(Published December, 2000)
As every other ski area in the world seems preoccupied with installing high-speed detachable six-seat chairlifts, developing sprawling real estate developments and trendy shopping districts and offering swanky services like film festivals or helicopter skiing, Beaver Mountain, a small ski bowl up near the Idaho border, seems inexorably tied to the past.
The hill has been owned and run by the same family since 1938 and rather than sit back in plush offices they chip in to plow the parking lot, load the lifts and unplug the toilets. The three chairlifts -- you could do well to call them the beginner, the intermediate and the expert chairs -- seem precarious and antiquated compared to the luxury lifts at other areas. The area is closed Christmas day. There is no pretty faux-Bavarian base village. The cafeteria sells Little Debbie snack cakes. One trail is named for a dead horse that was not properly disposed. There is a yellow tractor snow blower they use on the main lot that really belongs in a museum or on the set of a movie set in the '60s. All day lift tickets are $24. The big improvements made over the summer were the construction of a new restroom and shower building . . .
But the families, college students and kids who tackle the hill every weekend wouldn't want it any other way.
The moment Steve and I sat down on the chairlift for our first run of the day at Beaver Mountain it began to snow. It had been a hectic morning -- I was supposed to pick Steve up at his house in Salt Lake City at 7 a.m. but did not wake up until 7:27 -- and we were not actually on skis until like 10:30. Just for kicks, we decided to start off on the beginner lift, technically called the Little Beaver. It was a gaggle of preteen first timers falling over themselves and into each other. Steve, a big runner and hiker, hurt his knee two months ago and yesterday was his first time on skis this season. That in mind, beginning on the Little Beaver perhaps wasn't such a bad idea, though it was pretty small beans. We went over and rode the Beaver Face lift.
Overheard in the Beaver Face lift line: 'Dude, if you don't ask Charissa out that other idiot is going to.' 'I know man, but every time I try to talk to her I feel like I'm about to throw up all over my shoes.'
Beaver Face, a 1,000-foot vertical drop lift, serves about ten trails. A few flakes at 10:30 had become a full-fledged storm before noon, and the bowl of Beaver Mountain was shrouded in clouds. It was hard to see where we wanted to go -- time on the lift was spent looking down at snow accumulate in your crotch -- and the lack of trail signs didn't help much either. So where did we go? Who cares. It's all about riding, really. I'm on a brand new pair of K2 Piste Stinx (locals around here call them 'P-stinks') and they are one of the most beautiful things I've seen. Steve led me into the fir slicing up new snow that seemed to fill in behind us and at times I seemed to find that symbiotic relationship with my boots and skis, that utterly unique moment when turns are not something you make, they are something that just happens, and you are on top of it all, just smiling.
Overheard in the Harry's Dream lift line: 'There are just no women around my age. It feels like some space aliens came down and took them all away.'
Over at Harry's Dream is where the hot doggers line up. Freestyle skiing has really taken off the last few years, and there was no shortage of kids on Harry's Hollow doing 360s. No problem. The north side of the bowl is large enough to spread out on, if aerial flips aren't really your thing. Steve and I found this odd ridge of half-burned trees and noodled the powder there. There is a framed picture in the A-frame of the 1994 fire that charred part of the mountain up here. In the picture, fire fighters are riding the chairlift up the mountain to fight the blaze. Next we took Gentle Ben and the Dead Horse By Pass (named for a hunting mishap ), long beginner runs that skirt the area's northern boundary. We chased each other on runs called Lue's, The Frolic, Stan's Bonanza and Beaver's Powder. They were called expert runs but they really weren't all that steep, at least not compared to, say, an expert run at Alta. The sun shone weakly through blowing snow and roiling clouds.
Some things I did not see at Beaver Mountain:
- Lift lines
- Cell phones
- Skier-snowboarder conflicts
- Trail maps
- Bogner ski suits
- Trail signs
- Boundary ropes
- Kids with unusually-colored hair
- Grooming machines
- Anyone say the word 'phat'
- Adults wearing crash helmets.
I believe the true essence of skiing is found and preserved at small ski areas. It is where people just come to ski and be with friends and enjoy the mountains and cold snow. The last decade or so it seems that many ski areas in America have really gotten away from those basics. I mean, look at Vail. I read in the New York Times you can videoconference from the summit lodge if you need to. No wonder the environmentalists tried to burn the place down. Why don't these people just stay at home? Sometimes I get the impression that someone could sneak into one of these big ski areas some night and yank out all the ski lifts and no one would notice in the morning. They would just go on acting as if they were at work, buying up real estate on their lunch breaks. Not so Beaver Mountain.
Beaver Mountain is perhaps he longest single-family-owned and run ski area in America. Harold and Luella Seeholzer opened it up in 1938. Both of them worked full time jobs but donated all their spare time to running the hill. One by one, their kids were included in the mountain's operation. Ted, Harold's second son, has been general manager of the resort since 1967. He and his wife Marge bought out the rest of the family in October, 1997 and gradually bring in members of their own family to operate the ski area. Ted continued to make all the major money and construction decisions for the company -- as well as hamburgers in the old A-frame base lodge when someone is sick or doesn't show up for work.
Steve and I had hoped do some late afternoon photography on the mountain. Periodically during the day the sun shone through snow at the top of the mountain, though down below it was all snow and clouds. Instead of it clearing up, though, right before 4 p.m., as the last chair was being loaded, it got very dark and began to snow and blow harder. Cold, damp and tired -- more tired than we thought we would have been from five-and-a-half hours of downhill skiing -- we decided to call it a day and head back to Logan. In the parking lot we helped push a Taurus that was stuck in snow, loaded up the truck and brushed off six inches of fluffy new snow, and descended Logan Canyon into darkness and swirling snow.
Beaver Mountain essentials:
- 27 miles east of Logan on U.S. 89 in the Bear River Mountains, a sub-range of the Wasatch Mountains; 112 miles mostly north of downtown Salt Lake City
- Three chairlifts, one beginner pony lift, and one pony lift for snow tubers
- 1,600-foot vertical drop, top elevation 8,800 feet
- 26 runs on 464 acres; 35 percent beginner, 40 percent intermediate, 25 percent expert
- 400 inches of annual snowfall
- Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week -- $24 full day adult, $19 junior/senior full day, $19 adult half day, $16 junior/senior half day, and $3.50 for a single ride on the Harry's Dream chair to access out-of-bounds terrain; Snow tubing (tubes are furnished) hours are 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday. Tube rental and pony lift tickets are $6 for two hours
- Ski and snowboard rentals available
- Ski and snowboard lessons available
- Phone (435) 753-0921; snow phone (435) 753-0975.
A special thank you to Best Western Weston Inn.
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