Powder to the People

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside Magazine, 1999 Annual Travel Guide

Powder to the People

More bars! More lifts! More condos! More everything!
By Ron C. Judd

We've all been there: fighting driving wind, rain and snow. Funneling every ounce of energy into holding an edge and staying upright. Bracing for the punishing fall.

And that's just the burrito line at lunchtime.

When your destination is a mega-resort designed for the masses, getting down the mountain in anything approaching style is icing on the preparation cake. And finding some space to yourself is a bona fides bonus.

Chairlifts are four to eight across. Burgers are by the gross ton. Laser beams scan your personal UPC code as if you're a fryer hen as you pass through electronic lift gates. Bars and restaurants are bigger than the parking lot at Alta, Utah.

Grin, bear it, and consider yourself a participant in a great snowbound experiment in democracy. In the alpine equivalent of warehouse shopping, everyone is treated with equal amounts of attention — or disdain. but this isn't necessarily bad. The truth is that walking into a place that serves up more of everything strongly reduces the chances you'll go home with nothing.

Way to kill three hours at work: The Ski Maps! web site (www.skimaps.com)
It's an officebound day-dreamer's white dream: an electronic archive of hundreds of full-color maps of ski areas around the globe, from Okemo, Vermont to Palandoken, Turkey. Go ahead, maneuver the mental moguls. But be advised: the maps are a bit slow to load. Keep at least one finger on the minimize button in case your boss unexpectedly opts to act like one. — R.C.J.

Heavenly, California/Nevada
Heavenly, a mountain so big it takes up parts of two states and requires three bases, has its head in the Sierra-Nevada clouds, its feet in Sin City. Well, at least in Reno, where odds are you'll wind up dropping at least one day's skiing fare into various slot machines and pay-per-view temptations. But don't let the black-tie ambience overwhelm the black-diamond urges. Heavenly is so huge, its amenities so diverse, that Sade, Dennis Rodman and your aunt Bessie could all design a trip to their liking here.

Everyone — and yes, we realize the genuine risk of a stampede — should head high on the first sunny day to take in the awesome Lake Tahoe views. Rookies, don't let the first chair ride fool you. Heavenly is upside down. Most of the best green runs are up top, where views are best.

Snapshot accomplished, experts will want to head for Mott or Killebrew canyons. For intermediates, the Ridge Run area off the Sky Express lift is particularly ego-boosting. Snowboarders have full run of the mountain. Freeriders will love the upper-mountain cruisers; soft-booters congregate in the terrain park on the Nevada side and will find a brand-new terrain park on the California side.

At night, country mountain inns meld into casino action. The latter includes the always amusing Nero's 2000 at Caesar's Tahoe/Casino, which will either overwhelm the senses or induce nausea, depending on your sequin-and-spandex tolerance threshold. Lights are dimmer and people are saner at skier-dominated nightspots like The Brewery or the Thirsty Duck Bar & Grill, both local microbrew bars.

Lodging in South Lake Tahoe and busing to the mountain can be fun; try Caesar's Tahoe/Casino or, better yet, Harvey's Resort Hotel. If you're here mostly to ski, stick close to the mountain, where choices range from the deluxe, private-gondola-accessed Ridge Tahoe Resort to the more low-key Best Western Station House Inn, which offers basic motel rooms and ski packages.

Mammoth Mountain, California
Man, is it ever. Mammoth, the mountain that teaches much of greater Los Angeles to ski — and manages to keep a lot of it coming back — is the poster child for something-for-everyone mega-resorts.

First, though, the truth. At some point in the day, everyone skiing at Mammoth, whether they let on or not, will be lost. this is due largely to the fact that Chair 21 might be somewhere close to Chair 19, but Chair 22 is three counties away. This mountain is high (11,053 feet) and spread all over, with three base areas and more trials than you could ski in a month. Masochists will find plenty with which to amuse and/or injure themselves up above 10,000 feet, where sheer plunges such as Avalanche chutes and a half-dozen others await off chair 22. Even higher, Cornice Bowl and Fresno Bowl are must-skis or must-be-rescueds, depending on your skill level. Intermediates can try on straight-on repeat 22 or view-rich Roadrunner for size. Fit? Lots more like them Freeriding snowboarders will be stylin' in the upper bowls; soft-booters have their own expansive terrain park, The Unbound, stocked with halfpipes and jumps.

Down below, Mammoth appears to have been carpet-bombed by condo-laden B-52s. But a few hangouts exhibit some character: The Mountainside Grill at the Mammoth Mountain Inn is a big but downright cozy dinner spot. At night, Goats and Whiskey Creek are notable pub stops, and The Yodler in the Mammoth Mountain Inn is a take-off-your-shoes-stretch place that shouldn't be missed.

Notable exceptions to the condomania are the sprawling Mammoth Mountain Inn, a wonderfully pine-infested, lodge-like hotel close to the base village; and The Silver Bear, a 24-unit condo complex that has the feel of a slightly swank European inn.

Mount Bachelor, Oregon
Bachelor is Northwest skiing's version of a volcano-sized black hole: The resort sucks in hordes of weekending Portland lawyers, Beaverton sneaker sculptors, and Seattle high-techies, runs them through a mechanized gear-rental and ticketing assembly line that would make General Motors proud, then spews them out so quickly and widely across the mountain that no one seems to notice — or care — that they've just been processed like pressed ham.

That's all the more remarkable considering nobody — not even the company president — has ski-to-the-door lodging here. Bachelor, a 9,065-foot cinder cone square in the midst of Deschutes National Forest, has no slopeside lodging. Everyone commutes from lodgings at nearby Bend or the resort community of Sunriver.

But the mountain more than makes up for the half-hour drive. Bachelor is a cruiser's delight, with broad, open runs literally skirting all sides of the mountain. Wide, medium-steep runs below the Pine Marten lift will give shaped-ski-riding intermediates severe goosebumps. Experts will find plenty of drool material off the Summit lift, in the Outback area, or in the steep glades and deep drifts of runs off the newly opened Northwest Express. Novices have a refreshingly large open area above the Sunrise Base village.

Nightlife, once pretty much limited to late-night Cheetos acquisition at Fred Meyer, picks up more each year. A popular hangout is the Deschutes Brewery, where the Obsidian Stout is almost stout enough to hold up a spoon by itself.

Lodging offerings are increasingly diverse in rapidly growing Bend, but a favorite is the Inn of the Seventh Mountain, seven miles from Bend and the closest lodge to the mountain, with an outdoor ice rink, heated pools, and rooms from studios to full-blown condos. At Sunriver Resort, a 30-minute drive from the mountain, rentals range from single rooms to five-bedroom executive homes.

Park City Mountain Resort, Utah
Calling it the party spot of Utah isn't quite the backhanded compliment it once was. Park City, another mining-town-turned-ski-escape, has all the advantages of Utah snowplay — namely, the greatest snow on earth — with none of the disadvantages, namely, apres-ski boredom. The little town has matured to the point that even your average Vail-ite could spend a week here and never get that blank, stuck-in-Utah stare.

Few mountains consume and digest mass quantities of skiers with the burpless grace of Park City. You don't even have to go all the way to the mountain to reach it — it comes after you. The Town Lift, a reliable triple chair, picks up bodies right from Park Avenue and shuttles them to a a big, diverse snowplay area.

Rookies will love Park City's rare treat: Green trails that can be followed from the top of the chairlift all the way back into town. Cruisers — on skis or snowboards — often fall in love with this mountain; the bulk of the 3,000 dry-snow-flanked acres are open to them. Do like everyone else: Start out front on the ego snow of Payday; move up as you warm up. Experts can stay busy here, too. The mountain has 650 acres of fine upper-bowl skiing, but the truest mettle testers here are park City's steep, narrow tree runs, such as Six Bells and Portugese Gap.

At night, downtown Park City, historically registered and hysterically quaint, serves up steak at the Claim Jumper of Tex-Mex grub at the Baja Cantina in the base village. Nightlife ranges from warm to medium hot at local spots like Steeps, at the base, or The Cozy, a popular downtown hangout.

Deal You Already Missed:
The $199 season pass, sold last spring (deadline: May 1) for the 1998-99 winter season at Idaho's Silver Mountain. Locals, who snapped them up as fast as turn-of-the-century sliver claims, speculate that resort owners needed a dose of cash to put money down on a new winch cat. — R.C.J.
For lodging with local flavor, try The Old Miners' Lodge B&B, which has boy-howdy Western-themed rooms all within a short walk of the town lift. (Warning: No TVs!) Or be like everyone else and try The Lodge at Mountain Village, where reasonably priced double rooms and one- to four-bedroom condos are close to the base.

Vail, Colorado
The fact that Vail's lift tickets are nudging $60 for a single ski day would be downright annoying if it didn't seem so worth it. On good snow days, and there are many, Vail does the impossible, making cookie-cutter skiing and snowboarding seem more like fine French pastry.

The mountain's 4,644 acres of skiing and riding space include soothing beginner terrain (there's an easy way down from every lift on the front side) and truly raucous intermediate offerings, ranging from the bumps of Whistle Pig to the long, fast flats of Lionshead runs such as Simba, Bwana, and Born Free. Experts come here and never leave after skiing China, Siberia, and Inner and Outer Mongolia bowls, and scary bump faces like Prima Cornice.

Snowboarders are warmly embraced, then directed, en masse, via special riders' guides, to their choice of snowboard-friendly trails and two terrain parks: one, the Tag Heuer Halfpipe at Lionshead, for experts, the other for posers. The mountain also has a large and notable snowboarding school. And nonskiers can show they're just as nuts by running Vail's 2,900-foot, lightning-fast bobsled run.

Dining and lodging are split into four main base areas spread over seven-plus miles. You don't pick a street address at Vail, you pick a town. Highlights include dinners at the bright, fusion-influenced Sweet Basil or the heavily antlered Tyrolean Restaurant, which serves up a Noah's ark-and-a-half of wild game. Afterward, show off your first-run-down-China-Bowl leg cast at the notorious The Red Lion in Vail Village or at Garfinkel's, a snowboarder magnet at Lionshead Mall.

Retire to the sprawling, Euro-influenced Vail Village Inn, where rooms range from four-bedroom condos you can't afford to double rooms that you can. Other options are the classy Bavarian Sonnenalp Resort and the plush Christiania Lodge plus a bewildering array of condo and hotel rooms available through Vail Central Reservations, 800-525-2257.

Copyright 1998, Outside magazine

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