The History of Snowbasin Resort
Claim to Fame: Can you survive a high-octane Winter Olympic-caliber ski run? The Grizzly and Wildflower downhill runs for the 2002 Games are located at Snowbasin Resort, accessible via the Allen Peak tram. The courses were designed by former Swiss ski racer Bernhard Russi and are considered some of the most difficult Olympic racecourses.
Unique Character: Feel the thrill of Olympic gold by catching a lift on the Allen Peak Tram. It’s one of only two jib-back trams in the USA besides the Lone Peak Tram at Big Sky in Montana. An electric motor at the bottom terminal is used to pull one cabin downhill, while that cabin’s weight pulls the opposing cabin uphill. The tiny tram’s capacity is 15 people and from the top, riders can spy five states on a clear day!
With a 3,000-foot vertical drop across six distinctive peaks and airy alpine bowls, Snowbasin is a world-class resort. Don’t believe us? Just ask the Olympic and Paralympic downhill skiers who vied for gold on Snowbasin’s amazing slopes during the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. Some of the longest and most scenic groomers in the state of Utah can be found here. Soak up striking views of Ogden Valley below as you swoop down perfectly manicured pitches.
The three distinct areas at Snowbasin all span the same aspect so navigation at this resort is a cinch. There’s the Strawberry Gondola, the Needles Gondola, and Allen’s Peak, accessed by the John Paul high-speed quad. The beginner’s area near the base and Earl's Lodge are fantastic for learners with convenient access to the resort’s luxe amenities, roaring fires and plush carpets.
What’s in a Name: Snowbasin
In the 1930s, a contest was launched to name a future ski area on a site in Wheeler Basin hand-selected by skiing pioneer, Alf Engen. Genevieve Woods won the contest with the entry “Snow Basin.” She had imagined a vast natural basin filled to the brim with snow that, come summer, would melt into delicious and clean drinking water. In the 1970s the name was reformatted to "Snowbasin", however, you'll still see old highway navigation signs in Ogden Valley with "Snow Basin."
Snowbasin holds the distinction of being one of the oldest continuously operating ski areas in the nation. Since 1940, skiers and Olympians alike have flocked to the scenic slopes of Snowbasin.
In the beginning, Ute and Shoshone tribes took advantage of abundant fish and game in the surrounding mountains. By the 1820s, fur trappers moved into the area to harvest the coveted furs of local beavers. The neighboring settlement of Ogden sheltered famous and infamous characters from mountain men like Jim Bridger and Jedidiah Smith. The activity attracted more settlers and pioneers and Northern Utah became a gathering place for trappers, traders and explorers looking to barter their wares.
The settlers, pioneers and homesteaders began to tame the wild mountain terrain felling timber, grazing cattle and other activities that disrupted the ecosystem. The extraction and exploitation resulted in catastrophic erosion, flooding and overgrazing.
The Weber County Watershed Protection Cooperative was formed to better manage the abundant natural resources and to educate landowners about conservation and sustainable land usage. The aim was to protect and enhance the damaged environment in the surrounding area. Between 1940 and 1945, nearly 5,000 acres in Wheeler Basin and its surrounding watershed was resorted and then turned over to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) as the Cache National Forest. The eventual goal was to create a recreational haven for locals and visitors alike.
The Basin Comes To Be
In 1938, the famous Norwegian skier Alf Engen joined several Forest Service employees for a hike out into Wheeler Basin. This was a fateful hike following his recommendation to the Forest Service in 1935 to select a site for the construction of Alta Ski Area—read that historical tale here. Impressed by the terrain of Wheeler Basin, Engen enthusiastically recommended the zone for another ski area. Soon, a contest was launched to name the new resort and “Snow Basin Ski Park” was chosen. The first ski tow was up and operational on Becker Hill by 1939 and the reputation of the mountain began to grow. The mayor officially opened and dedicated Ogden’s "Snow Basin Winter Playground" on November 27, 1940.
Snow Basin Gains Ground
The following year in 1940, Engen and his Forest Service colleagues helped to manage a CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) project to make the resort more accessible to the general public by building a better road. Snow Basin hosted its first alpine ski race that winter where 75 racers vied for a prize. In 1941, Engen and his men cut more ski runs across the mountainside, including the steep shot off Mt. Ogden that would one day become an Olympic alpine venue. Engen’s brothers Sverre and Corey opened a ski school in 1941. (To read more about Sverre's daring adventures in developing avalanche mitigation control in Little Cottonwood - click here.)
To service the expanding terrain, construction began in earnest on the Wildcat chairlift in 1941. The USFS constructed a base area lodge in 1944. Unfortunately, the clang of hammers and heavy machinery came to a sudden halt with the onset of World War II. The ski area was shuttered by the Forest Service during the war years, reopening to enthusiastic crowds in 1945. In 1946 construction on the Wildcat chairlift was finally completed and it was a mighty single-seat, wooden tower lift.
Enthusiasm for skiing following the war reached a fever pitch, inspired by the veterans of the 10th Mountain Division. John Paul Jones, an Ogden native, gave his life fighting in the Battle of the Belvedere in Italy. The John Paul lift at Snowbasin was named after this brave soldier who adored Snow Basin and had learned to ski there.
New Lifts & A New Name
Sam Huntington, a Coloradan, purchased Snow Basin from the City of Ogden in the 50s. Snow Basin continued to attract fans and teach new skiers the art of snow sliding throughout the 50s and 60s. Small improvements and additions were made to the resort including the Glendale Inn Lodge in the early 1960s. Sam installed the Wildcat double chair, replacing an old rope tow. The lengthy Porcupine chair near the imposing face of Mt. Ogden replaced another antiquated rope tow.
Momentum for Snow Basin’s prestige picked up when the NCAA Skiing Championship was hosted by the resort in 1957. Racers were challenged on the “John Paul Jones” slope to the right of the very steep summit of Mt. Ogden. Racers had to hike to the start from the crest of the Porcupine lift for a grueling 45 minutes. Anderl Molterer of the Austrian National Ski Team approached Huntington after competing, informing him that if he built a lift to the top of the John Paul Jones run, he would bring his highly-regarded Austrian team to train at Snow Basin. He declared that John Paul Jones was the best downhill racing run in the world. Huntington declined as other priorities demanded his attention. Tragically, Huntington met his death in an accident while replacing an electrical fuse on the Porcupine lift several years later and the family sold the resort to several Ogden area businessmen.
Snow Basin changed hands a number of times throughout the 1970s and 80s and new owners officially completed a name change to “Snowbasin” in 1978. The Middle Bowl chairlift added a huge amount of new terrain and the day lodge was expanded.
Snowbasin Gains World Fame
In 1984 the Holding Family purchased Snowbasin and they continue to own the mountain today. Earl Holding, who already owned Sun Valley resort in Idaho, invested a huge amount of capital to improve Snowbasin’s lifts and snowmaking capabilities. In 1995, Salt Lake City was awarded their bid to host the 2002 Olympic Winter Games and Snowbasin was enthusiastically chosen as the venue to host the men’s and women’s Super G, Downhill and Combined alpine races. At this point, the U.S. Congress became involved, passing the Snowbasin Land Exchange Act in 1996. This act of congress transferred 1,377 acres of USFS land to private ownership by Snowbasin in exchange for a set of necessary projects and environmental specifications the resort must adhere to in order to host the Olympics. Today, around 60% of Snowbasin occupies National Forest land.
At the turn of the millennium, Snowbasin completed construction on the iconic Allen Peak Tram and installed a state-of-the-art snowmaking system with coverage over 600 acres of terrain. It contained over 300 miles of wiring and 50 miles of electrical conduit. The high-tech system paired with a computer that measured dew point, temperature and humidity to optimize snow production. The year 1999 also saw upgrades to Snowbasin’s avalanche mitigation with new Gazex machines—more great info on the evolution of avalanche mitigation can be found here—to safely detonate avalanches below No Name Peak.
A spider hoe near the top of the Allen Peak Tram top terminal
An Olympic Legacy
In 2002, Snowbasin hosted the Downhill, the Combined (downhill and slalom) and Super-G Olympic ski racing events. It was the only ski area in Utah with suitable terrain and a large enough base area to handle an Olympic-sized number of viewers. Spectators enjoyed jaw-dropping views of the venue and a stadium was erected at the foot of the run. Two snow terraces were built for spectators to stand along both sides of the run. The capacity for spectators was an incredible 22,500 people and 99.1% of tickets were sold. An astonishing 124,373 spectators attended all the events at the Snowbasin Olympic venue. Snowbasin also hosted the alpine skiing, downhill, super-G, slalom and giant slalom Paralympic events.
Following the successful Olympic Games, Snowbasin first opened for summer operations in June of 2004. An instant hit, the Blues, Brews & BBQ weekly Sunday Concert Series continues to this day. This free concert series attracts locals and travelers alike with headlining bands, awesome food and the majestic scenery of Snowbasin in summer. To this day, Snowbasin's reputation as a world-class Olympic venue with outstanding service and luxurious amenities continues to flourish. Scenic dining is available at two breathtaking locations atop the John Paul lift and the Needles Gondola. The elegant atmosphere complements a dramatic landscape where winter memories come alive.
Snowbasin opened for the 2020–21 season on November 27, 2020, exactly 80 years to the date when the Mayor of Ogden officially proclaimed "Ogden Snow Basin Winter Playground" open for business. Don't miss Snowbasin's 80th Anniversary Pale Ale, a collaboration with Roosters Brewing Company - learn more here. Raise a glass, or a can to Snowbasin!
QUICK FACTS & ZANY LEGENDS
Photos generously provided by Snowbasin Resort
Hammon, B. (September 25, 2008). ‘The History of Snowbasin Resort, Huntsville, Utah,’ ActiveRain. Retrieved from https://activerain.com/blogsview/709763/the-history-of-snowbasin-resort--huntsville--utah
Larsen, L. (2015). ‘Snowbasin marks its 75th anniversary’, Standard-Examiner, 20 Nov. Retrieved from https://www.standard.net/snowbasin-marks-its-75th-anniversary/article_9970a439-0872-55c5-8f7e-5a0200...
Snowbasin. (no date). History. Retrieved from https://www.snowbasin.com/about/history/
Wikipedia (no date). Snowbasin Resort. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snowbasin
Wikipedia (March 31, 2019). Alpine skiing at the 2002 Winter Olympics – Men's downhill. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpine_skiing_at_the_2002_Winter_Olympics_%E2%80%93_Men%27s_downhill