Snowboarding out west…our snowboarding trip to Powder Mountain

When people think about snowboarding in Utah, generally places like Solitude, Brighton, Canyons, and Snowbird come to mind.  But if you venture north from the airport, you will be heading toward Powder Mountain and Snowbasin.  Mark has been coming to Powder Mountain for about 8 years.  This is my second trip.  Snowboarding out west is different than east coast snowboarding in a number of ways including

  • The altitude is higher
  • Ice is the exception rather than the rule
  • Most of the snow you ride is natural snow vs manmade
  • The mountains are bigger…not only higher, but sprawling

The base elevation of many of the mountains out west is higher than the top of the highest mountains in the east.  This means the air is thinner. There is less oxygen for you and your muscles, so you get tired faster and you dehydrate more easily. The sun’s rays are stronger, because the air is thinner, not as many rays are filtered out.  Apply and reapply sunscreen. If you are venturing to really high mountains, you might want to give yourself a day or two to adjust to the altitude if possible.

Powder Mountain rises above the town of Eden.  Where, as of the 2010 census, there were 600 residents.  There are a lot of condos, a supermarket, a gas station, a bank, a sports shop and several restaurants.  And that’s about all you will find in town.  But when you’re here, that doesn’t seem so bad.  Ogden is a city of nearly 83,000 and it is only about 20 minutes away.  From the airport you will drive through Ogden.  It is recommended that you do your food and beer shopping in Ogden before heading up to Eden.  In case you don’t know, in Utah beer is 3.2% alcohol.  The only place you can get regular strength beer is the State Liquor Stores.  And the closest one to Eden is in Ogden.  So stock up on your way.

You don’t go snowboarding at Powder Mountain for the amenities…you go for the riding!  With over 7,000 skiable acres, it has the most skiable acres of any resort in the US

  • 2,800 acres are lift served
  • 1,200 are served by the Powder Country Shuttle
  • 3,000 are accessible by back country snowcat
  • 1,000 are accessed by DMI/Wolf Canyon Tours

There is no manmade snow at all here.  The air is drier and so is the snow, and it is unusual to get the same thaw, rain, freeze cycles that we so often experience in the east.  So riding on ice is a rarity.  There’s no hopping over snowmaking pipes if you venture into the trees, just a yearly average around 500 inches of the real stuff.

Powder Mountain has a very old school feel, and pretty much everyone up here wants to keep it that way.  The lodges are decidedly frill free.  The people are incredibly nice and everyone seems happy to be here (we certainly are!)  Powder Mountain is all about the terrain.  Back in the east it can be tough to get off the groomers.  Often there’s not enough snow coverage in the glades and the trees tend to be very close together so finding a line is not always easy.  Also if you want to get off of the groomers, the trees are often your only option.  Out west you have big, open bowls, chutes, trees varying in difficulty from widely spaced at gradual pitches, to tighter, steeper tree runs.  And if you venture into the side, slack or backcountry, the options are limitless.  If you venture out of bounds, of course be cognizant of avalanche conditions, have avalanche training, and if you are unfamiliar with the area, hiring a guide is a good way to go.

You don’t come out west to ride the groomers.  You come for everything else.  Things are wide open.  And ropes are few and far between and often only mark ski area boundaries.

The view from these mountains is unbelievable!  If you ever wondered how small you really are in the scheme of things, just look around you.  There are majestic peaks EVERYWHERE!  It is truly awe-inspiring.  And it is so very quiet.  The familiar “ssccrraattccchhh!” of skis and boards on ice are absent here.  Even on an ice chunky day it’s quiet.   And it’s not crowded.  There can be small lift lines, but once you get off the lift, there are so many choices of where to go, you can find yourself alone before you know it.  This winter has not been stellar out here and our first couple of days the conditions have been reminiscent of the east coast chunky groomers in the morning, but as the sun softened them up in the afternoon, there was much more terrain available to us.  Snow in the forecast for the next four days has us optimistic about being able to take advantage of all of the fluffy goodness available.

As the mountain fills in with powder, get out your powder snowboard and get ready to have fun!  There are fresh lines to be had for days if you know where to go.  We’re lucky enough to have back to back to back pow days.  But with an average snowfall of 500 inches per season (although the last few seasons have underperformed), suddenly that doesn’t seem so unique.

Snowbasin is a stark contrast to Powder Mountain in a lot of ways.  It features 3,000 skiable acres…size wise, think Killington times two.  Snowbasin is an excerise in opulence.  The lodges are beautiful.  The amenities are plentiful.  And the food choices are less ski area cafeteria, more upscale, made to order food stations.

Snowbasin has full height doors on the bathrooms with brass door handles and locks.  The counters are granite.  There is a reception counter when you enter the lodges and a wide, elaborate staircase leads you downstairs to a lounge area.  It is more a study in “guest services” and while everything is all fancy-like, it is still a friendly atmostphere.  If you like to be catered to, Snowbasin is perfect for you.  There are shuttle services from the parking lot that will drop you off right near the gondola.  Oh ya, there are gondolas, so you don’t get too cold on your way up to the beautiful lodge at the top.

There is a variety of terrain at Snowbasin also, and it is set up to cater to whatever you might need.  There are bowls, chutes, groomed cruisers and glades.  Beginner to expert, there is something for everyone.  It is definitely a place worth checking out.  On a bluebird day I am not sure if there is a more beautiful place to be.

This trip we have spent our time at Powder Mountain.  It is amazing how many people we have talked to at the top of a trail, on the lift, and in the lodge who have ties to New England.  Many of them are on vacation, there are a lot of retirees who come out here to ski, and there are a good number of transplants, who left the ice behind for the good stuff.  Whoever you run into, you can be sure that they are having a good time and enjoying the best of what the mountains have to offer.  I have been warned that Powder Mountain is a bit of a local secret and that spreading the word might be taboo.  But I think that if this is what you’re into, there is enough snow to go around.


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