The first thing I learned during my first morning on Mount Ogden, 30 miles northeast of Salt Lake City, Utah, was that my ensemble of sweater, yoga pants, and cowboy boots wasn’t appropriate ski attire. The second thing I learned was that all the class slots for beginning skiers were taken. Sigh.
My three travel companions, all from northern Italy, have skiing in their blood, and they were positively giddy that the Snowbasin Resort—one of the oldest continuously operating attractions of its kind in the U.S. and site of the 2002 Winter Olympics—had gotten 20 inches of virgin powder the night before our first morning.
Mount Ogden is part of the Wasatch Range, a stretch of rocky peaks that, thanks to low humidity and proximity to the Great Salt Lake, produces enormous amounts of dry, powdery snow that locals call “The Greatest Snow on Earth.” Still, this was special, my group explained. They talked among themselves in rapid-fire Italian, looking out at the wonderland beyond the picture window and back to me, before I told them to go on ahead.
I settled into a cozy corner at the resort’s lodge, content with my book, a hot chocolate with schnapps, the roaring fire, and the view out the three-story window facing the mountain, surrounded by trees and soft falling snow. But after a while I began to get curious. Chatting with locals, I learned that skiing is truly a way of life here: 85 percent of Utah residents live within 15 miles of the Wasatch Range, so, like my Italian companions, everybody skis. “We’re starting our oldest out next year,” one woman explained. “It’s a little late, though. He’s already 4.”
I pondered that. Tired skiers kept tromping in, their cheeks ruddy from the cold, grins across their faces. By the time the Italians arrived, sporting that same glow, I was starting to get excited about this skiing business.
Womp, womp: The next morning I discovered classes were all full yet again. My face fell. I was about to sit down and extract my feet from my rented boots when one of my friends stopped me. “It’s okay,” she said. “We’ll show you how it’s done.”
My first challenge was getting myself across the snow to the lift. I fell down twice just standing in one place, before the Italians surrounded me, guiding me forward while taking turns chanting instructions: “Okay, put your skis straight when you want to go forward, and turn your feet in—No! don’t cross your skis! Make a wide V to control how you move forward! Sì! That’s it! No! Don’t let them cross!” Somehow I made it onto the lift. We stopped at the first hill, a bunny slope, and my friends caught me as the gondola slowed, then shepherded me to the top of the run.
The air was fresh and the snow sparkled and glittered, reflecting the blue sky. It seemed as though every detail was sharply etched in glass. A tiny girl in a pink snowsuit maneuvered around our group and zipped down the slope, her little legs manipulating the skis with perfect control. With a sudden burst of confidence, I took my stance and shoved off. I made it about seven feet forward before falling on my derrière. I lay there, imprinting myself into the mound of fluffy snow, laughing.
The next time I started to get the idea, leaning forward, bending my knees, and carefully adjusting the skis to modulate my speed as the Italians cruised adeptly nearby, shouting advice. “I’m skiing, y’all!” I cried. “Oh lordamercy I’m really skiing!” At that moment the little girl in pink flew past me again, and I collapsed in a heap on the side of the slope. But that taste of it, skimming along like a bird or a bug, had been enough. Although I wasn’t quite sure how to stop, I wanted to go again, and again.
“I’ve got this, y’all,” I assured my friends after a few more rounds, releasing them to enjoy the fresh powder. I spent the rest of the afternoon flying down the baby slope, traveling back up the hill, and shooting down again. I was dazzled by the feeling of speed, of weightlessness, of complete freedom, despite the short run. Even the guy operating the gondola noticed my exhilaration. “You’re doing great!” he called as I stuck my rear out, ready to scoot onto the lift again.
“You know, you don’t really have to stick your butt out like that,” he told me. “Watch how she does it,” he instructed, pointing to the kid in pink, who was just ahead of me in line. “Just wait for the lift to come to you. Nice job! Now you look like someone who knows how to ski!”
- The Compass Rose Lodge is a rustic boutique hotel in Ogden Valley, located just minutes away from the slopes at Snowbasin. It has its own observatory, an amazing vantage point for taking in the stars at the end of a day of skiing. From $186/night.
- Airbnb choices abound in Huntsville, Ogden, and the other small towns clustered in this area. Many homes were built to cater to old-school Mormon families of the Big Love variety, so a plethora of rental options feature a complete ground-floor home and a separate basement establishment. Polygamy, of course, is no longer sanctioned by the Church of Latter-Day Saints, but these homes make a great option for groups of travelers.
- If you want something a bit more (luxuriously) rustic, try the Alaskan Inn and Spa in Ogden, located on the banks of the Ogden River, just a short drive from Snowbasin. Adults only. From $156/night.
- Stop in for a restorative burger and a beer at the Shooting Star Saloon, Utah’s oldest continuously operating saloon, established in 1879. Before leaving, sign a dollar, and they’ll add it to the thousands already papering the ceiling and walls. Heads up: The bar is cash-only, and you must be 21 or older.
- Get your caffeine fix at Mad Moose Café in Ogden Valley, which only offers its own blend, Rough Rider Coffee.
- Eats of Eden is a solid post-skiing meal option. Come for the Steinbeck-inspired name, stay for the delicious pizzas and local beers.
- Hit the slopes at the Snowbasin Resort, a veritable Shangri-La of the winter sport offering more than 100 runs spread out on 3,000 acres of skiable land. The season runs from late November through mid-April, conditions permitting.
- Rent snowshoes and poles at Gear30 in Ogden, then explore Utah’s majestic wintery wilderness along any of the well-maintained snowshoe trails at North Fork Park.
- Hit the Natural History Museum of Utah in Salt Lake City. You could spend days perusing its 1.5-plus-million specimens and objects, but if you have only an afternoon, focus on the incredible dinosaur exhibition.
- Take a direct flight from United or Delta to Salt Lake City, then make the drive to Huntsville, Ogden, or another area town in less than an hour.