Snowbasin Ski Resort might be the most underrated XC destination in Utah. If you don’t mind (or like me are kind of a junkie for) a long, technical climb, you’ll be rewarded here with some of the highest elevation riding you can get in Utah and the scenery to match it. And the nearly 3000-foot descent isn’t half-bad.
The first decision to make is whether you want to drop $20 (+/-) for the gondola. Again, it’s almost 3000 feet to the lodge at the top of the Needles lift–not exactly your mama’s Sunday afternoon ride. It will take a few hours and a lot of calories to get there. Since these are XC trails, you’re not going to bomb it down over and over again. In fact, the one time I bought a lift ticket, I only got three runs in over a 5-hour period. Granted, riding with newbies and multiple flat tires sucked away a lot of that time, but you get the picture. Every descent option will involve some climbing sections and technical areas. You’ll get your flow on, but you’ll still have to earn it.
On the other hand, if you are a cheapskate and/or an uphill junkie, you might choose to ride to the top. If that’s your style, head up to Earl’s Lodge, grab a trail map and a spare tube, and head west on your bike past the lift house. You’re on Needles Trail, which will take you all the way to your goal. The ride starts in scrub oak, but gives way pretty quickly to aspen and pine groves. Near the top, the trees disappear almost completely, so don’t forget the sunscreen. Stop every once in a while and admire the way you’re getting higher and higher above the valley floor. As you get higher, you’ll find some viewpoint platforms with benches and picnic tables. That’s Pineview Reservoir and Powder Mountain to the east, and Morgan along I-84 to the southeast.
The map shows a network of trails that will get you to the top, and some of them actually look pretty tempting when you arrive at the junction. I recommend that you stay on Needles, though. The other trails are more optimized for XC downhill. I ended up walking a lot when I got off Needles, which is all graded nicely to make that 3000-foot climb feel like a walk in the park. Ok, it’s not that easy, but you’ll actually be surprised how good you feel when you reach the lodge.
Enjoy that view. You earned it. Make sure you tell those newbies getting off the lift that you rode to the top so they can inflate your ego a little bit with their incredulous looks. If you’re feeling really ambitious, and your bike shoes aren’t too uncomfortable to walk in, hide your bike in the boulder field off the northwest end of the practice loop (practice? You rode 3000 feet to get to a practice loop??) and find a hiking trail up to the saddle of Mount Ogden. It’s less than a mile and worth the effort.
For the ride back you really can’t go wrong. Going back the way you came (Needles) would be the fastest and most flowy. Porcupine has a series of optional rock jump and balance features. They got pretty creative with the route, including some great splashdowns through a couple of creeks. I’ve seen deer, elk, moose, various rodents, and snakes up there, so keep an eye out for them. The trail is shared with hikers, and the Ogden area is no stranger to mountain bike controversy, so please be courteous and slow down on blind corners.
In three visits, for some reason I have never come away with both tires intact. Maybe it’s the sharp rocks you’ll find scattered across the face of this mountain. I’m not sure, but I recommend you carry at least two spare tubes and a patch kit when you ride here. I used all of them on my last visit.
Ryan Palmer lives in West Jordan, Utah, and rides regularly throughout the Wasatch Mountains, including Park City, Ogden, Logan, and Provo.