails crisscross the soaring ski resort covering six peaks and giant cirques at more than 9,000 feet in elevation. Where were all the people, we wondered? We skied from one peak to the next, finally stopping for late lunch at Needles Lodge, with magnificent mountain views and fine fare.
At the end of each day on the slopes, we drove the short distance back to Ogden, where we ate surprisingly good sushi at Tona restaurant, carb-loaded at Rovali’s Ristorante Italiano and shared drinks with locals at Angry Goat Pub and Kitchen. On the third day, we drove to Powder Mountain, located in the sleepy, mountain town of Eden.
Come Alone & Make Sure You Weren’t Followed, said a well-worn sticker on the side of a beat-up truck in the parking lot. There’s no fancy lodge here; nor are there crowds. Powder Mountain (801-745-3772; www.powdermountain.com), about 20 minutes west of Ogden, offers one of the more unique skiing experiences in the country. With more than 8,000 acres, Pow Mow, as the locals call it, is the largest resort in North America. It also has the lowest skier density of any major mountain in North America, as the resort limits season tickets to 3,000 and daily lift tickets to just 1,500. Theoretically, you could have more than an acre and a half to yourself. And, it felt like it: massive, expansive, nearly untouched. There were many runs that we took and never saw a soul until we got near the base.
You don’t have to be an expert to ski here; 25 percent are beginner runs, and 40 percent are intermediate level, and several of them are well-groomed. But there are chutes and bowls galore, and some 1,200 acres of backcountry. Most of that is lift-accessed, or you can take a snowcat, hop off, pick a route and ski until your heart’s content ($25 a ride, $250 a punch pass for 11 rides). A shuttle bus will pick you up on the road to return to the base. Then do it again. Speaking of the base: it’s an outdoor ticket window, a rustic cafeteria, and a fun dive bar (where everyone meets after their time on the slopes). That’s where we ended up at the end of a long day of skiing, listening to live music, and hoisting beers to a perfect Pow Mow experience.
Alas, the throwback vibe may not (will not) last forever. A group of high-tech entrepreneurs, founders of the Summit Series, has purchased the resort and already plans to sell and build multi-million-dollar member houses, a member-only lodge and an event center for their A-list-packed conferences.
For now, it’s a near-hidden skier’s paradise in Eden, close to a wild little frontier town that the masses have yet to rediscover. Get there soon.