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Where Olympians chased medals

Snowbasin gives skiers a chance to show mettle

Article and Photos


Lee Juillerat

It's the best!


It's a place where Olympians chased medals, but, for some of us, it was a case of showing our mettle.

The 2002 Winter Olympics were known as the Salt Lake City Olympics, but venues for various events were scattered throughout the Wasatch Range, the ragged, rugged mountains just east of Utah's largest city.

North of Salt Lake City, on the Wasatch's east side, is Snowbasin, a little known, under-appreciated ski area that's being molded into a futuristic Sun Valley. The Sun Valley connection is intentional. In 2001 the resort officially changed its name to, "Snowbasin, a Sun Valley Resort." Earl Holding, who bought Snowbasin in 1984, also owns Sun Valley, the tony Idaho resort that's long been a mecca for movie stars and serious skiers.

Just like Sun Valley, Snowbasin's facilities are grandiose and, appropriately, Olympian, both on and off the slopes.

Dazzlingly impressive are a trio of imposing rock and log lodges...the 45,000 square foot Earl's Lodge at Snowbasin's base village, and the John Paul and Needles lodges at elevations of 8,900 and 8,750 feet respectively.Both are perched on mountaintops where a bottom-to-top high-speed quad and an eight-passenger gondola deposit downhill skiers, snowboarders and sightseers.

All three lodges are lavishly anointed with plush custom-weave carpets from England, elegant tapestries, multiple massive rock fireplaces, chandeliers seemingly relocated from opera houses, spacious dining areas, European imported marble floors and tables, and even posh bathrooms. While Earl's offers a looking-up view of the surrounding ragged-edged mountains, John Paul and Needles provide panoramic vistas of neighboring peaks and distant valleys.
Distance shot of starting area for 2002 Olympics

It's from the John Paul Lodge that skiers and boarders can take a 15-passenger tram that rises another 510-vertical feet atop Mount Allen.
Some passengers snap photos and enjoy the views from the top, then reboard the tram for the shuttle back to the John Paul Lodge. Others ski down a narrow 61-foot drop to the elevator-steep chute that marks the beginning of the Grizzly Downhill, the starting point for the 2002 Olympic Men's Downhill.

During the Olympics, skiers immediately accelerated to speeds of 70 mph in the six or seven seconds it took to drop down Ephriam's Face, named for a legendary giant grizzly bear, before attacking the rest of the course that dropped 2,897 vertical feet to its finish near Snowbasin's base village. The tram ride takes 2 minutes, more than 20 seconds longer it took the fastest Olympians to cover the entire downhill course.

During the Olympics, the entire course was glazed as hard as plexiglass. While most of the men's downhill course is closed, Ephriam's Face is open for people wanting to taste a sense of speed. Every few days the face is groomed, which enables non-Olympians a better chance to carve a few, or, depending on individual ability, several turns.

The view from the launching spot is intimidating, and the plunge into the skinny-at-the-top entrance is endorphin-inducing. But it is doable for skiers, like me, of intermediate to high-intermediate abilities.

Skiers carve turns on the start of the run that was the site of the 2002 Olympics Men's Downhill run.  

Actually, my toughest challenge was reaching the start. My first trip to the downhill start from the tram was a belly-flop fiasco. My skis tangled, I tumbled and slid spaghetti-legged sideways to the starting ramp. Later that day I tried again and, more graciously, reached the start standing atop my skis.

A fast moving gondola carries skiers and riders to the top of the mountain.
Snowbasin's base area includes a moose sculpture.

Both bursts down Ephriam's Face were adrenaline-rush blasts ‹ fun, exciting and exhilarating. Actually, Snowbasin is ripe with runs that can generate goose bumps for skiers of all abilities. A network of lifts, gondolas and the tram provide access to 53 designated runs on 2,660 acres of terrain for beginners to experts, including two terrain parks.

Whether skiing pedal to the metal, or just showing mettle, Snowbasin is a gold medal quality resort.

View from the top overlooks the western Watsatch.
Left and right facing views of skiers making time at Snowbasin.
Imminent collision ahead.




Snowbasin, A Sun Valley Resort, is 33 miles from downtown Salt Lake City and 17 miles from Ogden. One of the nation's oldest continuously operated ski areas, it was the venue for the Men's and Women's 2002 Olympic Winter Games downhill, super G, combined and para-Olympic events. Daily life tickets are
$55 for adults, $45 for seniors age 65 and older and $34 for children 7-12. Summer offerings include mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding and dining. For information call toll-free (888) 437-5488 or visit their Web site at www.snowbasin.com


Lee Juillerat lives in Klamath Falls, Oregon, where he can see Shasta from his front yard. This story is adapted from a piece Juillerat wrote for the 2003 book, “Mount Shasta Reflections,” by Renee Casterline and Jane English. A long-time contributor to High On Adventure, he is the regional editor for the Klamath Falls Herald and News, freelance writer-photographer for a wide range of magazines and author of three books about Crater Lake National Park. He can be reached at lee337@cvc.net.

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