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Local’s Guide To Ogden Valley–Utah’s Open, Secret Powder Mill

Part New England farm town, part unrecognized powder paradise, Utah's Ogden Valley gets loads of snow but few of the crowds of ski areas closer to Salt Lake. Derek Taylor photo.

Utah’s Ogden Valley is a funky juxtaposition. As one visiting friend put it, “The proximity of the quaintitude to the tattoo parlors is mind blowing.” The Valley itself is a bucolic as it gets, with cow pastures, old barns, and about 2,400 residents spread out over three towns: Huntsville, Eden and Liberty. Meanwhile, just 10 miles west over the Wasatch front is Ogden City, population 80,000-plus, and close to a half million in the Weber/Clearfield metro area. 

The valley offers all the charm of a small, remote mountain community with the convenience of being close—yet geologically secluded—from a metropolitan area. Thanks to Trapper’s Loop, a cut-off built for the 2002 Olympics, the valley is less than an hour from Salt Lake International Airport.

There is just as much pow in the trees surrounding Ogden Valley as there is in the Cottonwoods... just nowhere near the crowds. Derek Taylor photo.

Most notable about the O.V. is that it is ringed by three ski areas. Snowbasin forms the southwestern boundary, Powder Mountain sits to the Northeast, and the tiny local’s hill of Nordic Valley is situated to the west. Pow Mow (as the locals call it) and ’Basin are legitimate world-class options for snow and terrain. Nordic Valley is a small, lower elevation, mostly night-skiing area. It has plans to expand, though those were slowed by last year’s warm winter, which forced the area to close in February.

The Ogden Valley resorts tend to get buried beneath the buzz surrounding Northern Utah’s seven other resorts. Though many talk of these treasures hidden to the north, few actually make the trip. Powder hounds still flock to the Salt Lake City resorts, and those seeking upscale amenities head to Park City. And frankly, this is for good reason: the nightlife and dining opportunities in Park City are the best in the state, and the snow in the Cottonwood Canyons is world-renowned. Meanwhile, the Ogden Valley quietly just goes about its business with rarely a lift line and relatively little pressure on the untracked terrain. Here are a few things to keep in mind should you do decide to drop into the Ogden Valley for more than the standard day trip.

Tip #1: You’ll probably want a car

Ogden Valley is rural and bucolic, so you're probably going to want a car. Derek Taylor photo.

The vibe in the Ogden Valley is a mix between a picturesque Western farming town and Northern New England countryside—the later because businesses tend to be spread across a ten-mile stretch of highway, rather than clustered around a main street, and there is little public transportation. There is also no central location to stay where you can walk to more than a couple of different bars or restaurants.

RELATED: TGR's full Locals' Guide column on where to ski, bike, and ride around the world

Snowbasin currently has no on-mountain lodging (though that is in the long-term master plan). It is possible to find a private home rental slopeside at Powder Mountain, and there’s shuttle service if you are staying in the condo developments at the base of the Pow Mow access road (collectively known as Wolf Creek). Public buses will also pick you up in Eden for Powder Mountain or at the Lakeside Condos for Snowbasin, but the service isn’t free ($4.50 each way) and only runs in the morning and late afternoon.

The Atomic Chalet is owned by a former pro volleyball player turned ski bum turned hotelier. Derek Taylor photo.

Once you accept that you’ll want some wheels, your lodging options open up. For Powder Mountain, the aforementioned Wolf Creek condos are the closest. You can also find reasonable VRBO properties in Eden. For Snowbasin, the Lakeside condos are the closest option, but there are also a few bed and breakfast options just a little farther away in Huntsville. The Atomic Chalet was founded by a former pro volleyball player turned ski bum. It offers a classic ski lodge feel and is walking distance to the Shooting Star Saloon, the Huntsville Barbeque Company, and the Huntsville Town Park, which serves as a skating rink in the winter (skate rentals available at Huntsville Barbeque). This is where U.S. Ski Team members stayed during the 2002 Olympics.

Tip #2: If you want to party, stay in Ogden

The historic Ben Lomond hotel holds down downtown Ogden City. Wikipedia photo.

There are several good places to get a drink and a meal in the Ogden Valley, but if hitting the town at night is part of your motivation for going on a ski trip, get a room in Ogden City. This is also where you’ll want to be if you are adamant about not having a car. The ski bus picks up near all the downtown hotels, all of which are walking distance to several bars and places to eat.

Downtown Ogden has rebounded in the last fifteen years, and is underrated for charm in its own right. As such, it is remarkably affordable. Even during peak season, you can find a double room at hotels such as the Hilton GardensMarriotHoliday Inn, or the Historic Ben Lomond for less than $100 a night.

All are a short walk from Historic 25th Street, a center of vice and debauchery during the city’s days as a railroad hub, and now a hub of dining and entertainment. Once there, you’ll have several options for getting your swerve on. Alleged has upscale, locally themed cocktails; Brewskis offers a college bar vibe, Roosters is the local brew pub, and the Kokomo Club is a classic dive bar that once made a cameo in a Jack Kerouac’s story Visions of Cody.

As Ogden is real working city with real people, instead of tourists and second homeowners, even the upscale dining options, such as the Tona Sushi or Bistro 258, are reasonable by resort town standards. More moderate options include Slackwater Grill, Roosters, and Sonora Grill, or for just a few bucks you can grab a slice and a beer at Lucky Slice between stops on your pub crawl.

Tip #3: The Ogden Valley is still a Real town, and not an overrun resort town

No trip to the area is complete without a stop at the Shooting Star Saloon in Huntsville–the oldest bar in Utah. Derek Taylor photo.

From a cost of living perspective, not much changes in the ten miles from Ogden City to the Ogden Valley. Real estate is more expensive, and you’ll take a bigger hit on groceries at Valley Market than you will at Smith’s in O-Town, but lodging and dining out run about the same regardless of which side of the divide you’re on. A one-bedroom condo goes for between $150-300 a night at peak holiday rates, and the Atomic Chalet ranges from $110 to $140, depending on your timing.

In other words, if your priority is face shots over Fireball shots, there’s no reason not to stay in the Valley. Dining and entertainment options are a bit few and far between, but there is certainly enough to keep you distracted for a few nights. Just don’t expect to send it deep into the early morning hours. Most places will show you the door before 11.

The North Fork Table and Tavern, a new restaurant opened by the owners of Powder Mountain and located at the base of the Pow Mow access road, is the best (only) fine dining option in the Valley. North Fork features a full bar, decent wine list, wood-fired pizza, and with entrees toping out below $30, would be considered cheap in most ski towns.

There's plenty of good food to be had, just don't expect a late night. Derek Taylor photo.

Carlos and Harley’s, located between Powder and ’Basin in Eden, offers Mexican fare and a full-service sports bar, with most entrees priced in the $12 to $15 range.

No trip to the Ogden Valley would be right without a visit to the Shooting Star Saloon. The oldest bar in Utah (founded in 1879, prior to Utah’s admission into the Union) the Star slings burgers in a historic, eclectic, and comfortable environment. The Star currently has a beer-only license, but is in the process of navigating the state’s muddled Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control for a full liquor license.

The American Legion Post in Huntsville is the local’s watering hole. The hall is open to the public, features a full service bar (no weird “intent to dine” rules), and might surprise you with the quality of their rotating dinner menu.

While the aprés scene is limited at Pow Mow and Snowbasin, parking lot tailgates are a popular move. Derek Taylor photo.

The Powder Keg at Pow Mow and the Cinnabar at Snowbasin are the only two slopeside après bars. But since people are typically driving down from the resort anyway, locals are just as apt to drop a tailgate and pop one in the parking lot of either resort before moving on.

For breakfast, Perks Village Bakery in Eden is good for a sandwich or burrito, Chris’s in Huntsville is good if you want to sit down for some bacon and eggs. If you’re coming up from Ogden (or running a shuttle to backcountry ski) hit The Oaks in Ogden Canyon, or stop by the Kaffe Mercentileat 26th and Harrison for good coffee and a breakfast sandwich.

Tip #4: The Skiing & Riding at Pow Mow and Snowbasin is Awesome, and Uncrowded

Powder Mountain is quiet, steeper than its reputation, and will keep you nabbing fresh tracks almost any day of the season. Ian Matteson photo.

Powder Mountain likes to call out their more than 7,000 skiable acres, though that total can be misleading. Of those, 2,800 acres are lift serviced. Another 1,200 are serviced by bus shuttle, and 700 are accessed by a $20 cat ride. There is also cat skiing operating on 3,000 acres, and 1,000 acres of out-of-bounds terrain that is available only to guided tours. Powder Mountain is all private land, so there is no National Forest access and all boundaries are closed.

Powder Mountain is not flat, but the locals would prefer you not tell anyone else. Ian Matteson/Powder Mountain photo.

Just as misleading, however, is the perception that Powder Mountain is flat. Yes, some of Pow Mow’s terrain is better suited for mountain biking (and look for them to expand those options in summers to come), but there are legitimately steep options as well.

Powder Country, which leads down to the bus shuttle, and Lightening Ridge (only lap-able with three chairs and a snowcat) are both difficult to get to, so they hold stashes well after a storm. Hook Chute, Waterfall, Big Middle and Lumberyard off of Lightening are all legit big mountain chutes. Powder Country, meanwhile, features steep, open pine forests dropping back to the access road.

Pow Mow has two different single-drop cat ski options for $18 a hit, or you can cat ski all day for $450. Ian Matteson photo.

In short, you won’t be logging vertical the way you would off a tram, but you will usually be able to find pristine, secluded, adventure skiing almost any day during a good winter.

Snowbasin has been running since the '30s, and packs the best big mountain terrain in the area. Snowbasin photo.

Snowbasin is one of the oldest ski areas in Utah. The Mountain Ogden Ski Club has been skiing here since the 1930s, and the ski area was dedicated in 1940. In 1998, the ski area was revamped to host the 2002 Olympics with two bottom-to-top gondolas and a high-speed quad, each covering more than 2,300 feet in less than 10 minutes. A nice complement to Pow Mow, Basin is where to go if you’re hunting vertical feet per day, and also has access to the region's best big mountain terrain and backcountry.

Of the three high-speed lifts, the Strawberry Gondola offers the most sustained fall line skiing, but tends to get whited out during storms. Low-vis days usually drive everyone towards the Needles Gondola, and while it’s nice to stay warm and dry in the enclosed cars, sometimes you can get the best skiing that zone has to offer from the Porcupine or Middle Bowl chairs.

Having hosted the Olympic downhill race, there are plenty of steeps–and plenty of pow–at Snowbasin. Mike Allen/Snowbasin photo.

The Allen Peak Tram, located at the top of John Paul, accesses the Men’s and Women’s downhill starts, and is also the kick off for out-of-bounds chutes that funnel back into the resort, such as Mt. Ogden Chute and Porcupine Cirque.

Snowbasin is on USFS land and has an open boundary, so there are numerous backcountry opportunities. Obviously read the avalanche report first, but it’s also a good idea check in with patrol. The Utah Avalanche Center forecasts out of Salt Lake City; there might be some intricacies of the Mt. Ogden snowpack that only the local professionals will know.

Also keep in mind that the most visible, accessible, and tempting backcountry lines—found just beyond the boundary of No Name in a zone called Hell’s Canyon—are also some of the deadliest on Mt. Ogden. They funnel into giant terrain trap that kills someone just about every half-decade, most recently in March 2015.

Nordic Calley is the town hill, but offers pretty limited terrain beyond its night skiing. Derek Taylor photo.

Nordic Valley is where the local race teams train, and offers night skiing (as does Powder Mountain). If you’re visiting from out of town, it's more suited to locals than visitors unless you want to bang out a few laps under the lights without navigating the steep Pow Mow access road.

From The Column: Local’s Guide

Pow Mow as it is affectionally known WAS the coolest biggest little resort in Utah.You could purchase a lift ticket at the Valley market for $25 and $30 at the window.  It’s the same terrain but the new owners want money to ride what used to be a 15 minute hike. The new owners whored out everything that was cool and exciting. I am blessed to of had my time there when it was a family operation. All I can say is ask the real locals about where they ride and ski…................. it will never be the place it used to to be…...............

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