I Found More Than Snow in Ogden, Utah
In past columns, I’ve related some personal experiences, especially about childhood memories and travel that lend themselves to my adult travel adventures. I can now reveal another recent travel experience that enabled me to erase a childhood memory which caused a bit of hurt a long time ago, but has permitted me to close the door on years of gentle, brotherly jealousy.
When I was in junior high school, my younger brother was in grammar school, and my parents would take him on annual ski vacations to Alta, Utah, but never me. I guess being the older brother, I couldn’t miss a week of school, but my younger brother could.
Over the many years of going to Alta, my brother Lanny became an expert skier. I always felt left behind, doing my best to learn to ski at local ski resorts around Los Angeles or the occasional ski weekend to Mammoth Mountain.
Over the years, I mastered skiing to the cautious intermediate level and was always pleased with my amateur status. And on a few occasions, I had the good fortune to ski at Vail, Gstaad, Zermatt and, of course, my California favorite, Mammoth.
I always had this desire to ski at Alta just to see where by brother learned to ski so well and to kick this childhood jealousy out of my system.
Some 12 years ago, my brother’s wife Sharon bought a home in Ogden, Utah, about a one hour drive north of Salt Lake City – - and over the years they have invited me numerous times, summer and winter, to visit and go skiing when the snow was on. And just as often, work always got in the way; it seemed the preferred winter ski trip was always out of the question because of conflicting work commitments or when I could get away in late spring, the snow had already melted. A summer visit might be nice, but it wouldn’t resolve my ski dilemma.
Since retirement I have more flexibility, and after all these years, I finally found the right time to buy an air ticket to Utah for the winter trip that would make up for all those childhood ski dreams.
One recent evening, I flew out on JetBlue’s non-stop to Salt Lake City Airport from JFK, rented a car and then headed north on I-15 to Ogden. It was an hour’s drive to their house, a beautiful “cottage” as they call it, nestled half way up Ogden Canyon. As I drove up the canyon around midnight, I couldn’t see too much, but I knew at day break, the views would be inspiring.
I woke at sun up, and sure enough I wasn’t disappointed. I was awestruck at the views out the cottage windows. The early sun hit the high canyon walls and it was just like a western landscape painting or a photo from some century-old naturalist art book. Blue sky, the evergreens and the snow everywhere made it look like a picture postcard. I started shooting photos and sending them to all my e-mail connected friends.
On my first day I explored Ogden and environs, and just took in the wide expanse and beauty of the Wasatch Mountain range which extends from the Idaho-Utah border, down south over 160 miles to the center of the state. Many of the famous Utah ski resorts dotted in the Wasatch hosted various events in the 2002 Winter Olympics.
I didn’t ski the first day, as I just wanted to adjust and get acquainted with this new region of the USA that I had never visited before. First stop on the drive ‘round was Farr’s Ice Cream store – actually turned out to be the first of several visits. Farr’s was founded in 1920 and now serves over 75 flavors at any given time – some of which were a first for me. Since I class myself as an expert ice cream buff (many years working at Baskin-Robbins in the 60‘s), Farr’s rated pretty high on the list.
Next stops were a couple local ski and sports shops just to insure we weren’t missing any ‘end of season’ deals that we could use in the next few days. One shop advertised discounted lift tickets, but when we tried to buy the tickets for a couple of days, it turned out they were adult advance purchase only and we were too late and also, they did not indulge in selling senior discounts.
The second day the weather was blue sky and beautiful, and we made the 20 minute drive to Snowbasin, one of Utah’s premier ski areas with over 2,800 skiable acres and a vertical drop of just over 2,900 feet. Snowbasin was the 2002 site of the Winter Olympics Downhill, Super G and combined Races. So I had come upon a pretty classy ski resort with 11 chairlifts, two high-speed gondolas, 104 ski runs, restaurants at the top and bottom of the main runs and full service rental and retail sales shops. Everything available–and a snow pack of over five feet. Peachy!
I hadn’t skied in five years so my first two runs were on the short Little Cat (bunny) slope just to insure I still had my ski legs and that I remembered how to maneuver; it all seemed to coordinate together so then it was off to the Becker Lift which starts at a 6,556 foot elevation and goes up the 7,817 foot De Moisy Peak. I took the beginner and intermediate runs back down and all went well.
With a couple good runs with my brother, it was now time to ride the gondola called the ‘Needles Express’ up to Needles Peak, 8,726 feet high. Very cautiously I skied down, constantly staying at slower speeds and resting every few minutes. I could feel my heart racing, both from the needed exercise that I hadn’t done in five years, but also from the anxiousness at not wanting to fall and be a complete nuisance to my brother. In fact, he was terrific, stopping with me and making sure I felt ok. It all worked brilliantly that first day, and we came home that afternoon very pleased with ourselves - he skied in excellent form, and me, happy that I didn’t fall or break anything, and we had a great time.
Day two went just as well although I felt a bit sore, and because the weather was a bit gray, we just took it easy, and didn’t ski as long as we did the day before. I emerged from day two with confidence and content. That second day I did fall once in some powder as I managed to slightly veer off a trail and found myself struggling to get up, out of the deep powder. With my brother’s help, I made it back on piste and, together, we mildly schussed down the mountain.
With the second day of skiing under the belt, the next diversion was apres ski, and wow, did my brother know the right place. About an hour from Snowbasin is Crystal Hot Springs, located north of Ogden in Honeyville. Crystal Hot Springs has several hot pools of mineral water – one hotter than the other - each incredibly muscle-soothing and relaxing after a tough day on the slopes. The mineral bath complex is well run and very clean although the men’s changing rooms reminded me of junior high school gym class locker rooms, but once attired in swim gear, one makes the mad dash from the changing rooms into 20+ degree temperatures and into the steaming water. It is just fantastic! No question about it – the only thing missing was the hot toddy.
After the relaxing hour at Crystal Hot Springs, it was on to dinner, and we were really famished. The next interesting find was the Maddox Ranch House restaurant in Perry, back south in the direction of Ogden. Known for its steaks, fried chicken and a wide variety of comfort food since 1949, Maddox was the perfect end to the day. Maddox’s prices are reasonable with oversize portions of main courses, sides and desserts – any and everything you want to muster up for dinner. They feature old fashion root beer and sarsasparilla, plus coffee and tea, but no alcoholic beverages. Maddox also does a lunch special from 12 noon to 5 p.m. which presents most of the main menu items at less cost than dinner – the restaurant is jammed packed between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. when it seems all of northern Utah cashes in on the bargain meals.
Totally stuffed, we rolled out of Maddox to the car and drove home to end what was a perfect sports occasion. And to the point at the beginning of my saga, my childhood jealousy of my brother’s skiing expertise was fading fast. It was a great pleasure being with him and learning about his experiences and knowledge of the region – time to enjoy the present and forget about the silliness of the past.
The next day we decided to take a day of rest – not skiing, but exploring more places of interest in and around Ogden. First stop was Hill Air Force Base’s Aerospace Museum. As a retired airline PR guy, and an airplane techie, the Hill Museum is as close as one may come to the Smithsonian Museum Aviation displays out by Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia. The Hill exhibits are all American aircraft, save one Russian MIG17 and a British-designed, American manufactured Canberra bomber. There are over 80 aircraft – everything from Wright Brothers era aircraft, to World War II, Korean, Vietnam and even a SR-71 – fighters, bombers, troop transports and helicopters – all sizes and shapes. From wooden prop to supersonic jet, it’s all there!
From the Hill Aerospace Museum, I had to shop for a small gift for my wife slaving back in New York. We love special sweets, and when in the west, we make a habit to go to See’s Candies as it’s the real thing, and the hand-picked chocolates are only available in the Western USA. But now my sister in law told me about Mrs. Cavannagh’s chocolates, so I had to check them out. A small shop (one of only five in the region) in north Ogden, was the home of Mrs. Cavannagh’s Chocolates (the factory is located near the Salt Lake City Airport) and the drive there is worth every penny or dollar. There are new varieties (comparing to See’s) which are mouth-watering and seemingly double-dreamy chocolately – if there is such a word. Their chocolate covered peanuts, almonds and cream assortments are definitely worth the stop if you crave chocolates for any occasion.
Onwards to lunch – and to the very tiny town of Huntsville, Utah, population, maybe 700. You get there by driving from Ogden up through Ogden Canyon and then follow the signs. In Huntsville, a 30 minute drive from Ogden, is the Shooting Star Saloon, founded in 1879, and alleged to be the ‘first real saloon’ west of the Mississippi. Shooting Star offers a very limited menu – hamburgers, cheeseburgers and a few variations, plus numerous brands of beers, big brands and those I never heard of that are micro-brewed locally. Shooting Star gets jam-packed, especially from 4 p.m. onwards when everyone comes in after skiing or after work. It’s a real throw back to a bygone century – a real hoot! And a must stop in the Ogden environs.
Another site of historical interest near Ogden is the Golden Spike location at Promontory Summit where the first Transcontinental railroad was joined in May 1869. The final or golden spike was driven by Leland Stanford celebrating the meeting of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads finally connecting the entire USA by train.
Finally – the shopping. Ogden’s economy may not be the most robust in the USA, but there are numerous shops to keep Utah green. There are dozens of outlet stores for skiing and winter clothing and sports, and, of course, there are the usual mall shops. Solomon Brothers’ outlet featured a good selection of ski clothing at discount prices. But the best bet was the BDO Outlet Center in Bldg. 12A of the Business Depot (a former army base). It had the most curious array of selected grocery items, bakery goods, furniture, clothing and winter sports wear. I wound up buying a $149 winter jacket for $9.99. I have half a dozen jackets at home, but for the price, I couldn’t let this one go. One of my older, now too small coats in the closet will just have to go.
On this particular trip, I definitely ventured beyond the normal scope of skiing. I feel fortunate to have finally skied in Utah in order to end my early childhood hangup over my brother’s superior skiing ability, and at the same time, proved to myself that I can still ski without making a mess out of it. And at the same time, this trip brought two brothers a lot closer in many ways beyond the skis and snow. Long may there be good snow and good cheer in Utah!