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When I was given the chance this January to visit the town of Ogden in Weber County, Utah, I immediately took out my mittens. My last winter was spent indoors nursing a broken ankle and, this year, my hometown of New York City has seen nary a snowflake--here, then, was an overdue opportunity to experience some good snow.
An old railroad hub just 35 miles north of Salt Lake City, Ogden enjoys an elevation of 4,300 ft and gets on average 500 inches of snow per year. This past year has brought less snow than usual, but the overall numbers are still better than most ski resort towns in the U.S. Recently, skiers and snowboarders in the know have been celebrating Ogden area resorts not only for their snow, but because they are quieter, cheaper alternatives to other resorts in the country. In 2006, Ski Magazine rated local ski resort Powder Mountain #1 in snow quality and value and in 2007, it called the area's other major resort Snowbasin a "little skied mountain [with] piles of powder and plenty of potential."
Why limit yourself to outdoor sports, though? With the Treehouse Children's Museum, the Golden Spike National Historic Site, and the museums of Union Station all in the area, Weber County boasts plenty of attractions that have nothing to do with hitting the slopes. And in May of 2007, a recreation center is due to open in downtown Ogden, where visitors will be able to play sports without even going outside, courtesy of a miniature golf course, wind tunnel, bowling alley, and a climbing wall.
But don't give up on frolicking in the snow this year quite yet. Since Ogden is known for getting decent snowfalls well into the spring, you still have some time to plan your own long weekend adventure here. Read on below for some tips on how to do so.
Day 1 Morning: Powder Mountain
"I broke both my wrists teaching myself how to snowboard. Just give it a go." With these frightening words, Sean, my snowboarding instructor at Powder Mountain (tel. 801/745-3772; www.powdermountain.com) began my lesson. Perhaps it was seeing him shrug off serious injuries, or perhaps it was the fact that I was given zero time to reflect on how dangerous the sport obviously is, but somehow I found the courage to get on my board. I strapped in, slid forward for a few seconds, and promptly fell facedown. (Turns out this was a good thing: Snowboarders in training are instructed to fall forward and land on their elbows in order to prevent breaking their wrists.)
Fortunately, my falls weren't that hard. Powder Mountain is the only resort in Utah with 100% natural snow, and Snow Magazine recently rated it the best mountain in the country for its fluffy stuff. Yet it's not just a good place to learn. Opened in 1972, the resort offers over 5,500 skiable acres and prides itself on drawing only about 500 skiers per midweek day: I didn't see a single line during my whole time on the mountain. And with a summit of 8,900 ft, a vertical drop of 2,000 ft, and terrain that's about only 10% beginner trails, this is above all a place for serious skiers and snowboarders.
In addition to offering standard ski and snowboard lessons ($60 and up for group classes), Powder Mountain provides all skiers and snowboarders with a complimentary tour of the terrain with the purchase of a lift pass ($50 for adults and $30 for children). For an extra charge of $80, you can go on a half day tour with a mountain guide who'll take you up into less trafficked terrain; helicopter and cat skiing options are also available if you'd prefer to experience some truly untouched runs.
Day 1 Afternoon: Ogden's North Fork Park
After taking so many tumbles during my morning snowboarding session, I decided to spend my first afternoon in Utah on skis. So I joined a group of cross-country skiers on a tour around North Fork Park (tel. 801/393-2304; http://www1.co.weber.ut.us/parks/nfpark.php) in the Ogden Valley, about a 15 to 20 minute drive from downtown Ogden. After zipping down some surprisingly steep hills, I discovered that cross-country and downhill skiing aren't as different as I expected. The biggest distinction was that on cross-country skis, I had more of a chance to soak in the scenery, which was a very good thing: The views of Mt. Ben Lomond and the Ogden Valley were stunning. If you'd like to see for yourself, Diamond Peak Mountain Sports (tel. 801/745-0101; www.peakstuff.com) will set you up with everything you need to take part in your own cross-country ski expedition in North Fork Park.
Day 2 Morning: Snowbasin
Snowbasin (tel. 888/437-5488; www.snowbasin.com) played host to the 2002 Winter Olympic downhill, combined and Super G skiing competitions, but I went for the snowshoeing. (Not everyone knows that in addition to its 2,560 skiable acres and11 lifts, Snowbasin has 26 miles of cross-country ski trails and snowshoeing space, as well as a tubing run.) Something about the serene and surreal act of traipsing into untouched woods on snow shoes made me lose track of time here: I managed to get in a two-hour-long cardio workout before realizing that it was time to head back. Afterwards I rewarded myself by heading up to the top of the mountain in a gondola for lunch at Needles Lodge, one of three day lodges on site. There I had some of the best food of the entire trip -- my gourmet trout salad was so good I had to keep reminding myself that I was eating in a cafeteria, not in a fancy restaurant.
This winter, day passes for Snowbasin run $60 for adults and $37 for children. The resort offers regular ski and snowboard lessons for $42 and up for groups, as well as First Track skiing, which for $95 (including breakfast) gives hardcore skiers access to the mountain early in the morning, before the crowds arrive. Not that the crowds are bad here: Perhaps because of its slightly more luxurious amenities and Olympic status, Snowbasin does get more crowded than Powder, but compared to resorts on the east coast, the place was practically empty. As Ski Magazine put it in their January 2007 issue,"The only thing missing [here] is the people."
Day 2 Afternoon: Around 25th Street
For my second afternoon in town, I decided to turn my attention to some attractions off the slopes. I headed first for Union Station (tel. 801/629-8535; www.theunionstation.org), a train station originally built in 1869 by the Union Pacific Railroad Company, and now the main attraction in downtown Ogden. Though it doesn't serve as a rail depot anymore, it does house five museums, from a Browning Firearms Museum to a Natural History Museum. The Utah State Railroad Museum is the standout, because it not only provides a good overview of the railroad's history, but gives you a chance to check out some cool gas-turbine locomotive designs. Once you've seen those, I recommend next motoring over to the Treehouse Children's Museum (47 22nd Street; tel. 801/394-9663; www.treehousemuseum.org), a hands-on museum where kids and grown-ups alike can climb into a tree house and participate in daily craft projects. Then after all that activity, you can wander over to nearby 25th street, where many of the town's finest restaurants (see below for info on my favorites) and antique shops are, for a much needed break.
Day 3 Morning: Golden Spike National Historic Site
Having laid my fear of winter sports to rest earlier in this trip, I decided to spend my last morning in Utah learning about another seemingly insurmountable feat, namely, the building of the transcontinental railroad. Anyone interested in how America's two coasts were connected should head straight to the Golden Spike Site (tel. 435/471-2209; www.nps.gov/gosp), because it was here that the final spike was hammered in 1869. The drive to the site, which takes you past the Great Salt Lake, alone makes the trip worthwhile. But it's equally amazing to stand on the very ground where the gigantic transcontinental railroad effort came to an end, and worthwhile to visit the small on-site museum. Here you can read about the locals' fears that the railroad hub would bring too many tourists. According to some locals I met on the trip, such fear still exists; one person told me that he likes to wish tourists farewell by saying: "Thanks for coming. Now go home and don't come back and don't tell anyone about your trip." Given all the beauty on hand here, locals have every reason to be protective, I think.
Day 3 Afternoon: Downtown Ogden Art Tour
In recent years Ogen has attracted lots of artists to town and, in order to publicize its burgeoning artist community, the Ogden City Arts Organization (tel. 801/393-3866; www.odgencity.com) runs a first Friday tour of the local galleries. "We're a small town," my guide told me, "but we've got big-town amenities." Well said; considering that Ogden is a city of only about 67,000, I was impressed by the number of art spaces (25) included on the tour. One highlight was the Eccles Community Center (2580 Jefferson Ave; tel. 801/392-6935; www.ogden4arts.org), a 1893 mansion that features changing local and national artists. You might also stop at Union Station's two art galleries, and a few of the assorted gallery spaces along 25th Street. The only must-see, though, is Peery's Egyptian Theater (tel. 801/395-3227; www.peerysegyptiantheater.com), a gorgeous art deco space that is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites. You can buy tickets online for most performances, including certain Sundance films that are screened here in January, via the theater's website.
Where to Stay
Wolf Creek Resort (3900 N. Wolf Creek Dr; tel. 801/745-3737; www.wolfcreekresort.com) features property that's just minutes from Snowbasin and Powder Mountain, including spacious condos that are great for families. This winter, it is offering a reservation package for families that costs $1,250 for four nights in a two-bedroom, two-bath condo, including three days of private lessons, rentals, and ski passes at its ski resort Wolf Mountain in nearby Eden (tel. 801/745-3511; www.wolfmountaineden.com). If you're traveling in a smaller group, you might want to consider Snowberry Inn (1315 N. Utah Hwy 158 in Eden; tel. 888/334-3466; www.snowberryinn.com), a charming bed and breakfast with rooms running from $85 to $119 for a double, or Red Moose Lodge (2457 N. Valley Junction Dr., Eden; tel. 888/939-6667; www.redmooselodge.com), which Frommer's Utahcalls "a grand lodge with a 'New West' sensibility and rates from $75 to $175 a night."
Where to Dine
Ogden boasts a decent number of restaurants from different corners of the world, many of them congregated around 25th Street. One of the best options is Rooster's 25th Street Brewing Co. (253 Historic 25th St; tel. 801/627-6171; www.roostersbrewingco.com), a restaurant housed in a storied 104-year-old building that is known today for its Polygamy Pale Ale and all-American dishes like burgers and pizzas. Another good restaurant to try is the The Artisan Grille (172 Historic 25th St.; tel. 801/395-0166), which serves up more sophisticated fare like salmon filet and filet mignon, in a more formal, romantic setting than other spots along the street. Most surprisingly, there's even good sushi to be had here -- Tona (210 Historic 25th Street; tel. 801/622-TONA) is definitely worth a visit if you're hankering for fresh rolls.
Getting There & Getting Around
The closest airport is the Salt Lake City International Airport (www.slcairport.com). Shuttle service from there to downtown Ogden is about $30 to $40 each way; one service to try is Xpress Shuttle (tel. 800/397-0773). It's easiest to get around town by car; most major car rental agencies have info desks at the Salt Lake City airport.
The Ogden/Weber Convention and Visitor's Bureau has an info center at Union Station, 2501 Wall Ave., Suite 201, Ogden, UT 84401. It's open Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm during the winter. In advance, visit www.ogden.travel or call tel. 877/TO-OGDEN for info.
In case you're wondering, you can get drinks in Ogden, Utah -- you just need to purchase a temporary membership to a bar's "private club." It's good for three weeks, allows you and up to seven guests to gain access to bars, and the cost is just $4. The only catch is that once the member leaves any given bar, guests must also exit or purchase their own cards. You don't need a card to order drinks at restaurants.
I've only listed a few of the many attractions in this area. To find out more, check out the 6th edition of Frommer's Utah.
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