By Courtney \ February 8 2022
20 years ago, the world descended on the state of Utah for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. The Games put this area on the map—introducing The Greatest Snow on Earth® to spectators in every country while showcasing the best talent in the world. Here in Utah, we are proud of our Olympic heritage and legacy—and something we are thrilled to tout while we have dozens of hometown athletes competing in Beijing over the coming weeks.
While the 2002 Games venues stretched across the Salt Lake valley and up to Park City, one of the best venues was Snowbasin Resort—the gorgeous mountain just 20 minutes outside of Ogden. Snowbasin wasn’t well known at that point, but Olympic Games paraded its amazing terrain and unbelievable accessibility—just 45 minutes from Salt Lake City International Airport and an hour away from the other alpine venues in Park City—bringing the resort into the conversation of best ski areas in the west in a matter of weeks.
Snowbasin was selected for the speed events due to its steep and vast terrain, but also because it has an expansive base area that could support an Olympic venue packed with spectators. Nearly 125,000 people showed up at Snowbasin to watch the world's best speed skiers compete for gold, with millions more watching on television. The mountain sparkled in the gold-tinged light on those days in February as legends like Kjetil André Aamodt, Lasse Kjus and Bode Miller won medals there.
Snowbasin hosted the speed events in alpine skiing: the super-G, downhill and combined—and the courses were not messing around. Olympic champion and famed downhill course designer Bernhard Russi built the two speed hills: ‘Grizzly’ for the men and ‘Wildflower’ for the women.
Grizzly was regarded as the most difficult downhill in the U.S.—some even called it the ‘Kitzbuehel of North America,’ as a reference to the infamous (and intimidating) Hahnenkamm downhill—and it was about as scary as running into a grizzly bear at your campsite. It’s steeper on average than both Kitzbuehel and another classic downhill, the Lauberhorn in Wengen, Switzerland. The run’s name stems from a legendary 10-foot-tall and 1,100-pound bear with three toes called Old Ephraim. He purportedly was Utah’s last grizzly bear and stories say he could rip apart a six-inch-wide Aspen tree in one bite. There were a few features on the course that played into the tale, including Three Toes, Bear Trap and Ephraim’s Face.
The technical Grizzly downhill plunged nearly 3,000 vertical feet in just under two miles, kicking skiers off of jumps and cranking them down 74-degree faces on injected snow. Wildflower was a hair tamer, but still equally as daunting, with a vertical drop of almost 2,700 feet.
These days, neither Grizzly or Wildflower features the same jumps and fallaway turns that were built for the Olympics, but they are now the perfect trails to arc super-G turns down and pretend to be Lindsey Vonn (or Kildow, as she was when she raced in 2002) or Picabo Street—or perhaps Fritz Strobl or Carole Montillet-Carles, who won gold on those courses in 2002. Take the John Paul Express up part of the mountain and step onto the Allen Peak Tram to ascend to the very tippy-top of Snowbasin. Look around—the views from the top of this resort are spectacular. You’ll feel like you’re in Europe with craggy mountains surrounding the valley below you. From there, decide whether you want to go down Grizzly Start or Wildflower Start. Both are steep but fun. (And let’s be serious—you’re going to want to try both. These are bucket list trails.) It’s easy to follow the trail signs down to Grizzly Downhill or Wildflower Downhill to Grizzly Finish or Wildflower Finish. It took Fritz Strobl only one minute and 39.13 seconds to soar from the top of the mountain to the bottom. It will take you a little longer than that. When you hit the base, throw your hands up in the air like you just won a medal, because that run is long, steep and full of Olympic history.
Hopefully, at this point, you feel like an Olympic (or Paralympic—Snowbasin also hosted all of the alpine events during the 2002 Paralympics) skier, which means you’ve earned the right to head into one of the resort’s stunning lodges for a bite to eat and a drink. Inside Snowbasin Earl's Lodge at the base hides Snowbasin Cinnabar Lounge, a great option to celebrate your gold medal run with a burger and cocktail. Or, head back up the lift to Snowbasin John Paul Lodge, where you can refuel with housemade waffles and views of Mount Ogden before jumping back on Allen Peak Tram to take one last run down Grizzly before the day is over. 20 years later, it’s still just as spectacular as those extraordinary days in 2002.
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