My girlfriend and I travel west to experience snowboarding in powder and Utah’s Rocky Mountains for the first time. We chose Powder Mountain as our destination, and with only 1,500 lift tickets sold daily and only natural snowfall accounting for the 118 inch base, we were spoiled with incredible spring mountain conditions, world-class back country routes that we had to ourselves, epic snow cat rides, and a powder experience that will likely make us never want to snowboard on the east coast again. Paired with an awesome AirBnB host who welcomed us into his mountain home and a small ski village vibe, this trip was the perfect introduction to the wonders of the western United States and the experience of red-eye flights.
Note: GoPro video compilation is available on YouTube at the end of this article. Enjoy and thanks for reading!
Day 0 – Getting Our Travel On
It worked out best for both my girlfriend and I to make this trip Thursday – Sunday, so we headed out after work on Wednesday and caught a late flight into Salt Lake City. Of course we had to feel fancy in our economy seats by ordering some wine and whiskey to enjoy while we watched a few mountain documentaries, preparing for our first encounter with the Rockies. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to snap a good picture of the mountains as we crossed them, but the full moon illuminated them in a purple, grey glow that was an eerie kind of beautiful. Even from the high altitude of the plane I could tell their size was epic in comparison to the Appalachian Mountains I’ve experienced all my life.
Grabbing our duffels from baggage claim, we picked up our car, a nice Jeep Grand Cherokee upgrade, and started our quick drive to the motel. We wanted to get out of downtown Salt Lake City this night so we didn’t get stuck in rush hour traffic in the morning leaving for our final destination. Arriving at the Best Western around 11pm MST, we were definitely ready for bed. We’d need a good night’s rest to prepare for our final approach to Powder Mountain and our first day on the slopes.
Day 1 – The appropriately named Powder Mountain
After a good night’s rest, we hit the road running on adrenaline and motel coffee, ready to hit the slopes. Our mood was further elated when the sun rose over the mountains to the east as we traveled north on I-15, the light dancing off the summits showing their magnitude in an orange light. As we passed through Ogden, we realized that our route was going to take us right through the mountain valleys. The GPS directed us to SR-39, and we entered the sheer rock walls and windy roads that reminded me of the back roads in Ohio I grew up driving with the added element of rocky cliffs and almost too narrow bridges.
We arrived in Eden around 8:45am, waved at our AirBnB (check-in wasn’t until later), and continued up SR-158, which dead ends at Powder Mountain. There is only one road in and out of the resort, so when the road gets bad, they often shut it down or require tire chains. Ominous signs warn of it’s steep and windy ascent some 3,000 ft from Eden to Timberland Lodge. The route is breathtaking, with pines lining the steep snow covered mountains. I can see how this route could be treacherous if there were a few inches of snow on the ground.
At last, we arrived at Timberland Lodge, rented our snowboard and boots, and grabbed our lift tickets. Since only 1,500 tickets are sold a day, we purchased our four day passes a few months in advance, but learned we may have prepared a little too much as there was hardly anyone on the mountain.
All geared up with our incredible Burton rentals, we hit our first run, a nice relaxing green to get us started. I was expecting the trail ratings out west to be much more difficult than those on the east coast, but I was happily surprised to find that they are actually pretty similar, at least at Powder Mountain.
To our surprise, we actually started hitting some black diamonds after lunch. Definitely not what we were expecting going into our first day of snowboarding on a mountain about 6,000 feet higher than we were used to. While we only stayed on groomed trails, we quickly learned that our riding techniques needed to change in powder. One fall after another we learned to keep the tip of our boards up and to make wide, sweeping turns.
Our legs were on fire by the end of the day, but overall the conditions were incredible with fresh powder from the night before and minimal traffic on the trails throughout the day. It even started to snow a bit in the afternoon. With the far reaching mountain vistas in mind, we started making our way to the AirBnB.
Our AirBnB was tucked away on a side street in Eden. The apartment we rented sat atop the garage attached to a beautiful house with windows covering most sides, flooding the home with breathtaking pictures of the mountains that stood outside its windows.
We quickly headed to the store to grab some groceries, adult recovery juice and local coffee, purchasing some reusable shopping bags for the AirBnB in the process. We spent the rest of the evening soaking in the views from the back patio, letting the humbling views distract us from the fact that we were chilled to the bone. It was worth it in all regards.
Day 2 – Preparing for the Backcountry
We woke up to three inches of fresh snow and heavy fog blocking most of the mountains visible from our apartment. Ecstatic about the fresh snow, we set off on our five minute trip up SR-158 to Powder Mountain. We had decided the night before to park at Hidden Lake Lodge (the highest lodge on the mountain) and start our day from there.
I’ve never driven through such dense of fog. We arrived at the parking lot to be met with whiteout conditions making the barren parking lot seem ten times it size. We followed the tall snow piles lining the lot, using them as a point of reference in the epic whiteness until the silhouette of the lodge appeared and four other cars came into view.
After a couple warm up runs on some blue trails, we decided to test our luck with taking on some ungroomed, powder chutes that existed throughout the mountain. These trails were rated black diamonds partially for slope, but mostly because their conditions changed throughout the day and there are narrow paths through trees that you are sometimes required to thread. It was still a bit foggy, so we weren’t 100 percent sure where the run started, but we assumed that this stretch of vast whiteness in front of us that dropped into a significant slope was a good indication we were on the right path. The wide open area funneled into a collection of pines with a narrow chute that we were oh so tempted to squeeze through. Zipping successfully through the trees, we dropped to the ground on the other side once the slope evened out and we were back on a main groomed trail. We were both amazed, scared and laughing that we just did what we did.
We spent the rest of the day exploring more powder chutes and ungroomed trails, continuing to build our confidence and preparing for the next day when we planned to tackle the back country trails that were only accessible by snow cat or led us down to a bus shuttle pickup, far off from any typical trail serviced by chairlift.
When we returned to our apartment for the night, we were greeted by our AirBnB host who had been out of town when we had arrived. They were making homemade cornbread when we walked, making the entire place smell magically. We graciously accepted when they offered a few pieces to us, and we spent some time chatting about our travels. Michael and his wife were so kind and welcoming; we truly felt like we were long time family friends catching up after a few years apart. Michael even invited us to enjoy his new massage chair, 20 minutes of heaven that were much needed after another killer day on the slopes. We joined them for dinner that night where we continued our conversations before calling it an early night.
Day 3 – Backcountry Powder
Day 3 greeted us with yet another dense blanket of fog. At least today we were prepared and had a better feel for the mountain roads, so we navigated back to Hidden Lake Lodge with ease. While the entire resort was somewhat of a ghost town Thursday and Friday, we started to see a little more of the crowd today. Granted seeing six people on a run isn’t necessarily a crowd, but comparatively the weekend crowd seemed to be arriving. Hidden Lake lodge was a great call in the long run. It seemed that it was one of the less popular lodges on the mountain.
After our first few warm up runs, the clouds began to break and we were greeted with some gorgeous blue sky that provided a stark contrast against the white snow. With the fog breaking, Powder Country, our first backcountry area, opened and we made our way through the gate entering the untamed wilderness of backcountry snow.
We strapped in at the top of the entrance, overlooking pine trees and untouched powder. Dropping in, we separated a bit and enjoyed the feeling of absolute solitude and pure bliss as we made our paths through the smooth, snow covered terrain carving in and out of trees while keeping one another in sight. We were sure to take a few minutes every so often to stop and enjoy the nothingness that surrounded us. The snow absorbed almost all sound leaving just the light tapping of the fresh falling snow to compliment the sweeping landscapes that stood before us.
The bottom of the trail intersected SR-158 and this is where the shuttle picked us up. This shuttle ran daily and transported riders from the backcountry trails back to the main lodge. This time around, we opted to head to the mid mountain Sunset Lodge to pick up a trail that would lead us to a snow cat pickup area where we could get a lift to Lightning Ridge, another backcountry area accessible only by hiking or snow cat.
Approaching the snow cat, we paid our dues and joined a group of riders already on board preparing for the journey up the mountain. Something about being in a snow terrain vehicle loaded with ski and snowboard gear climbing a mountain with steep drop offs to either side makes for an exhilarating experience. The remoteness of the whole experience really made the 15 minute ride.
It was an eerie and empowering feeling watching the snow cat drive away, leaving us atop Lightning Ridge with no way back except to shred down the powder hills surrounding us. The fog had started to collect again in this area, making the experience that much more intense. Randomly eying a route and dropping in, we blindly carved through the fog waiting for the tree line to appear in the distance. Once we cleared the fog, we were in our glory. Not a single person was around us. We had the entire backcountry area to ourselves. Shouting with joy as we sped through the pines and untouched powder, we stopped only once to peer over our shoulders at what we had just tackled. Our confidence was through the roof at this point and we couldn’t wait to give it another go tomorrow.
Before calling it quits for the day, we headed to a small distillery in Eden called New World Distillery. Utah’s liquor laws are interesting and and distribution is highly regulated, so the craft beer scene lovers in us were excited to find this craft distillery just minutes from our apartment. Known for its award winning Gin, New World Distillery also produces Agave liquors and Vodka.
Expecting to pop in for just a few sample, we were delighted when the bartender asked if we were there for the 5pm tour. We graciously said yes and joined a group gathering in the small bar/store front of the distillery. Our tour guide ended up being the owner, which heightened our experience and made the tour seem more like a conversation. It’s always fun to see the passion and joy someone has in a topic as they explain it. We could tell that the owner really cared about his spirits and was super knowledgeable. We learned the requirements that need to be met in order to call a liquor Vodka, Gin, and Tequila (the Agave liquors they make are not Tequilas) and what to look for in a quality liquor that carries one of those names.
Day 4 – Backcountry to Back Home
It was hard to believe it was our final day, but planning our trail routes for the day over breakfast, we realized that we had surveyed most of the mountain. We decided to focus more on backcountry runs since we enjoyed them so much yesterday. With some more fresh snow, we carved more fresh paths in the powder and shot through tight tree slots with ease. Two runs in Powder Country taking the bus back to the main lodge and another snow cat ride to Lightning Ridge put us at about 3pm and the unfortunate time when we had to call it quits and start making our way back to Salt Lake City.
Our flight wasn’t until 11pm MST (by the way, not the best idea if you have to work at 7am EST the next day), but we wanted to give ourselves enough time to explore a few breweries on our way back to Salt Lake. The owner of New World Distillery had given us the name of an old saloon about 45 minutes from Eden in Huntsville, UT. Surviving 14 years of prohibition after opening its doors in 1879, it is rumored to be the oldest business and oldest bar in Utah.
It has a super simple menu of burgers, hot dogs and fries with a small selection of local beers and the classic domestics. The decor is a spackling of old ski gear and pictures, making it a neat atmosphere with some cool history. Even more unique, there are dollar bills hanging from the ceiling (about $14,000 just hanging out) signed by past patrons. Of course we had to join the tradition by adding our own bill to the collection after enjoying our simple, yet decadent burgers.
Continuing our trek south to Salt Lake, we stopped at a random brewery we found on Google Maps in Ogden’s industrial park. It felt very out of place driving through construction sites and factories, but we when we saw the awe inspiring view this brewery had, we understood fully when it was a little out of the way.
Rooster’s Brewing made for the perfect final destination on our trip, allowing us to take in the mountain views and reflect on the whirlwind of a long weekend we just had all while enjoying some good beer and cheese curds. It was incredible how we just randomly stumbled upon this place with a Google search. It just goes to show that sometimes having no plan is the best plan when it comes to travel.
Fighting the return back to the east coast, we took some time to admire the scenery outside before completing our trip to the airport.
While the next day at work would be tough running on 4 hours of airplane sleep, the memories of this epic weekend would keep us going and motivate us to dream of more trips for the future.