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Best Run of the Season! (You might have hated it)

Snowbird's Mineral Basin
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Snowbird’s Mineral Basin is bi-polar.

After a storm, that famous Utah powder covers Mineral Basin’s wide-open steeps, gullies, and cliffs. On a clear day, you’ll find breathtaking views of the mountains and valley.

But, after about 11 AM, there’s no reason to go in there. Sure, it looks amazing, but trust me, it’s not. Check out the photo at the top of this post. What you’re looking at is ungroomed frozen crud that will make you long for the easiest path back to the lift and to the front side of the mountain.

Knowing this, I was pretty skeptical when, right around noon, my friend wanted to wait for Mineral Basin to open. A crowd had gathered along the edge, eager for Ski Patrol to drop the rope.

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A crowd gathers waiting for Snowbird’s ski patrol to open Mineral Basin

Video by Wannabe

The enthusiasm of the crowd and the untracked beauty below gave my friend hope that “We might get one good run in before it’s skied out.”

“It’s almost noon,” I countered, “The little bit of snow that fell last night is baked by now.”

The crowd was inching closer to the rope, angling for position. Some of the snowboarders were placing their boards down on the other side, so they could stand up and go the moment we got the all-clear. I turned to my friend, “We can check it out if you want, but let’s wait until after the first wave goes. I don’t want to ski down in this mob.”

A patroller walked over. “It’s not as good as it looks,” he warned us.

“Yeah, maybe not to you,” someone called back. “They’re just spoiled,” another agreed, “They get first tracks every day.”

I thought to myself, these folks have a point. Ski patrol is spoiled, and years ago when I worked here, I was spoiled, too. But now? I’m just a tourist from out east. I don’t ski enough to be a snow snob anymore.

I inched up to the rope, and used my pole to poke the little piles of snow building up below the lip. It was soft. We were standing nearly shoulder to shoulder along the edge now. Ski patrol reminded everyone not to start until they pulled the rope out of the way. This was about to become a frenzy.

Ski patrol pulled the rope away.

“No doubt, it was the frozen top layer that the patroller was warning us about, but I found slicing through it satisfying — like slipping a knife through an exquisite dessert.”

I had a change of heart. “I’m going now!” I told my friend as I dropped straight down at high speed to stay ahead of the crowd.

It was bliss. I flew down the steep open slope in about eight inches of powder topped with a thinly frozen crust. No doubt, it was the frozen top layer that the patroller was warning us about, but I found slicing through it satisfying — like slipping a knife through an exquisite dessert. The snow slowed me just enough that I wasn’t tempted to dump speed by twisting my body up hill or over-turning my skis. Instead I made long graceful S turns, one after the other. It was effortless. I was faster than the crowd, so I felt I had the mountain to myself. I could only see other travelers from far away in my peripheral vision.

“I stood there, looking back at the mountain and laughing out of pure joy. This is why I do this.”

I veered right following the steepest line, and nearly got creamed by a guy trying to cut between me and the side of a cliff. We both stumbled, but stayed standing. (It wouldn’t be resort skiing without at least one near miss with a snowboarder.) I veered back to the left and continued downward finding a line that avoided the other skiers and riders that were now spread out sparsely throughout the bowl.

I didn’t stop until I was just above the lift. I stood there, looking back at the mountain and laughing out of pure joy. This is why I do this.

My buddy got caught up in the crowd near the top, and collided with a boarder. His skis came off, and he had to hike up to get one of them. Once he got his skis back on, he made his way down through tracked up crusty snow. When he finally made it to me he said, “The patroller was right. That sucked.”

As we stood in the lift line, I looked at the skiers and riders around us and wondered which ones had a run like mine, and which were disappointed. Some likely agreed with the ski patroller that the snow wasn’t deep enough or light enough. Others might have found the snow too deep, or the frozen layer too difficult to turn in. But for me, the snow and the terrain perfectly matched my skill and fitness. They were the conditions I didn’t know I wanted.

Riding up, we marveled at how what had been a massive expanse of untouched snow was already covered in tracks. We got to the top and went over to Gad 2. It’s always good over there. We’d give Mineral Basin another shot when there was fresh snow again, preferably in the morning.

Mineral Basin at Snowbird

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