This article is from our current issue on Utah's newest resort to the South, Eagle Point. For this and other stories, pick up the February issue, which is on stands now.
Northern Utah isn’t the only part of the state with bragging rights to the Greatest Snow on Earth. Southern Utah may have winter sun and the heat, but with Eagle Point above Beaver joining Brian Head Resort outside Cedar City, our lower half is winning rave reviews as a winter road-trip ski escape.
The New Kid in Town
Eagle Point, a 600-acre resort in the Tushar Mountains with vast backcountry isn’t the first venture to try and bring skiers to all that fluffy southern powder. The area was called Mount Holly from 1972 to 1985 and then Elk Meadows until that venture closed its doors in 2002.
So, when New York hedge fund exec Shane Gadbaw, announced last summer that Elk Meadows—also known as Mt. Holly Club—would reopen for 2010, the skeptics shrugged. Despite being green to the ski industry, 36-year-old Gadbaw had an idea things would go his way. Turns out, with zero debt and family-backed values, a phoenix has risen. The reinvented, refurbished and reenergized Eagle Point, just three-and-half hours from Salt Lake, is drawing skiers from Los Angeles, Las Vegas and even the resort-saturated Wasatch Front for the first time in more than a decade.
The reinvention all began in December 2009, when Gadbaw, along with two long-time partners, bought the 1,200-acre resort at auction after a previous venture on the property failed. The winning bid came in at $1.9 million, an incredible steal for the property, surrounding land and buildings. “I had never run a ski resort or been a lifetime skier,” Gadbaw says. “I had friends from Aspen and other parts of Colorado meet me in Utah—avid skiers and resort employees who could tell me what I was looking at and whether I should pursue [a bid]; what shape the lifts were in and whether we could rehabilitate them or would have to scrap them.”
The look on the faces of these guys said everything to him. “I can imagine how, after a day of fresh powder, this would be your own little paradise,” Gadbaw recalls one pal saying.
The Eagle's Phoenix
The Tushars are the third tallest mountain range in Utah, with peaks reaching 12,000 feet and an average annual snowfall of 450 inches. But the clincher was more emotional than financial. “Maybe I’m superstitious," Gadbaw said. "A bald eagle circled above us as we started our drive down the canyon." It was a sign of the Eagle Point to come.
“We didn’t buy a ski resort. We bought private land on a mountaintop setting with a ski resort infrastructure,” he says. The goal was to take the property and turn it into a viable ski resort while waiting out the real estate market.
Eagle Point is about 90 minutes northeast of the Brian Head Resort and came free of debt, legacy issues and stacked developments. In fact, there are no inns, old hotels, quaint Victorian streets or even a grocery store for 20 miles. Eagle Point is essentially a remote mountain retreat setting amid a spruce forest.
Skiers this year will find refurbished chairlifts, two completely renovated base lodges, a hot tub garden, spa and fine dining room. The somewhat illogical trail layout may leave intermediates struggling, but beginners can spend their whole trip exploring the runs near Eagle’s Nest. Eventually, more lifts will be added, but until then, you’re taking off skis to walk across the road, riding a snow crawler to access the Lookout Runs or taking a shuttle back to the Skyline Lodge.
The good news: Crowds are minimal and a group lesson will likely become a private one-so your instructor can make sure you don’t get lost. On the flip side, Eagle Point is also a collection of screaming black-diamonds and expert runs of trees or moguls. If you’re a true intermediate skier, you might want to drive south to Brian Head for the time being.
“It’s like planting a garden. You hope for growth and you start to see it, little by little,” Gadbaw said. “We’re going to build something real that, 30 years from now, my grandkids will tell their family and friends about how grandpa had a vision.”
Snowboarders won’t have to fight for time in the terrain park or 18-foot half pipe.
Backcountry skiers, make sure you bring your touring gear. Five access gates take you into the Tushars, where you can head for Lake Peak or 12,001-foot Mt. Holly. After skiing, shoot one of the longest and hairiest tubing hills in the west. No joke. The two lanes run nearly the length of the double chair above. Then head into the Outpost Grill for a hearty dinner and some live music. You may even find Gadbaw and his family making the rounds or sharing a drink at the bar.
Head north on I-15 until you see the signs for Beaver. Take exit 112 toward Beaver/Milford. Turn left off the ramp and follow UT-160 around until it becomes Main Street. Get gas and supplies at the nearest store, because once you turn onto UT-153, there’s nothing. Eagle Point is about 18 miles east along a treacherous, but scenic, two-lane road.