Three hours from door to door. Can you imagine deciding you'd make a last minute roadtrip to ski in southern Utah when you have all of this great skiing right here in the Wasatch?
Well I did.
I couldn't miss the (re)opening of Eagle Point - formerly known as Elk Meadows in Beaver, Utah. It's been 8 years since the ski area has seen any action and so, without pretense or pomp, the newly recertified lifts cranked around the bullwheel and signaled the beginning of something that could quite possibly be one of the best reasons I've seen to get out of town in the winter.
The crew from Ski Utah was going down; my photographer buddy and constant heckler Chad Spector was going. I had to go.
The 3.5 hour drive on I-15 and then 18 more miles east up a narrow windy canyon road outside of Beaver went by quickly. There's cell service for email and phonecalls to keep you entertained.
Not so much at the slopeside condos at Eagle Point. I had to stash my phone and computer because without a signal or wi-fi, what's the point? If you stand just outside the front door of the Outpost Grill you might get a few bars but you'll be struggling if you plan to rely on your phone.
Speaking of bars, there's a full bar there. In fact, there's a sit-down gourmet restaurant run by a celebrity chef that will leave Beaver residents scratching their heads.
Yes, fine dining in Beaver! And a classy bar.
We chilled in the condo while management scrambled to fill the new Lookout Lodge with recently delivered chairs. Flatscreens with satellite and fireplace inserts give a cozy feel to the '90s decor.
The places are exactly what you would want for the wooded mountaintop site.
If you put in granite counters and stainless appliances in the rooms, you'd lose the authenticity and ramp up nightly rates at a place that will do better with families and backcountry hounds who see fancy digs as a deterrent and not a selling point.
At Eagle Point you can get a midweek, one-bedroom condo and two lift tickets for $125. Kids under six ski free so a whole (young) family can take a two-day ski jaunt for $250. Not per person. The whole fam- $250.
Ticket window prices are $45/day and as soon as there's more snow, everyone can go tubing on four lanes for $15. The restaurant prices are fair too- $10 for a third-pound burger.
I drooled as I watched one served but didn't have a chance to bite into my own. Drat.
The butternut squash soup, however, was dreamy creamy.
The layout of EP is a bit funky. Advanced skiers can take off from the condos near the Canyonside Lodge but anyone taking a ski school lesson or picking up rentals will have to ride the courtesy "Mountain Taxi" to the Skyline Lodge.
You can ski from Skyline to Canyonside but not the other way around. We boarded the beginner Skyline Chair after making first tracks on the flat terrain. Some people turned. I made 11s. I wondered if it might be too flat for even beginners but groomed it's probably ideal for them.
We rode another chair then boarded a Polaris ATV with tracks instead of tires. It pulled 11 riders up a ridge and deposited us on top of expert trails with Native American names.
Yesterday's storm added another 2" to the 28" base that had yet to be skied so far this season. Snow coverage was decent but you still have to be careful of rocks. We made a few laps then headed in for lunch for the ribbon cutting. I would have liked another run or two. The snow was wind compacted but still floaty; challenging in spots for anyone not wearing rockered fat boys on their feet. Ie ME.
But we headed into the Outpost. The three owners were inside. Shane Gadbaw, Joe Clough and Terry Leighton welcomed the few of us who did the honors today. They seemed a little more relaxed. No one got hurt, the lifts didn't break down, the lodge chairs arrived and we had fresh snow.
There is still work to be done with even more plans for next season. They say they'll build another 100+ units this summer, add snowmaking and glade the mountain for tree skiing.
Personally, I'd recommend a bigger cafeteria at Skyline and French fries on the menu, bathrooms in the mid-mountain warming hut, and cellphone towers, but that's just me. One thing that won't need much polish will be the five backcountry access gates approved by the forest service. EP's ski school will offer full day backcountry/sidecountry tours for the price of a private lesson.
For about $350, five people can go out touring with a guide and all the gear they'll need. Experienced backcountry skiers have no problem arguing that the Tushar Mountain Range rivals any in the Wasatch. When those gates are ready and open, I'll be heading down again for sure.
In the meantime, try to get down and visit Utah's 14th resort. People in Utah don't normally understand the concept of ski roadtrips. That's for Californians and Vermonters. The most we ever drive is an hour.
But it's worth taking the 202-mile drive south. You'll feel like you're going on a real ski vacation; without the pricetag, the questionable snow and TSA patdowns.