4 MOUNTAINS IN 4 DAYS – BBQ wings, beer and Magic Bus runs on a mid-week, whistle-stop tour of Utah’s epic Wasatch mountain range
Words | HUGH FRANCIS ANDERSON
I had never skied in Utah before, but it had been on myradar for longer than I can remember. So, when I heard of the new direct Delta flight from London to Salt Lake City, I thought: “I wonder if I could get a feel for skiing Utah in a working week?” Within minutes I had called my friend Will, got permission from his wife, and set the wheels in motion: four mountains in four days across Utah’s Wasatch mountain range. Flying from London on Sunday, we landed into Utah onMonday afternoon with time to spare. After a short drive to Ogden, 40 miles north of Salt Lake City, we checked into our hotel and got the week off to a flying start with BBQ wings and beer at Wing Nutz.
DAY 1 – POWDER MOUNTAIN
We awoke to a bluebird day, and the 30-minute drive from Ogden to Powder Mountain drifted by in jet lag-hazed excitement. Powder Mountain is remarkable for a number of reasons. Firstly, it relies solely on real snow. Secondly, it limits tickets to 1500 per day. And thirdly, 60% of the resort’s 8500 acres is off-piste. Sounds good, right?
Though much of mountain is low angle, with pleasingly long warm-up groomers, such as Burntwood and Sunrise, it dips a toe into heart-pounding territory in the blink of an eye. Jet lag beware.
The tight aspen tree powder run of Hippie Hill on the resort’s eastern boundary teases at what Powder Mountain has to offer, and though it hadn’t snowed for well over a week, we managed to bag some unexpected fresh tracks. Heading west across the mountain, the gentle off-piste Magic Bus run brought us past an abandoned Into the Wild-esque school bus (after which the run gets its name) and down to the centre of the resort.
Riding to the top of the Paradise lift, the steeper off-piste runs of Powder Chamber 3 and Medicine Man asked a lot from waking quads before we hitched a ride on the Lightning Ridge Snowcat to the more advanced in-bound terrain of Cache Bowl – crusty but still untracked.
Back at Timberline Lodge, we finished with beers at Powder Keg. Though conditions were fair, it’s easy to imagine the magnitude of skiing in Powder Mountain after one of Utah’s frequent powder dumps. What struck me is just how laidback the resort is. As Will summed up: “I likePowder Mountain. Not a Moncler in sight.”
DAY 2 – SNOWBASIN
I peeled the curtains back to see the mountains engulfed in heavy cloud, which did not bode well for our next stop in Snowbasin, a 35-minute drive south. Home to the 2002 Winter Olympic Downhill, Super G and Combined events, we knew the mountain would offer plenty of steeps to hurl ourselves down.
We began by making our way to the south of the resort, up Strawberry Gondola, to warm up on Elk Ridge, Snowbasin’s longest groomer at 2.9 miles. Back to the top again and we ducked into the pines that sit between Moonshine Bowl and Gordon’s Gully for visibility and, to our surprise, powder.
Skier’s left of Strawberry Gondola and a short traverse brought us to the steep inbound couloir of Lone Tree, which drops into Middle Bowl Cirque. Chopped up and with blue ice in places, it made for a heart-pounding descent, but at least we felt ready to tackle the three Grizzly Runs that made up the Olympic Men’s Downhill run.
Its start, from the top of the Allen Peak Tram, drops in at 74 degrees before descending almost two miles to the mountain’s bottom. It is five minutes of lung-busting adrenaline and well worth the burn. But that did us for the day, so we drove to Huntsville for beers in Utah’s oldest bar, the Shooting Star Saloon, seemingly unchanged since the doors opened in 1879, before the hour-long drive to our next hotel in Cottonwood, gateway to Snowbird.
DAY 3 – SNOWBIRD
Another bluebird day, but it was balmy and due to creep into the teens, so we raced to Snowbird before the sun did its damage.
“The terrain is really steep, and you can get yourself into trouble here,” said our mountain guide Hugo Foucher upon meeting. Sounded like a challenge.
When storm fronts form, the orientation of Snowbird acts as a funnel for low-density, dry powder, averaging over 12m per season. Sadly for us, the March sun had got to work, but Hugo knew some untapped spots…
We warmed up on the gentle Chips groomer that runs down from the Ariel Tram before heading east to explore the sidecountry that leads off of the High Saddle Traverse. We bombed through the dense pines between Dolores, Conrad and into Thunder Bowl, on the mountain’s far western boundary, where there was still a little powder to be found.
On the backside of the resort, Mineral Basin offers more advanced, exposed steep lines. Skier’s right, we built and carried speed onto Bookends Traverse and into Bookends Bowl. On a powder day, the Flora Cliffs would offer some descent drops, but there are plenty of safe lines to pick too that all end up at the Mineral Basin lift.
With Mineral Basin’s corn turning to slush, we crossed back to finish with the Cirque Traverse and picked lines between Great Scott and Upper Cirque, which cut under the Aerial Tram and would have been sublime if not savagely tracked and melting fast. Running late, we hurled ourselves into the car and raced to Solitude, 40 minutes east, for a gourmet meal served in a yurt in the middle of the forest.
DAY 4 – SOLITUDE
On our last ski day, fully fuelled on a concoction of fine wine and food, Will and I left early from the Bavarian-style ski-in/ski-out Inn at Solitude for first lift and some neatly packed corduroy. Our evening flight back to London meant a lunch call-time, so we hammered off at a blistering rate. Skier’s right from the top of Powder Horn II lift, we rolled into the off-piste tree runs of Parachute and Milk Run. Most of the good snow had gone, but a dump would make these some of the best in-bound lines around.
From Summit Express, we traversed through the gates onto the east face of Honeycomb Canyon and boot packed a short way to drop into the Boundary Shoots. Tracked up but still corn, the tight turns here made for some challenging skiing before the dreaded 1pm rolled around.
And so, we loaded up, rocketed back to Salt Lake City, slid onto the plane and got Will home in time for dinner with his mother-in-law on Friday night. Gold stars all round. Four mountains in four days across Utah’s Wasatch Range, and all within a working week. Not bad. Not bad at all.
offers a seven-night Utah Twin-Centre trip from £1375pp, including four nights’ B&B at the Hilton Garden Inn in Ogden (for Powder Mountain and Snowbasin) and three nights’ B&B at the Hyatt Place Cottonwood in Snowbird (for Snowbird and Solitude). Price based on two adults and includes flights from London to Salt Lake City and SUV hire.
The Visit Utah website has information on all resorts featured and lift ticket booking.