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Ogden Valley: A secret no more?

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Utah's "best-kept secret."

The advertising slogan is an apt description for a place many Utahns - and an increasingly cosmopolitan tourist clientele - are only now beginning to discover.With the 2002 Winter Gamesless than four years away, Ogden Valley's crisp mountain air, beautiful scenery and rural feel have already begun attracting developers. Home to three ski resorts, two golf courses and the area's centerpiece, the three-armed Pineview Reservoir, the valley's plentiful year-round recreational offerings are attracting visitors from all over the world.

As testament to the growing publicity this mountain hideaway is garnering, a weekday morning in March finds the parking lot at Snowbasin Ski Resort three-quarters full. And you can bet the majority of those in the lift line are not locals taking a sick day from work.

Ski shop employee Tom Parker says it wasn't long ago that he used to stock "the cheapest goggles I could find" to appease a weekend crowd that found Snowbasin lift passes a bargain compared to Salt Lake area and Park City resorts. "No more of that. . . . Now it's the high-performance stuff that's blowing out the doors. I can't keep enough of it in stock." Renting at $35 a day, the high-performance ski package costs more than twice the $14 regular outfit.

On this day, his renters include skiers from Japan, Australia, England and the East Coast. With four triple chairs and one double, the 1997-98 season will be the resort's last as a small mountain hideaway.

Selected as the Olympic venue to host the downhill and Super G events, Snowbasin awaits a transformation that will change forever the hometown feel of the place. Owner Earl Holding plans to add five new lifts, including a gondola, tram and three high-speed quads, as well as hotels, restaurants and condominiums before welcoming the world to his mountain playground.

A 695-acre land swap with the U.S. Forest Service gives him plenty of room to expand and modernize the resort, much the way he did in Sun Valley, Idaho, where a small-town resort has become a world-class year-round playground - for those who can afford it.

Plans are under consideration for a tram that would start in the hills above Ogden and take passengers over the top of Mount Ogden to the pinnacle of Snowbasin's runs, where the men's downhill event is scheduled to begin in 2002. Though a study on the proposed $15 million project is under way, many believe the tram will become a reality as pressure to provide adequate transportation to the ski venue increases.

A proposed highway from Trapper's Loop to Snowbasin would also help facilitate transportation - and fuel growth. Scheduled to be finished before the Olympics, the road would cut 20-25 minutes off travel time from the Salt Lake area. Once a pristine piece of highway that boasted only wildflowers and occasional fence lines, Trapper's Loop now has its first subdivision just north of Mountain Green, near where the new highway is to be built. Lots to go with the huge homes that now sit on them start at $49,000 but offer a breathtaking view of snow-covered peaks.

The plans - and the large sums of money behind them - are symptomatic of what's taking place in the valley itself. "A lot more houses, a lot more people, a lot more buildings. I used to know everybody up here, and now I don't know anybody," says Karen Swenson, a 20-year resident of Eden who also works at the Snowbasin ski school.

With the Olympics coming, Swenson knows the valley she's spent much of her adult life in will never be the same. But she's optimistic about the changes. "A few more conveniences, thank goodness. We've got a grocery store and a gas station. For the first 10 years I lived here, we didn't have any of that."

While the valley is still primarily farmland - with barns, cattle, sheep and horses galore - that is changing rapidly. "For sale" signs dot the landscape in many areas, as the sound of tractors and hay bailers give ever more sway to hammers, saws and earthmovers.

Eden, located on the north side of the reservoir opposite Snowbasin's south-side location, is indeed coming into its own as a start-up city - offering services that even five years ago residents had to trek down Ogden Canyon for.

In addition to groceries and gas, residents have watched as four real estate offices, a dentist's office, bank and mortgage office have joined ski rental and bed and breakfast accommodations in terms of business offerings. Within the past couple of months, plans have been announced for a hardware store.

Developers continue to work on Wolf Mountain, an established condominium complex and time-share resort, which is now offering lots for sale along the golf course and has $250,000-plus homes in the works. A "planned residential community" has also sprung up near the resort, offering a four-phased community of cedar log homes and condominiums. Slightly elevated on the hillside heading toward Powder Mountain ski resort, all have a commanding view of Pineview and the rest of the valley.

At Powder Mountain, locals join tourists at a small resort that still provides hometown friendliness and a desire to please with a ski school program few resorts in the state can match in terms of price and personal attention. "Women only" ski school classes have become popular, as have snowboarding and the heli-skiing.

Nordic Valley, by far the smallest of the valley's three resorts, is a beginner's paradise with gentle, straight runs and none of the "skier's smugness" that can intimidate first-timers at the larger, more pricey ski areas. With runs visible from Eden and Liberty, residents with binoculars can check on the kids from the front porch.

To the east, Huntsville is seeing its own little boom. Situated on Pineview's eastern shore, the town has long had a "commercial center" - if the Shooting Star Saloon (Utah's oldest continuously operating tavern), a grocery store and gas pumps west of the city park meet that definition.

Around the corner, a new library adds a touch of modern so-phis-ti-cation to the sleepy farm town, with soaring, vaulted glass panel ceilings, an art gallery, community room with kitchen facilities and dining area, and the David O. McKay auditorium, where community lectures, films and gatherings are held. A wall-mounted water fountain greets visitors entering the stacks, and computer stations are plentiful. The library's Web site (www.weberpl.lib.ut.us) offers holdings information along with a variety of selections including information on the Weber area and Web searching.

Along U-39, a new convenience store complex and storage units are springing out of the ground where vacant fields sprouted field grass just last fall. They join the area's longtime Jackson Fort Inn and convenience store as the commercial corridor into Huntsville.

Anderson Cove, long a favorite campground bordering Huntsville proper, will see expansion this summer as well, as the U.S. Forest Service doubles the 58 existing campsites. A private concessionaire will build and operate a new marina and boat-launching facility this summer, and new trails will be constructed around two-thirds of the reservoir.

Locations for biking/jogging/snowmobile paths are now under consideration by Weber County and the Wasatch Front Regional Council, which is in the process of recommending new road alignments and intersection improvements to handle the anticipated growth. A recent Weber County Planning Commission meeting for East Huntsville included consideration of a new cellular phone service tower, along with proposals for a new subdivision and condominium development.

The popular summer recreational spot in northern Utah, Pineview accommodates 500,000 visitors each year, with boating, water-skiing and individual water craft users so plentiful that a proposed limit on the number of boats on the lake is now under consideration.

As services continue to improve and residential development booms in anticipation of the Olympics, the area's plentiful winter sports offerings - including cross-country skiing and snowmobiling - combined with summer recreation that includes biking, hiking and hot-air ballooning - in addition to development at Snowbasin, will draw increasing numbers of year-round visitors and residents, locals agree.

"It's growing and it's good - I think the growth's all really good," Swenson said. "This year we've had a lot more tourists than we've ever had. Snowbasin in particular has had a lot of write-ups in papers back East. In fact, skiers bring the articles they've clipped to show us what's being written about us back there."

Is she worried that Snowbasin and the area around it will become another Park City/Summit County, pricing many locals out of living there? "Not in my lifetime," Swenson says. The County Commission recently passed a building moratorium for the area that mandates lot size "so they're controlling it," she said. "People aren't coming in and ripping up and overbuilding. I think it's going to work out just fine."