WEBER COUNTY — Snowbasin is one of the country's oldest ski resorts, but to many people it is still "Utah's best kept secret.'' The challenge that new general manager John Loomis is facing is to let people know all that the resort has to offer.
“When I told people I was coming back to Utah as general manager of Snowbasin, they told me, ‘That’s my favorite secret place to ski,’ said general manager John Loomis. "If I’m running a resort, I’m not sure I want it to be kept a secret.’’
According to Trip Advisor, "Snowbasin is unbelievably excellent, the best kept secret in Utah . . . This resort has it all.’’
Other headlines agreed that Snowbasin is a well-kept secret. The eBay Commerce Network reported, “Snowbasin . . . Utah’s best kept secret. Great new lifts, new easy-access road, best terrain.’’ Skiing Magazine also has written about Snowbasin as "one of Utah's best-kept secrets."
How is it possible that one of Utah’s major resorts, site of one of the 2002 Olympic premier events and consistently rated among the best resorts in the country, can be called a secret? Loomis thinks it’s simply that the “word hasn’t gotten out. Snowbasin is still an unknown to many people,’’ he said.
Loomis began his skiing career at five years old in the Pacific Northwest. During his college years, he said a man in his dorm “couldn’t stop talking about Alta, so I decided to take a year off after graduation and ski. I got a job that paid $125 a month plus room and board and a ski pass to Alta. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.’’
The following year work was starting down the canyon at Snowbird so he got a job cutting out ski runs, which led to a job on the ski patrol, then running grooming operations and then to mountain manager. In 1994, he left and moved to the Northstar Resort near Lake Tahoe, California.
During the winter of 2010, the resort was purchased by Vail Resorts, which now owns and operates the Canyons and Park City Mountain Resort. Northstar went from a family owned operation to a corporate entity.
In the spring of 2012, Loomis was offered the job of general manager at Snowbasin and now, his job is to take the secret out of Snowbasin.
Snowbasin officially opened in 1940 with two rope tows. It is today one of the oldest operating ski area in the country. Snowbasin is comprised of three separate mountains, offering a good mix of beginner, intermediate and expert terrain.
Earl and Carol Holding purchased the troubled ski area in 1984. They immediately stepped in and made major improvements in lifts and runs and lodges. Improvements included two eight-passenger gondolas, one high-speed detachable quad, one jig-back tram and 55 miles of snowmaking, which gave the ski area the most expansive snowmaking capacity in the world. Other improvements included a new road for easier access and lodges considered among the most elegant found at any ski area.
The resort has 10 lifts — two gondolas, one tran, one high-speed quad, one double, four triples and one surface lift. It has a vertical drop of nearly 3,000 feet, four terrain parks, for beginners and intermediates, and 104 runs.
In 2002, Snowbasin successfully held six alpine Olympic events — men's and women's downhill, super G and combined — and the alpine events for the Paralympics.
The Olympic downhill course, that racers have called one of the world’s most technically challenging, is considered the resort’s signature run. It was not designed as a ski/snowboard run, but as a racing course. As such “after a good snow it can take two to three days to groom. To ski or snowboard on an Olympic downhill course on good, groomed snow rather than rock-hard ice is a trill. Skiing or snowboarding the run gives you a real appreciation for the athletes,’’ Loomis said.
In order to remove the secret of Snowbasin, Loomis started with the staff. He said he made sure the right people were in the right positions. Then he lowered the cost of season passes, which he said led to more skiers and snowboarders, “who now see what Snowbasin has to offer and word of mouth is the best advertising we can ever get.’’
Loomis said one of his biggest hurdles is convincing people that Snowbasin isn’t that far away, which is a common perception. The resort is about 35 miles from downtown Salt Lake City, which is about the same distance as resorts east of the city.
Loomis also has plans for the future that include a village with boutique hotel, retail stores, residential dwellings and a new portal to the resort. Of the 13,000 available acreage, the plan calls for 80 percent of the land to remain open space.
Loomis said he would like to replace the Wildcat lift, a fixed-grip lift that was the first lift at the resort. It is at the heart of the 3,000-plus acres of ski/snowboard terrain.
“I’d also like to put in a high-speed lift in the Strawberry area,’’ Loomis said. “Sometimes winds make it impossible to run the gondola. I also foresee some snowmaking and trail improvements. John Paul offers some really good expert terrain, but it is a difficult area for some. With a little work, we can add an intermediate trail off the area and into the base.’’
Loomis is also introducing innovative programs to bring youngsters and new skiers and snowboarders into the sports. One program, called Terrain Base Learning, is for the very young and features a small halfpipe, rollers to teach weighting and banked turns.
“We’ll keep picking away to get people to know what we have here at Snowbasin. We’ll just keep picking away, little by little,’’ he said.