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This is the Place: Ogden and Snowbasin


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Choosing a ski resort near Salt Lake City was a real headache. There were several to choose from and they varied substantially in terms of cost, altitude, and suitability for beginning skiers. The most well known resort was Park City, which boasted the largest ski area in the United States and a reputation for catering to the rich and famous. Once I saw that the price for a child's full day ski lesson was four hundred dollars I quickly eliminated Park City from consideration. I had considered $150 to be quite high at Steamboat two years earlier and the only people I could imagine spending $400 were those who were so wealthy that they didn't even think about line items that were under four figures. Those people probably only skied at resorts with worldwide recognition like Park City or Aspen, but bragging rights weren't part of my calculations. I just wanted a good experience for the kids at a price that wouldn't leave me feeling like a sucker.

There was a cluster of smaller ski resorts in the Wasatch Range between Salt Lake City and Park City, and each had some advantages and disadvantages. Brighton had a great deal for families with free lift tickets for kids under ten, but the base altitude was 8700 feet and the summit was at 10500. This wasn't as bad as some of the Colorado resorts but I'm extremely risk averse when it comes to the kids and I didn't want to take any chance of them feeling sick and not being able to enjoy their time on the slopes. I'd chosen Steamboat for our first trip specifically because of the base elevation of 6900 but all of the kids had felt ill at one point or another as we traversed higher altitudes on the road to the resort. I was the only one who had gone to the summit of at 10000 feet and while I hadn't felt sick, I got winded very quickly trying to make my way down the more difficult slopes. Deer Valley was lower altitude and had the added bonus of prohibiting snowboarders, but it was also extremely expensive unless we took a limited option which only provided access to beginner slopes. It might have worked perfectly but it could also have significantly limited the kids progress. I was still weighing the options when I came across a mention of ski resorts near Salt Lake City's northern neighbor, Ogden. There were actually three choices in the mountains east of Ogden and the most promising seemed to be Snowbasin, the closest one to Salt Lake City. The lessons were particularly reasonably priced compared to the SLC reports. My only concern was that there seemed to be a relative paucity of beginner slopes at Snowbasin which might mean that Mei Ling and the kids would be skiing the same terrain over and over again. Ultimately I decided that it was more important to focus on technique than variety on the green slopes and we committed to Snowbasin.

It was an hour's drive from Park City to the small, isolated subdivision outside of Ogden where our Airbnb was located. There's no accommodation at the ski resort so this was the closest option and I think we were lucky to find it. The basement of a good-sized brick house had been converted into an Alpine-style lodge with wood beams, shaggy carpeting, and a gas-powered fireplace. It was the kind of place you might have seen a family base themselves for a ski vacation on a TV sitcom, totally classic. In the morning we admired the view of the snow-covered Northern Wasatch Mountains behind the houses on the opposite side of the cul-de-sac.
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For our first day on the slopes everyone but me was enrolled in lessons. It was a much easier process to get things going that it had been at the Steamboat and Killington mega resorts on our previous ski trips. For the first time we had rented our equipment from the resort and everything fit perfectly based on the information I'd provided online. Hardly anyone else was competing for the attention of the staff and we got everyone connected to their ski instructors and on the slopes quickly. I could probably have benefited from lessons myself but at this point I'm more focused on staying in one piece than skiing faster or on more challenging terrain. I expect within a couple of years the kids will pass me by and I'm perfectly happy with that. Instead I used that first day to familiarize myself with the trails so that hopefully I'd be able to guide my family to the safest routes on the last two days. Snowbasin has a fairly simple layout with a gondola that leads from the base lodge straight up to the top of the mountain. There were no lines at all and I had a relaxing ten minute ride up to the Needles Cirque, a couple hundred feet short of the Needles Peak. From the top of the gondola there were impressive views of the stony cliffs leading up to the peak as well as the snowy panorama of the valley below.
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I didn't have much difficulty getting accustomed to skiing again. It had only been three months since our last trip and the slopes were in good shape considering how late it was in the season. Over the next few hours I explored pretty much all of the intermediate trails on Snowbasin, taking one short break to stop at the base lodge and check on the kids while they were having lunch. Mei Ling was so focused on her lesson that she didn't want to take a lunch break. The best views on the mountain were from Strawberry Peak at the southernmost edge of the resort. From here I could look west past the town of Ogden and across the Great Salt Lake all the way to the Newfoundland Mountains projecting out of the salt flats. The wind was so strong here I felt that it was trying to knock me off the ridge as I skied down a narrow path to the intermediate slope. I made a mental note that it probably wouldn't be wise to bring the family to this side even if they were ready for the blue trails.
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By early afternoon the temperature had climbed well into the seventies and I was just trying to kill time until the lessons were over. As I've mentioned before I'm rather indifferent about skiing and only got back into it so that the kids would learn at a young age. My main goal is to help them get better and avoid getting injured, a task I failed at miserably at Killington a few months previously when I detached my right biceps tendon trying to hold a chairlift that was about to carry Cleo back down the mountain. Fortunately I didn't need to have surgery and pretty much retained full use of my arm but I took it as a warning that skiing is a relatively dangerous sport that can change someone's life in a matter of seconds. I got another reminder of this on my very last day when the snow at the bottom of the mountain had become wet and heavy under the sun's relentless glare. A simple turn on a nearly flat stretch of the trail turned into a cartwheeling wipeout when my rear ski caught in the snow instead of following its partner. The detached skis came to rest several yards away as I slowly inventoried my body parts and found them to be intact. I resolved to be much more judicious with my speed at the bottom of the trails over the next two days.

Once the family was reunited it seemed that everyone was very happy with their lessons and their progress and we decided to proceed with our plan to ski independently for the final two days. We treated the kids to dinner at a Japanese hibachi restaurant called Kobe Teppanyaki which was in the outskirts of Ogden not far from our Airbnb. It was a bit of a drop in cuisine from the previous two nights but it was worth it to see the kids. astounded expressions as the chef executed his repertoire of tricks at the grill.
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On our second day at Snowbasin all of us except Spenser took the Needles gondola to the top with some trepidation. I was pretty comfortable with the route I had chosen which involved taking the narrow traverses that connected the easier intermediate slopes. Cleo was the strongest of the three so I let her forge ahead while I hung back with Mei Ling and Ian to steer them away from the outer edge of the traverse. If they had gone over the edge it wouldn't have been like going over a cliff but it was still a fairly steep incline of ungroomed snow. When I looked back down the traverse Cleo was nowhere in sight so I took off after her fairly quickly. I reached the intersection of the traverse and the advanced intermediate slope without having spotted her and tried to figure out which way she had gone. The traverse continued on the other side of the trail but it seemed unlikely she had seen it and gone all the way across without me. Finally I heard her calling and realized she had diverted onto the intermediate slope and was about a hundred yards downhill, way to far for her to clamber back up to where I was. There really was nothing else to do at this point but for the three of us to join her. The problem was that the place where she was now stopped was the beginning of Sweet Revenge, the steepest intermediate trail I had encountered on the previous day's exploration and the slope I was specifically trying to avoid by taking the traverses. We grouped together at the top and peeked over the lip at an incline which looked even steeper than I remembered. Mei Ling and the kids were terrified but there wasn't really any choice except to go down. I kept everyone together and coached them to make the widest possible serpentine descent with sharp turns to avoid gaining too much downhill speed. For the most part it worked although Ian had some trouble completing his turns and had to wipe himself out to avoid losing control of his descent. It was rather painful the first time but the trial by fire was effective and for the rest of the day there wasn't any terrain that could inspire fear in the kids. We even went down Sweet Revenge three or four more times and each time it seemed less steep than the last.
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Ogden doesn't attract many tourists for anything except the great outdoors, but it did have one area that I was interested in exploring. Historic 25th Street is a restored main street at the center of downtown Ogden that captures some of the style that characterized the city when it was an important junction on the Transcontinental Railroad in the mid 19th century. We did feel as though we'd entered a time warp, perhaps not so much traveling back to the 19th century but possibly the mid 20th. The street was lined with quirky bars, small restaurants, and a surprising diversity of craft stores and galleries. As we've become accustomed to in Utah, an imposing stretch of mountains loomed majestically at the far end of the street. I realized I was probably looking at the very peaks from which I had gazed down upon the city the previous day.
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After walking up and down the entire length of the street we stopped in one particularly intriguing gallery where an artist was sketching in charcoal. She kindly stopped her work to explain the process to the kids while Mei Ling and I browsed the characteristic Western paintings of landscapes and wildlife. Afterwards we stopped by an interesting restaurant we had noticed earlier with a sidewalk patio. It had filled up considerably since we had first passed by and at first the hostess couldn't seat us. As we stood outside calling the the restaurants on my Ogden list trying to find an open table on Friday evening she took mercy on us and found us a great table with bench seats right up against the bar. It was very fortunate we hadn't walked away because Table 25 was an awesome find both for the quality and diversity of the food as well as the atmosphere. The restaurant was less than a year old, another sign of the revitalization of this fascinating street.
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On our final day of skiing Mei Ling and the kids were more confident and familiar with the terrain so I worked with them on their technique, particularly on keeping their skis parallel and controlling their speed with turning rather than by snowplowing. Ian seemed to have become temporarily fearless and a couple of times he had spectacular wipeouts blasting downhill after failing to complete his turns. I found this so terrifying that I had to threaten to ground him at the base if he couldn't keep his skiing under control. He managed to straighten things out and for the rest of the day we explored the remaining territory of the resort. We even made it over to Strawberry Peak although the snow wasn't as good quality there as it had been when I went there alone on the first day. We had lunch at the Needles Lodge near the top of the mountain for a change. The view was good but the food choices weren't as good as at the base lodge. By afternoon the temperature was close to 80 degrees and we had had to deposit our ski parkas at the base. We saw some people even skiing bare chested. The snow was pretty heavy at the bottom of the mountain and the kids didn't argue when I suggested we call it a day with an hour to go before the lifts closed. We picked up Spenser who had really enjoyed his three days of ski school and made a lot of progress towards joining us on the intermediate slopes. Over the three days my family had really impressed me, especially Mei Ling who had to overcome a fear of heights as well as the usual fear of falling that everyone has when skiing. I was really glad that I had chosen to introduce the kids to this exciting sport, even if I personally would rather be spending winter vacations in warm climates.
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Even though we were more experienced three days was still the perfect amount of time to be on the slopes. I think we were all relieved not to have to go back for a fourth day. Instead we piled back into the car and drove back to Salt Lake City where we checked into our next Airbnb, a dated apartment with a walk-through bedroom and cracked porcelain bathroom fixtures. From there we hopped back on the interstate and drove to the eastern edge of the city where small roads snaked off into the canyons among the Wasatch Mountains. Above us in the hills were rows of low-profile homes that were hardly distinguishable from the surrounding landscape in the dusk. We took the turn onto Mill Creek Canyon Road which soon felt as isolated as any mountain road hundreds of miles from the nearest city. As the darkness deepened I started to wonder if the restaurant we were seeking could possibly be located in this forsaken wilderness. Google Maps showed it a few miles ahead but was it possible that I had accidentally entered the wrong information? Perhaps we were actually headed to the Log Haven hiking trail instead of the Log Haven restaurant. We had no cell phone signal and therefore had no choice but to proceed to our destination. Soon enough we were relieved to come across a well-lighted wooden mansion that was clearly the restaurant we were seeking.
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Log Haven is a former private estate built at enormous expense by a local businessman using logs that were shipped in from Oregon and hauled up the canyon by horse-drawn wagons. The property went through several cycles of ownership and underwent its most recent restoration in 1994. It is widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in Utah both for the setting and the cuisine. Once I discovered it during my pre-travel research I was sure to reserve a table well in advance. Our final dinner of the trip proved to be a worthy complement to the other extravagant dinners we had had on this short vacation. Large portions of game and local fish were served with creative vegetable sides in the western style we had grown accustomed to over the past few days. Log Haven had an exceptionally beautiful interior with a wood motif that was maintained down to the construction of the dining chairs. Few think of Utah as a marquee dining destination but I was hard pressed to think of any journey where we had eaten so well so consistently.
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Our flight back to Miami didn't depart until mid afternoon which gave us ample time to have a leisurely breakfast and do one last bit of exploration. We headed back to the Wasatch Range and this time we drove up Emigration Canyon to Ruth's Diner, a historic and beloved breakfast spot set amid the snowy foothills. Despite the remote location the large parking lot was rapidly filling with cars, making me thankful we had pushed ourselves into an early departure from the Airbnb. We had a hearty and filling traditional American breakfast to prepare us for the arduous trek back to Miami. As we left we saw that a substantial line of prospective customers had already formed outside.
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I had spotted a viewpoint on Google Maps so we drove along the canyon road a few miles further until it ascended a hill with a couple of hairpin loops. We parked in the lookout and gazed over the reservoir and the furrowed hills beyond. On the opposite side of the road was a dirt path that ascended to the top of the hill. From here we had even better views of the mountains and some small clusters of mansions that nearly blended into the countryside. We gazed around and bid farewell to Salt Lake City for the second time in a year.
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Our flight home also required a connection but we didn't have the nerve-wracking deviation from the scheduled route that had complicated our outward itinerary. As we flew from the area I craned my neck painfully for one last look behind the wing at the densely populated valley and the vast, surreal lake that gives Salt Lake City its name. I had a strong feeling that this visit wouldn't be our last.
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Posted by zzlangerhans 01:11 Archived in USA Tagged road_trip skiing utah family_travel salt_lake_city friedman tony_friedman family_travel_blog

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